Hells Canyon is a naturally wild and remote area in the stunning and scenic Pacific Northwest. This immense canyon is the deepest gorge in North America, even deeper than the famous Grand Canyon. This incredible river canyon straddles the raging Snake River, which serves in the present day as a border between the states of Oregon and Idaho—Oregon to the west and Idaho to the east.
Hells Canyon is a magnificent gorge of rugged terrain that offers ample opportunities for wildlife enthusiasts and outdoor adventures alike. If you are exploring this wonderful area by foot, car, or boat, an abundance of scenes and splendors exist for your pleasure. Let us zero in on a few sights that are not for the weak-hearted. Here are some of the very best things to see in Hells Canyon.
Hells Canyon: Geology and History
You may wonder how Hells Canyon got its name. Do you really want to visit an area of the country with such an intimidating name? While this area offers a wide array of sights to behold, it is not for the meek. The first explorers who stumbled across this magnificent canyon may have thought that they had found hell on earth. The landscape appears uninhabitable for humans, and in the past, it proved to be an obstacle for those on their journeys during the Westward Expansion.
But do not let the name turn you away—it only serves as a warning for visitors. Even today, in our modern era of societal development, Hells Canyon features treacherous terrain that is not easily accessible for travelers. This also makes it hard to traverse the canyon itself. But that only makes the expedition even more exhilarating. The canyon is fairly remote, and not many people have heard of it, but now that you know of its existence, you can go out and explore all its various landscapes and ecosystems in an outdoor adventure.
Hells Canyon National Recreation Area
Hells Canyon National Recreation Area has over 650,000 acres of pure wilderness. To put that in perspective, it is over twice the size of the entire land area of New York City, the largest city in America. This expansive land area covers various sections of the states of Idaho and Oregon, with parts that are designated specifically as the Hells Canyon Wilderness. With almost a thousand miles of trails that are only available for travel on non-motorized means, all aspects of nature are ripe for enjoyment.
If this calls out to the nature lover in you, you can see a slew of creatures and wildlife in this wilderness area. Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, or HCNRA, is home to a wide variety of animals, such as herds of elk and species of deer, as well as sheep, mountain goats, bobcats, otters, beavers, rattlesnakes, black bears, and bald eagles. You must prepare to travel on foot, on horseback, or with a mountain bike to see all of the interesting and beautiful creatures in the wild.
Hells Canyon Scenic Byway
Out of all the best things to see in Hells Canyon, this renowned highway in Oregon tops the list. The entirety of the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway offers accessible views of the wildness that surrounds you as well as magnificent lookout areas on the way. Small towns located along the drive offer visitor services for you and your travel group. Planning ahead is critically important for this destination—sections of the byway go on for many miles before the next gas service area. Be sure to top off the fuel in your tank before you take off to the next town.
Check on the weather and look into road conditions. Road closures are common in certain seasons. Always have food and water on hand and a map or GPS for safety purposes. Stay on designated roads, as the unfamiliar country can be dangerous. When driving safely, you will be able to see why this byway grants the best views of the landscape, with rolling hills on one side and soaring mountain peaks on the other. Aside from the panoramic view at Hells Canyon Outlook, you will need to go elsewhere to get a perfect look at the Canyon.
Snake River Trail
This moderate trail is one of the most well-known paths, entering the Canyon from the west. Snake River Trail is fantastic for backpacking and hiking novices, as they can travel through unexplored frontiers. Best in the warmer seasons of March through September, the trail offers absolutely beautiful views as an ongoing outlook point.
With wide paths safe for all types of foot travel, this path is loved by visitors and comes recommended as a walking path to view wildlife and gorgeous flora. You can even camp along the river, but remain cautious, as weather conditions and daily temperatures can fluctuate due to elevation differences. Preparation is key for both hot and cold conditions, especially during the warmest summer months.
A National Wild and Scenic River
One of the most popular ways to see Hells Canyon is by traveling on a boat on the Snake River or the Salmon River. Visitors can check out a variety of boat tours and fishing excursions at points along the major Snake River, as well as whitewater rafting trips. No matter what kind of adventure and thrill you seek, or the views you want to encounter along the way, a boat trip on the river is sure to provide everything you desire.
Many adventure companies on the Snake River offer visitors views of the deepest and most vividly rugged points along the canyon. On these boat trips, staff will point out historic and scenic sites, as well as any wildlife. You can book specific fishing expeditions depending on the season—you can partake in sturgeon, salmon, or steelhead fishing adventures. Tour and excursion adventure companies also provide services for relaxation.
River Adventures offers professional boat tours and expeditions, as well as a primer jet boat shuttle service in Hells Canyon. This service is for those visitors who need a ride back to their destination after a long day of river adventure. It does not matter if you have been exploring, fishing, rafting, or sightseeing along the water. With the wind whipping through your hair and beautiful nature surrounding you, a majestic boat ride through Hells Canyon can feel like heaven.