World-famous Hells Canyon of the Snake River is an Idaho treasure and an icon of the western United States. The Snake flows south to north for more than 130 miles along the Idaho-Oregon border from Hells Canyon Dam to Lewiston, Idaho. Hells Canyon consists of some of the most rugged, wild lands on earth. The staggering 7,993-foot drop from He Devil Mountain in Idaho’s Seven Devils range to the Snake River creates North America’s deepest river gorge.
The “Wild & Scenic” Snake River is renowned for big waves and powerful whitewater - including the biggest rapids of them all, Wild Sheep, Granite, Waterspout and Rush Creek - all of which make for a thrilling ride in a jet boat. Between rapids, there is time to relax and soak in the magnificent canyon. Warm water and weather make for perfect swimming opportunities on hot summer afternoons in June - August.
Bring your binoculars and keep an eye open for elk, mule deer, Rocky Mountain big horn sheep, mountain goat, black bear, cougar, coyote, and more. Hells Canyon is a bird-watcher’s heaven with songbirds of every description, and many species of owls, hawks, eagles, falcons, waterfowl and upland game birds.
Just a few steps from the river, you can visit the Kirkwood Historic Ranch at mile 26.5,where the Forest Service has preserved displays of canyon life in the 1930s along with prehistoric artifacts. Former Idaho Governor Len Jordan and his wife, Grace, used to run a sheep ranch at the Kirkwood location.
Fishing is varied and excellent. Smallmouth bass and rainbow trout make up most of the catch, with catfish and fall steelhead rounding out the selection. Imagine hooking a fish twice your height! Hells Canyon also boasts healthy numbers of North America’s largest freshwater fish, the white sturgeon, a nearly prehistoric life form. Sturgeon fishing is all catch & release. Hells Canyon also contains a wealth of archaeological sites. Pit house villages and rock shelters are scattered throughout the canyon. Native Americans etched petroglyphs into rock faces, and painted pictographs. Outfitters and guides lead hikes to fascinating abandoned pioneer cabins, mines, and Native American historic sites. Extended hikes to places like Suicide Point, and Carter’s Mansion are additional trip highlights.
Please note: Jet boat guests should be aware that there are 18 days in the summer when the U.S. Forest Service does not allow jet boat activity to provide quiet time for rafting parties in Hells Canyon. The non-motorized closure days occur on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, every other week. Check the calendar here for details. Try to plan ahead for your jet boat trip so it does not conflict with a non-motorized day in Hells Canyon. Hells Canyon is protected by the 652,488-Hells Canyon National Recreation Area and 215,000-acre Hells Canyon Wilderness. The area was preserved by Congress in 1975. It includes portions of the Nez Perce and Payette national forests in Idaho, and the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest in Oregon. The spectacular canyon rims are book-ended by Oregon’s Wallowa Mountains and Idaho’s Seven Devils.
To reach the put-in, drive to Cambridge, north of the town of Weiser on U.S. 95. Take State Highway 71 north to Hells Canyon Dam. There are two possible take-outs. The first is at Pittsburgh Landing, 35 miles from the put-in. To reach Pittsburgh Landing, drive north from Riggins on U.S. 95 for about 28 miles. Take the signed turn for Pittsburg Landing (about �Â�½ mile south of White Bird), and cross the river. Follow the road up and over the divide to Pittsburgh Landing.The second possible take-out is at Heller Bar. To reach Heller Bar, drive to Lewiston, cross the Snake to Clarkston, Wash., then drive south on State Highway 129 to Asotin, Wash. At the southern end of Asotin, there is a blinking light where the highway bears right. Leave the highway and continue along the river to Heller Bar.Additional Information: For a mile-by-mile description of running Hells Canyon, see John Garren's Idaho River Tours.