When you visit Hells Canyon on your next outdoor adventure, you’ll see the majestic Seven Devils Mountain range looming over the east bank of the Snake River. How did the mountains get there? The geological history of Hells Canyon’s Seven Devils is told colorfully through the native lore of the Nez Perce nation.
Where Are the Seven Devils?
This mountain range is a part of the larger Rocky Mountain range, visible above the eastern bank of the Snake River. The Seven Devils are southwest of Riggins, Idaho, and are accessible via car from U.S. Highway 95, down a long gravel road. Once you reach the mountains, you can take advantage of the hundreds of hiking trails that wind through each of the Seven Devils.
The Nez Perce Legend
According to storytellers indigenous to the area, the Seven Devils used to be seven gigantic monsters that ate up any Nez Perce children who stood in their path. Year after year, the monsters crept eastward.
One year, the Nez Perce chiefs asked the wise Coyote for his help in stopping the monsters and protecting their children. Coyote then visited his friend Fox in search of advice, and Fox told him that they needed to dig seven deep holes and fill them with boiling-hot liquid.
Coyote gathered all the animals with claws—bears, beavers, marmots, and cougars—and they worked tirelessly to dig seven holes to trap the monsters. When the holes were sufficiently deep, Coyote filled them with hot, rust-colored magma and dropped hot rocks inside to make the liquid boil.
The next time the monsters traveled eastward, they fell into the magma-filled holes, just as Fox knew they would. They thrashed and struggled but could not climb out! As Coyote watched them splash boiling liquid in every direction, he told the monsters that he was punishing them for their wicked deeds.
To make an example of the monsters, Coyote turned them all into high, immovable mountains so that everybody in the area could see the consequences of their actions. In a final move to prevent the monsters from ever moving eastward again, Coyote struck the ground and opened a chasm in the Earth’s crust. Today, we know that chasm as Hells Canyon.
The Mountains Today
To this day, the Seven Devils loom large over Hells Canyon. They can be viewed from afar on one of our Hells Canyon boat tours, or experienced up close from one of the many hiking trails. And while they may not be ravenous monsters, they are best enjoyed with a keen eye for safety.
Enhance your experience of the Hells Canyon area by educating yourself on its native lore, especially surrounding the Seven Devils. Indigenous groups have long held a sincere and dedicated respect for the earth around them, and the seven devils are a part of that long tradition. Follow in their footsteps by safely enjoying the canyon!