Hells Canyon Scenic Byway System - Oregon Scenic Drives

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Baker Cite Access

Some of the most dramatic scenery in the country is found along the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway on the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area. Located on a combination of county, state, private, and National Forest roads, this 314 mile trip includes a loop road through the Wallow Mountains with side trips to view the impressive Hells Canyon of the Snake River, the deepest river-carved gorge in North America

More than one day will be needed to visit all portions of the byway. In addition to sightseeing and wildlife viewing from the car, cycling provides you another avenue of travel along the byway. You may enjoy fishing, camping, hiking, horseback riding or float and jet boat trips in the canyon itself. Several campgrounds are located along the route. Some are fee areas with developed water and toilet facilities. Electrical hookups are available only at Idaho Power's Copperfield Campground and Hells Canyon Park Campground. This facility is located on the Snake River on the Hells Canyon Creek Recreation Site side trip.

The journey begins near Baker City at I-84 Exit 302. Travel on State Highway 86 through Richland and Halfway for 63 miles to its junction with paved Forest Road 39, a left turn (Note: Current road condition updates can be obtained by calling the Wallowa Mountains Visitor Center at 541 426-5546 ). See side trip information below for points of interest if continuing on State Highway 86 past this junction.

Main Loop

The Wallowa Mountain Loop(Forest Road #39) is approximately 54 miles of paved, two-lane road and 11 miles of 1 1/2 lane road in the Gumboot section leading to Joseph, Oregon. The first point of interest is Ollokot Campground, historically used by the Nez Perce Tribe. FR #39 continues past the intersection with the Imnaha River Road (see side trip information) to the Lick Creek Campground and Guard Station on the right. Still operational, the guard station is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (Note: Current road condition updates can be obtained by calling the Wallowa Mountains Visitor Center at 541 426-5546. )

After passing through narrow, lush, ponderosa pine covered canyons, you will arrive in the Canal Fire area The peaks of the Eagle Cap Wilderness will serve as a backdrop as you travel through the burned trees. The lightning caused fire burned 23,000 acres in 1989.

The junction with State Highway 350 (turn left) will take you to Joseph. As you approach Joseph, majestic vistas of the mountains known as the 1Switzerland of America" will dazzle you. The trip from Baker City to La Grande and I-84 with no side trips is about five hours. This portion of the byway is open during summer months.

Side Trips

The Hells Canyon Creek Recreation Site is 23 additional miles on Idaho Power Road #454 down the reservoir from the Idaho Power's Copperfield Campground which is 7 miles from the junction of Hwy 86 and FR #39. The trip takes you well into the steep-sided canyon and to the beginning of the wild and scenic portion of the Snake River. There is a visitor contact facility located at the Recreation site. From here the jetboats and floaters run downstream. Prior reservations are necessary for floaters during the control period. The area offers overnight and day use opportunities.

Hells Canyon Overlook offers a dramatic view of canyon country with open slopes and rolling hills visible across the canyon. From State Hwy 86 on to FR #39 travel approximately 20 miles and then take a right turn on to FR #3965 which is a paved 2 lane road. The Overlook is 3 miles from the junction. If you continue past the Overlook the road turns to gravel which will afford you many more spectacular views of Hells Canyon, the Snake River and the Seven Devils on the Idaho side.

Imnaha River Road (FR #3955) is a right turn just past Gumboot Creek onto a two-lane, gravelled road that takes the traveler down the beautiful wild and scenic Imnaha River. On this 39 mile journey, you will pass a fish well where the State traps and holds salmon during the summer. Facilities are pleasant and visitors always welcome. Much of the area below the Pallette Ranch is private ranchland. Watch for well-marked public access signs along the river.

Hat Point, 23.5 miles from Imnaha, is accessed by FR #4240. Take a right turn at the Imnaha post office then go straight uphill on the gravel road. It has turnouts and is accessible to passenger cars. You will need to allow most of the day for the trip. If you plan to take your R.V. on this road, it is steep the first 6 miles and difficult to turn around. The route may not be for everyone.

On top, the road crosses lovely alpine meadows to reach Hat Point. In early summer, wildflowers sprinkle the area with color and texture. The view from the overlook is one of several spectacular vistas along the road. The Seven Devils Mountains of Idaho are seen across the canyon, and the Snake River is visible 5700' below you.

The town of Imnaha, where you can find refreshments but no gas, is 33 miles from Joseph via State Highway 350 then on to Enterprise, Oregon and many other interesting communities on the way to La Grande. Gas, food, and lodging are available in these communities.


Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 27 May 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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