Hells Canyon is a 10-mile (16 km) wide gorge along the border of eastern Oregon, east of Washington and west of Idaho in the United States. It is part of Hells Canyon National Recreation Area and at 2,436 meters is North America’s deepest river canyon.
Hells Canyon is mostly in the US state of Oregon, right on the Idaho border. Many visitors touring the United States come here to explore this vast recreation area and enjoy many outdoor activities along the Snake River. High peaks with breathtaking views and diverse wildlife have something for every visitor.
Over millions of years, the Snake River carved this breathtakingly beautiful gorge into the Wallowa Mountains, creating a beautiful canyon. Visit and enjoy this special place, whether it’s by road, hiking trails or by boat on the Snake River.
Geology of Hells Canyon
According to act-test-centers, the geological history of Hells Canyon’s rocks began 300 million years ago with an arc of volcanoes that formed out of the waters of the Pacific Ocean. Over millions of years, the volcanoes and limestone on the underwater platforms sank. Between 130 and 17 million years the ocean plate collided with the volcanoes and became part of the North American continent. A period of volcanic activity followed. The Snake River began carving Hells Canyon out of the plateau about 6 million years ago.
With a canyon width of nearly ten miles, the gorge is not as spectacular a sight as the Grand Canyon, which is 280 miles long in Arizona. In addition, the Snake River has fewer side arms, which means that the canyon area is not as widely branched as in the Grand Canyon.
But one of the geological features of Hells Canyon is the beautiful basalt formations on the rocky slopes of the lower Snake River.
The Snake River is one of the largest rivers in the Northwest United States. At 1,735 kilometers long, it is the largest tributary of the Columbia River, which empties into the Pacific Ocean. Its source begins in Yellowstone National Park and then flows south into Wyoming through Grand Teton National Park. After Snake River Canyon it flows west and reaches the Snake River Plain, a plain that curves through southern Idaho for about 600 km. It then travels through the rugged Hells Canyon area of northeastern Oregon, over the Palouse Hills to near Washington state where it flows into the Columbia River.
It flows past the cities of Idaho Falls, Pocatello, Twin Falls and Boise and forms several reservoirs, such as the American Falls Reservoir. Overall, his path leads through six states of the USA, past many American sights.
History of Hell’s Canyon
The first settlers in Hells Canyon were the Nez Perce Indian tribe. Other tribes such as the Shoshone-Bannock, Paiute and Cayuse Indians followed. They could live well here as the area offered mild winters with plenty of plants and wildlife. Many pictograms and petroglyphs on the walls of the gorge date from this period.
In 1806, three members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition came to the Hells Canyon region, but they turned back without seeing the deep part of the canyon. It was not until 1811 that the Wilson Price Hunt Expedition explored Hells Canyon looking for a shortcut to the Columbia River. But hunger and cold forced them to turn back. The first explorers called this region Box Canyon or Snake River Canyon.
In the 1860s, gold was found in the riverbeds near what is now Hells Canyon
National Recreation Area discovered. Many miners then entered Hells Canyon. Unfortunately, gold mining was not very profitable here.
The 1880s saw a short-lived homesteading boom, but the weather was unsuitable for farming and most settlers quickly gave up. Only a few ranchers have remained in this area to this day.
After the completion of the large hydroelectric dams on the Columbia River in the 1930s, attempts were made to obtain a permit to build a dam in Hells Canyon. In 1955, the commission granted a license for the Idaho Power Company to build a three-dam complex into the canyon:
- The first of the Brownlee Dams is located at RM 285 and was completed in 1958.
- Oxbow Dam, located 12 miles downstream, was completed in 1961.
- Hells Canyon Dam, 26 miles below Oxbow, was completed in 1961.
The three dams generate a capacity of 1,167 megawatts of electricity.
In 1975 Hells Canyon was protected as a National Recreation Area and Wilderness Area. A large part is located in Oregon (133,170 acres) and the smaller part in Idaho (83,811 hectares).
Activities in Hell’s Canyon
Many recreational activities such as fishing, jet boat tours, hunting, hiking, horseback riding, camping and rafting can be practiced within the gorge. Much of this activity takes place on the Snake River into Hells Canyon. A true paradise for anglers, as the Snake River carries numerous species of fish. In addition, Hells Canyon attracts numerous visitors who carry out all kinds of outdoor activities here.
Hiking trails through Hells Canyon
Various tours through the area are offered in Hells Canyon all year round. Hiking trails are at different elevations: in Oregon, the Western Rim/Summit Ridge National Recreation Trail is at the upper elevation and the Nez Perce – Ne Me Poo – National Historic Trail is near the Snake River. In Idaho there is the Snake River National Recreation Trail along the river and Heaven’s Gate National Recreation Trail in the upper elevations.
Best time to visit Hells Canyon
The best time to relax and visit in the lower part of the wilderness usually begins in the spring and lasts until the end of November. Especially in May, when the many wildflowers are blooming here, the weather is ideal for hiking.
At the higher elevations, many trails are inaccessible due to snow until late in the summer and are snowed in again at the end of October. Therefore, there is only a small period of the year to visit the higher altitudes.
Access to Hell’s Canyon
No roads cross Hells Canyon and only three roads lead to the Snake River between Hells Canyon Dam and further downstream at the Oregon-Washington state border.
From the Oxbow Bridge near Copperfield, Oregon, the Hells Canyon Road travels the Idaho side of the river 14 miles (22 km) downstream to Hells Canyon Dam. The road crosses the dam and travels another mile to the Hells Canyon Visitor Center on the Oregon side. Further north on the Idaho side, Deer Creek Road connects White Bird in Idaho with the river at Pittsburg Landing.
At the north end of the canyon is Forest Road 4260, which joins the river at Dug Bar of Imnaha, Oregon. This part is only for 4WD vehicles as the track is very uneven.
Address of the Hells Canyon attraction in Oregon