Hells Canyon National Recreation Area

Overview

Introduction

With walls rising 7,900 ft/2,400 m from the canyon floor, Hells Canyon, Idaho, is one of the deepest gorges in North America—even deeper than the Grand Canyon. It's located on the Snake River in western Idaho, between Boise and Lewiston. Nature lovers can spend weeks there; others just see it in passing.

There is road access to the river in several places, though some routes may only be open in the summer and early fall. Two that are usually open year-round are Highway 71 to Hells Canyon Dam (well worth seeing) and the gravel road to Pittsburgh Landing.

The most impressive views of the canyon are from the river itself. The adventurous can raft down the river, but a quicker—and drier—way to see the area is to take a jet boat. Various river adventures can be booked at Lewiston (on the Idaho-Washington border 200 mi/320 km north of Boise), a popular gateway to Hells Canyon. Outfitters also depart from nearby Hells Canyon Dam and Hells Gate State Park.

Lewiston has the distinction of being an inland seaport: It ships goods down the Columbia River to the Pacific. It offers a day's worth of attractions, including the Luna House, a museum devoted to the activities of Native Americans and pioneers in the region.

While in the area, be sure to see the 9,000-ft-/2,750-m-tall mountains in the Seven Devils Range (access is from Highway 95 near Riggins), some of the state's most dramatic scenery. In the Seven Devils Wilderness Area, backpackers can enjoy a vast system of trails and more than 30 alpine lakes.

Those interested in Native American history and culture should check out the headquarters of the Nez Perce National Historic Park in Spalding (15 mi/25 km east of Lewiston). Park displays document the battles and exodus of the Nez Perce people in the 1870s. The park consists of dozens of sites in Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Montana (you'd need several days to see it all). The visitors center, which has a fine collection of Nez Perce artifacts, is the place to plan your tour of the other sites.

Hells Canyon is great for camping, relaxing and fishing, but it's an undeveloped area. If you're driving, check road conditions prior to entering.

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