Carving the deepest canyon in North America, between the borders of Idaho and Oregon, Hells Canyon is a place of grandeur. During the months of April, May and June, due to the low elevation and mild weather, Hells Canyon is a heavenly place to be. Wildflowers and cactus are blooming, birds are nesting, elk are calving, the grass slopes are still green from spring rains, and very few people are in the canyon. On our September and October trips, fall colors show on the slopes of grass and bushes.
ROW’s walking trips are designed for people who enjoy walking without the encumbrance of a heavy pack. All you carry during the day is your own small daypack with a camera, binoculars, water bottle, ROW provided lunch, and whatever else you want. The trail parallels the river with a surface of either dirt or crushed rock. Most would consider this a moderate hike, although some of our guests have described it as difficult due to the rough trail. There are ups and downs, especially the first day of the trip. Normal weather conditions are ideal (highs 70-85), but unseasonably hot (90+ degree) weather can make this a more challenging hike. All participants should be in good shape, have a strong heart and be comfortable walking 8 -10 miles a day. There is a fair amount of poison ivy at some points on the trail, and people with hypersensitivity to poison ivy should call us to discuss the trip.
Our trip begins at Hells Canyon Dam, elevation 1450 feet, where we board our large cargo boat (18 – 20 feet long), or a 14’ paddle raft for a four mile float to the put-in. (We do float through a few minor rapids on our way to the trailhead. PFD's (personal floatation devices formally known as lifejackets) are worn during this ride, which takes less than an hour.)
Deep in Hells Canyon, you are surrounded by towering, impressive mountain ranges. On the Idaho (east) side are the Seven Devils on the Oregon side, the Wallowas. Both are designated wilderness areas. At some places along the trail, you can look up to mountaintops that are around 7900 feet in elevation, over a mile above your head.
As we walk, we’ll look down on the mighty Snake River. During the 30 miles that we hike, we’ll see a number of rapids, including the legendary Wild Sheep and Granite Creek. If we’re lucky we may see a raft or jet boat negotiate one of these challenging drops.
Natural and Cultural History:
Human history in Hells Canyon dates back at least 10,000 years and the people that we call the Shoshone and Nez Perce lived here until the late 1800’s. We’ll visit a number of their rock art and ancient dwelling sites. Your guides have an intimate knowledge of these people and will share their history, mythology and archaeology. In 1877, Chief Joseph crossed the Snake while trying to lead his people tofreedom. Listening to this story today, it will be easy for you to picture this amazing scene, with dozens of Indians and horses swimming the river.
You’ll also discover a grand variety of flora and fauna. Hells Canyon is the home to Rocky Mountain big horn sheep, Rocky Mountain goats, mule, deer, elk, black bear, otter and numerous smaller mammals. As well, Golden Eagles, hawks and falcons soar in the skies above, while ducks and other waterfowl swim in the river. Numerous songbirds live in the thick brush along the tributary creeks. The land is fairly arid and slopes are covered with Ponderosa Pines, mountain mahogany, bunchgrass and ninebark. Along the many side creeks you’ll see netleaf hackberry, aspen, willow, bitterbrush, bittercherry, serviceberry and Bartonberry.
Luxury Camping and Weather:
Camping conditions on the Snake are ideal. In April, May and early June, it is usually between 70-85 degrees during the day, while at night it cools to 60-75. It rarely rains, but when it does it freshens the air and often provides a dramatic thundershower. There are no mosquitoes. Our camps are either on flat benches beneath pine trees or on sandy beaches. The water is about 60 degrees, so bathing and swimming at camp is usually quite popular. September and October trips can expect cooler morning temperatures and cooler river water. People who enjoy fishing will find trout, smallmouth bass and sturgeon in the river. Typically the fishing is excellent.
Our days begin with a breakfast feast on which you can freely indulge; knowing you'll need the calories as the day passes. We leave camp and look forward to a day with constantly changing scenery and glorious views.
As the sunsets, hors d' oeuvres are served, and soon thereafter, dinner. The quality of our food reflects the quality of the wilderness environment in Hells Canyon. We hand-select the freshest fruits and vegetables we can find and pack them carefully in huge ice-coolers. Likewise, these coolers carry fresh diary products and meats. From these ingredients we prepare bountiful, healthy meals. Cornish game hens stuffed with wild rice and served with broccoli with Béarnaise sauce. Baked Salmon stuffed with shrimp in white sauce, served with green beans and Idaho mashed potatoes. Juicy rib-eye steak, or made-on-the-river lasagna are a couple of other possible entrees. Big salads of vegetables and fruit add color and variety to every meal. Desserts are made each evening in our Dutch ovens and range from double fudge brownies to pineapple upside-down cake. And, we always have plenty of ice to keep your drinks cold.
Trips limited to 14 walkers. On some trips we may have rafters along as well, in any case maximum trip size may be 19 plus guides. Typically our average trip is 9-10 plus guides. Dates other than those shown on our schedule may be available. Please call.
In order to minimize your driving time to and from the river, we start our trip in Cambridge,Idaho (two hours northwest of Boise) and end in Lewiston, Idaho. ROW provides transportation from the Boise airport to Cambridge, Idaho for the start of your trip and then to Lewiston, Idaho after the river trip. Many airlines offer "Open Jaw" fares that allow you to fly from your hometown to Boise and then return from Lewiston. However, it may be less expensive to buy a roundtrip ticket to Boise, and then a one-way ticket to take you from Lewiston to Boise at the end of the trip. Horizon Air and Delta Air offer service from Lewiston to Boise. Southwest Airlines (1-800-435-9792) serves Boise and Spokane with good rates. Depending on the price of flying out of Lewiston, you may find it more economical to fly into Boise, then at the end of the trip take a taxi from Lewiston to Spokane for about $160 and fly from Spokane back home. This is especially true for groups of 3 or more. To arrange for a taxi ride, call AAA Taxi at 888-534-9644. Ask the airlines or your travel agent about which option would work best for you.
If you drive:
Drive to Cambridge and pay the owners of the Frontier Motel to arrange a driver to drive your car north while you're on the river. On all trips your car will go to White Bird for approximately $120 or our actual take-out at Pittsburg Landing for approximately $155.
Ending Points: If your car was shuttled, it will either be at our take-out point or in the town of White Bird (we take you there on our bus). If you flew to Boise, we’ll transport you by van or bus to Lewiston, 3 hours north, arriving at around 5:30pm. We recommend that you plan to spend the night in Lewiston at the Red Lion Inn. They’ll take you to the airport the next morning