Hells Canyon on the border of Oregon and Idaho is America’s deepest river gorge. This awe-inspiring spot attracts white-water rafters, jet boaters, hikers, campers, and outdoor junkies worldwide. With breathtaking scenery, steep terrain, rocky slopes, and the breathtaking scenic snake river, this Northeastern Oregon destination is a must visit.
The scenic Snake River cuts through Hells Canyon which is 7,993 feet deep (almost 2,000 feet deeper than the Grand Canyon)! This wild and scenic canyon deserves a place on every Oregonian’s Oregon bucket list! Hells Canyon is an impressive 10 miles wide as its widest point. Covering over 900 miles of hiking trails, you can find some of these trails along the Snake River inside the deepest river carved gorge in the US.
Hells Canyon History
Petroglyphs, pit houses, and arrowheads are just some of the amazing remnants that have been found in Hells Canyon. The evidence suggests people lived here 7,100 years ago, and possibly even as far back as 15,000 years ago. Prehistoric tribes, explorers, and early miners have all called the steep canyons and remote region of Hells Canyon home over the years.
The Nez Perce and Shoshone both lived here, and at one point three men from The Corps of Discovery (Lewis and Clark’s party) searched for fish in a part of Hells Canyon on the Idaho side.
How Hells Canyon In Northeast Oregon Got its Name
Hells Canyon obtained its name from the earliest white explorers. It’s said that many people tried to tame the Snake River by boat and ferry, but most were unsuccessful. Interestingly, the name Hells Canyon first appears in a book dating back to 1895 and this has been the name since.
Visiting Hells Canyon In Oregon
Hells Canyon offers a lot of recreational opportunities, including world class whitewater boating, hiking or horseback riding in stunning remote wilderness, viewing wildlife and taking in spectacular views of the mountains. With breathtaking vistas, canyon rims, high mountain peaks and solitude in abundance, this is a must visit in Oregon.
Hells Canyon National Recreation Area
With over 652,488 acres to explore, the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area is full of both stunning beauty and adventure. With scenic sweeping vistas, swaths of remote wilderness to explore and awesome recreational opportunities, the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area should be on your bucket list.
Because the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area is such a large space to explore, first time visitors may want to contact the Forest Service to help plan their visit.
The Hells Canyon National Recreation Area is on the border of Oregon and Western Idaho and is managed by the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.
Hells Canyon Oregon Scenic Overlooks
There are a number of awesome places to take in the scenic vistas, spectacular mountain peaks and steep slopes of Hells Canyon from the Oregon side.
Hells Canyon Overlook
The easiest to get to is the Hells Canyon Overlook. Watch the brief video by Matt Cook showcasing this overlook below.
The Hells Canyon overlook has interpretive signs, paved parking areas, vault toilets, and picnic areas. From here visitors can see McGraw Creek and have a view of the Seven Devil Mountains in Idaho. You cannot see the Snake River from this site. Get more info on the Hells Canyon Overlook.
If you’re willing to make the drive, Joseph Oregon is a gorgeous little town about 45 miles north west (an hour and a half drive) of Hells Canyon Overlook. You can find good restaurants and camping at Wallow Lake in Joseph.
Hat Point Overlook
The more adventurous may consider the Hat Point Overlook. This day-use site also has interpretive signs and Hells Canyon views as well as views of the Snake River. The fire lookout tower at this site has stunning views of the rugged landscape. There are picnic tables and vault toilets available. This site is harder to get to as the Forest Road is steep and narrow in places. Low clearance vehicles, RV’s, and vehicles with trailers are not advised.
Viewing The Seven Devils Mountain Range
Rising above the Snake River and reaching towards the sky are the Seven Devils Mountains. These mountains are on the Idaho side of Hells Canyon and are a part of the rocky mountains. The tallest peaks in the Seven Devils are 7,900 feet. If you’re planning an extended trip to Hells Canyon, make some time to hike, camp, fish and explore the Seven Devils as well. Get more information here.
Camping At Hells Canyon
Looking to camp at or near the Hells Canyon Wilderness? The best spot to camp at Hells Canyon is Saddle Creek Campground!
Saddle Creek Campground
Near the Hat Point Overlook is the Saddle Creek Campground on Hat Point Road which provides primitive camping. This camp has seven walk-in tent sites and is a great place to picnic. Saddle Creek Campground is the perfect place to view the Seven Devil Mountains across Hells Canyon in Idaho. At this site, there are picnic tables at each campsite and a vault toilet.
Also on Hat Creek Road close to Saddle Creek Campground is the Granny View Overlook. This viewpoint doesn’t look over Hells Canyon, but is still inside the Hells Canyon Wilderness and overlooks Imnaha Canyon. It has a nature trail and interpretive signs as well as vault toilets. More info on the Hat Point and Granny View Overlooks is here.
Near the bottom of Hat Point Road is the 5 Mile Overlook. From this viewpoint, you can check out the Imnaha River Canyon. This is a small viewpoint with no toilets.
As with the Hat Point Overlook, the Granny View Overlook, Saddle Creek Campground, and 5 Mile Overlook are accessed by a difficult gravel road with steep drop-offs and steep grades.
Hiking Hells Canyon Wilderness
You can check out some Hells Canyon Wilderness hiking trails here. Keep in mind many of these trails are not maintained and vary in difficulty levels. These trails may not be accessible at all times of the year, are very remote, and may have overgrown vegetation and brushy terrain. Hikers should expect primitive trail conditions. Many trails in the area are known to be narrow trails.
Horseback Riding In Hells Canyon
There are several trails within the wilderness area that are open to horseback riding. Riding here makes you feel like you’re a cowboy exploring the remote areas of the wild west again. Get information on horse riding in Hells Canyon wilderness here.
Hells Canyon Scenic Byway
Can You Boat On The Mighty Snake River?
Jetboat tours are a popular way to see Hells Canyon from the water and there are many companies to choose from.
Wildlife Watching In The Hells Canyon Wilderness
The vast and remote region of this special canyon holds diverse and abundant wildlife. The lower elevations of the canyon are mostly grassland benches and provide the perfect habitat for bighorn sheep, rocky mountain elk, and mule deer. Cougars and black bear are also common in the canyon. There have even been a few reports over the years of grizzly bears. Get more information here.
Hells Canyon Important Information
- When visiting Hells Canyon keep in mind you may need permits to access some areas or trails.
- Hells Canyon can be very hot in summer and inaccessible during some parts of the year due to snow.
- The area is remote, so bring all provisions, water, and gasoline you need.
- Any water taken from tributary’s or creeks should be treated first.
- Check your clothing, body, and hair for ticks and watch for rattlesnakes when hiking.
- Keep in mind that there may be seasonal fire restrictions in place at Hells Canyon.
- Please leave the area as you found it and practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace.
- Get more information on the part of Hells Canyon Wilderness managed by the BLM here, and by the Forest Service here.
Have you been to Hells Canyon or the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area? Have you explored the Wallowa Whitman National Forest? Let us know in a comment and tag the friends and family you want to go on an adventure with! Also, make sure and head over here to explore more of eastern Oregon.