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U.S. Forest Service

Pacific Northwest Region Viewing Area


Snake River Phlox Snake River Phlox (Phlox colubrina) grows in rocky sites. Photo by Gene Yates.

Blanket Flower Blanket Flower (Gaillardia aristata) grows in open grasslands. Photo by Gene Yates.

Prickly Pear Cactus Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia polyacantha) grows in sites with coarse soils and bunchgrass. Photo by Gene Yates.

Pittsburg Landing

Forest: Wallowa-Whitman National Forest

District: Hells Canyon National Recreation Area

Description: Pittsburg Landing is located deep in Hells Canyon near the mouth of Kurry Creek along the Snake River. At a much elevation than surrounding areas, the lower canyon of the Snake River in Hells Canyon is topographically isolated and is relatively warmer and often snow free during the winter. It supports several endemic plants as well as many others disjunct from more southerly latitudes. Hells Canyon holds some the largest contiguous bunchgrass communities in the Intermountain West. The slopes support vast stands of bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoreigneria spicata) and Idaho fescue (Festuca idahoensis). Smaller communities of warm-season grasses, such as red three-awn (Aristida longiseta) and sand dropseed (Sporobolus cryptandrus) are also prevalent. Notable are vast communities of prickly pear cactus (Opuntia polyacantha) amid sparse stands of bluebunch wheatgrass.

Viewing Information: Pittsburg Landing is a good destination for people looking for signs of spring early in the year. During March, yellow bells (Fritillaria pudica) dot the grasslands. These are quickly followed by wild onions (Allium spp.), Douglas’ Brodiaea (Brodiaea douglasii), and desert parsleys (Lomatium spp). From late April through May one can find the endemic and showy Snake River phlox (Phlox colubrina), fuzzy-tongue penstemon (Penstemon eriantherus), native thistles (Cirsium undulatum, Cirsium utahense), locoweeds (Astragalus spp.), clustered broomrape (Orobanche fasciculata), hoary aster (Chrysopsis villosa), shaggy fleabane (Erigeron pumilus), paintbrushes (Castilleja spp), white-stemmed Frasera (Frasera albicaulis) and blanket flower (Gaillardia aristata). The prickly pear bloom peaks early June as it accentuates grassy slopes with yellow to magenta colored flowers. Near the Pittsburg saddle dependable displays of the Venus penstemon (Penstemon venustus) are seen. A wildfire that burned through this area in 2007 has stimulated abundant wildflower displays that should continue for the next several years.

Safety First: Be prepared in spring, summer and autumn for rapid changes in weather as thunderstorms may develop rapidly. Western diamondback rattlesnakes may occasionally be present so please stay alert. The western diamondback rattlesnake is not aggressive but will defend itself if stepped on or threatened at close range. Keep a watchful eye as you walk and you should not have any problems. The gravel road descending to Pittsburg Landing is narrow and very winding above; keep your eye on the road and watch your speed. Please use the pullouts if you wish to photograph the panoramic view or wildflowers. Summer temperatures can be high, easily exceeding 100º F. Carry water, bring plenty of sunscreen and wear a ventilated brimmed hat. Western poison ivy (Toxicodendron rydbergii) is common along streams and in dense patches on lower slopes; remember leaves of three let it be.

Directions: From Idaho highway 95, drive about 20 miles south from Grangeville (or 30 miles north from Riggins) to the small community of Whitebird. From here, take Idaho county road 493 about 15 miles to the saddle between the Salmon and Snake Rivers. As you descend the saddle 5 miles to Pittsburg Landing, many opportunities exist along the road for wildflower viewing. At the landing there is a campground and boatlaunch. Water is available from Memorial Day through Labor Day. At the Upper Landing, trail #102 runs along the Snake River south 27 miles to Granite Creek. About 1 mile before the campground, two very primitive spur roads (4-wheel drive recommended) run north. These are suitable for walking as traffic is usually absent.

Ownership and Management: USDA Forest Service, Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, Hells Canyon National Recreation Area.

Closest Town: Riggins and Grangeville, Idaho.