Hells Canyon Wilderness

Image of mountain grassland bench with horses and riders

 

Overview

The Hells Canyon Wilderness is composed of 216,981 acres of high mountain peaks, ominous canyon rim-rocks, breathtaking vistas, and quieting solitude.

 

 

Established in 1975 as part of the Hells Canyon National Recreation Act (P.L. 94-199) the wilderness is split by the Snake River into two distinct areas – one in Oregon (133,170 acres) and the smaller portion in Idaho (83,811 acres). Although the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest has the lead stewardship responsibility, the wilderness also includes lands from the Payette National Forest, Nez Perce National Forest, and Bureau of Land Management.

At lower elevations on the Idaho side, dry, barren, steep slopes break over into the Snake River canyon. In the high country are the towering peaks, rock-faced slopes, and alpine lakes of the Seven Devils Mountain Range - said to be named for a vision of seven dancing devils that appeared to an Indian lost in the area. The legend fits. Here, splendid mountain peaks rise well over 9,000 feet, and bear names like She Devil, He Devil, Ogre, Goblin, Devil's Throne, Mt. Belial and Twin Imps.

On both the Oregon and Idaho sides the higher elevation areas are characteristic of rocky slopes and grasslands laced with 'stringer canyons' and groves composed of Douglas fir and ponderosa pine. The lower elevations are dominated by grassland benches with steep canyons and ravines dissecting the isolated Oregon-side. Species of interest are Rocky Mountain elk, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, mule deer, and chukar.

Hells Canyon wilderness logo with outline of a canyon and mountainRecreation Opportunities

Recreation season in the lower section of the wilderness usually begins in early spring and runs through late November. Access at some of the lower elevations along the Snake River are year-long. However at the higher elevations many trails remain inaccessible due to snow until late in the summer and become snowed covered in late October. Winter storms and summer thunderstorms are common along the canyonlands and mountain ridges, drawing up to 40 inches of annual precipitation-twice as much as the surrounding lowlands. The majority of the use varies depending of the lower or higher elevations.

The extensive trail system within the wilderness mostly follows old Forest Service access routes to fires, and stock trails used by ranchers to move livestock to remote salting areas and watering holes. You can take short day trips or extensive treks on these trails, which are passable - though somewhat unaccomodating. Many routes follow ridges and traverse moderate slopes and benchlands with ease; others track steep slopes.

Two national recreation and historic trails are found at various elevations: in Oregon there is the Western Rim/Summit Ridge National Recreation Trail at the upper elevation, and Nez Perce - Ne Me Poo - National Historic Trail near the Snake River. In Idaho there is the Snake River National Recreation Trail along the river, and the Heaven's Gate National Recreation Trail in the upper elevations.

Main Access Points

Major Trailheads from Enterprise, Oregon side

Buck Creek NRA Trailhead (Trail #1884)
PO Saddle Trailhead (Trail #1774)
Hat Point Trailhead (Trail #1752)
Warnock Corral Trailhead (Trail #1778)
Dug Bar Trailhead (Trail #1774)

Major Trailheads from Riggins, Idaho side

Black Lake Campground (Trail #214)
Heaven's Gate Trailhead (Trail #101)
Windy Saddle Trailhead and Windy Saddle Horse Camp (Trail #124)
Snake River Trailhead (Trail #102)

Location

The Hells Canyon Wilderness lies 30 miles east of Enterprise and Joseph, Oregon and 10 miles west of Riggins, Idaho.

More Information

Current information about the area's recreation sites or trail conditions can be found by contacting the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area Offices located in Wallowa Mountains Office, in Joseph, Oregon or Riggins, Idaho, or checking the Recreation Condition Reports. For more information including a map of the area, fact sheet and a copy of the 1975 Hells Canyon National Recreation Act or the 1984 Oregon Wilderness Act visit wilderness.net