Exploring Idaho's Heavenly Hells Canyon


Idaho's Hells Canyon was forged by the winding passage of the Snake River, a natural partnership that sounds more foreboding than the abundant biking, hiking, and paddling pleasures that it offers. The river has carved through the state's basalt and granite base to create North America's mightiest river gorge, over 8,000 feet deep and spanning 10 miles from rim to rim at its widest point. In this region, known as Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, outdoor enthusiasts will find themselves in a multi-sport paradise.
This 652,488-acre preserve straddles the Snake River and the Idaho-Oregon border, a land teeming with scenic trails, alpine lakes, fish-stocked waters, foaming rapids, and secluded backcountry. Its vast animal population includes deer, black bears, mountain goats, the rare bighorn sheep, and the two-largest elk herds in the nation. Visit Upper Pittsburgh Landing, where the 7,000-year-old petroglyphs and pictographs of the Nez Pierce Tribe decorate the rocks, and understand why Hells Canyon ranks as one of North America's most important archaeological sites.
At 8,429 feet, Heaven's Gate Lookout provides a 360° panorama of the surrounding landscape and arguably the best view of the state—as well as sweeping vistas of Oregon, Washington, and Montana. Hikers have much to choose from: Hells Canyon National Recreational Trail hugs the river banks for 31 miles, while Seven Devils Trail circumnavigates the range's highest peaks, weaving past 30 alpine lakes along its 27-mile loop. You pass such saw-tooth peaks as She Devil, Devil's Tooth, the Tower of Babel, and He Devil, at 9,393 feet the tallest point in the region. Or, opt for one of four paths that link the canyon's lip to the river's edge. Paddlers, meanwhile, need look no further than the Snake River and its Class III-V rapids, while anglers will find plenty to catch-n-release in the river's calmer stretches. Mountain bikers can test their legs on the nearby Parlor of Pain loop, an aptly named four-hour grind through the region's most rugged terrain. There are 20 or so rustic campsites in the area, providing easy access to this outdoor playground, and local outfitters and rental agencies abound.

Published: 28 Jun 2002 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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