Snake River Hiking
In 1989, ROW Adventures pioneered the concept of raft-supported hiking and walking tours on the Snake River in Hells Canyon, Idaho. Our walking trips and hiking vacations allow you to comfortably follow an isolated river's path on foot while a cargo raft carries your camp gear. You can enjoy the scenery and photograph wildlife, carrying only water and a small daypack.
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 to freedom. 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.
Hiking the Snake River lets you experience the beauty of the deepest canyon in North America. 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.
Images & Videos
Arrive in Cambridge, ID, Orientation Meeting
Travel from you home to Cambridge, Idaho and meet ROW's Team Leader at the Frontier Motel at 8:00 PM Mountain Standard Time (MST) for a one-hour orientation meeting to answer last-minute questions. You'll also receive your waterproof gear bags. Dinner on your own.
Hiking Hells Canyon, Wildlife and Nature Viewing
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.)
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.
ROW is proud to be an Equal Opportunity recreation service provider and employer under permit from Salmon, Payette, Boise, and Challis National Forests. All our operations and facilities are operated on a non-discriminatory basis. ROW Inc. is bonded and licensed by the State of Idaho Outfitters & Guides Licensing Board.
FAQ & More
The quality of our food reflects the quality of the wilderness environment in the Middle Fork 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 dairy products and meats. From these ingredients we prepare bountiful, healthy meals. Sustainably harvested wild Alaskan Salmon served with a fresh garden salad; Prime Rib combined with a fresh Chilean salad and Idaho mashed potatoes or made-on-the-river lasagna is a few 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 authentic cobbler and pineapple upside-down cake. We serve juice each morning and moderate amounts of bottled wine with dinner. We also provide two beers and two sodas or juices per person per day. There's always plenty of cold water, lemonade mix, tea, coffee and cocoa. You're welcome to bring your own beverages or alcohol as well. We always have plenty of ice to keep your drinks cold.
We call it luxury camping. In order to make your trip run as smoothly and comfortably as possible, we use a large cargo raft to carry camping gear, food and supplies ahead of the main group. This allows our smaller rafts to be lighter and more maneuverable, which makes for a safer ride with more bounce and splash. And the cargo raft arrives at camp early to setup the kitchen and spacious 2-person tents we supply for you. All you have to do is carry your personal gear to the tent of your choice and roll out your sleeping bag, flannel liner and thick, self-inflating foam sleeping pad (all of which is provided by ROW and stored in a ROW-provided waterproof bag). There are no mosquitoes on this stretch of the river and our camps are on flat benches beneath pine trees or on sandy beaches. To give you the opportunity to go hiking, fishing, read a book, etc., we generally arrive in camp no later than 4:00pm. Around 5:30, we serve hors d'oeuvres with dinner following around 7:00pm. (Note: In rare circumstances we may have a trip on the Snake River with less than 13 guests. In this case, we may not run our cargo raft. Our guides are still happy to set up your tent.)
The elevation on the Snake River in Hells Canyon is only 1,500’ at the put-in and around 800’ at the take-out. This means the weather is typically much warmer than other parts of Idaho. This trip is excellent throughout the season, but Snake River in Hells Canyon hike is an ideal choice for spring or fall vacations because of the mild climate and few other people.
Hells Canyon Dam controls water flow so there are excellent levels year round but the highest water is typically in June and September. Air temperatures in the spring and fall range from 65-85 degrees and most nights cool to around 45-50 degrees Fahrenheit. It's warmer in late June through late August with daytime temperatures between 85-95 degrees, dropping to 65-70 degrees at night. It rarely rains in Hells Canyon, but sometimes we'll witness a dramatic thundershower which instantly freshens the air. Water temperatures are usually around 60 degrees in June and September, and 70 degrees in July and August.
On any river trip the guides are the most important factor for your safety, enjoyment and the success of the trip. ROW guides are exceptional people with years of river experience. We maintain a tobacco-free policy and most of our guides have taken interpretation courses from certified instructors. We look for guides who are willing and eager to share, teach, listen, learn, laugh, play, discuss and, above all, work hard to provide a safe, relaxed and spontaneous adventure. While in camp two or three guides are preparing dinner while the others are free to spend time with you. They might show you the way to a nearby hot spring, give a fly-fishing lesson or just to sit and visit with the group. Our guides are the main reason many of our guests return to ROW time and time again. (References gladly provided.)
Fly into Boise, Idaho the evening prior to your departure date and take the ROW shuttle up to Cambridge. Then after the trip return home via Lewiston, Idaho or Spokane, Washington.
Arrive in Boise no later than 4:00 pm Mountain Time the day before your trip.
The shuttle van (provided by Caldwell Transportation Service) will meet you outside the baggage claim doors in the “taxi” lane at 4:00 pm for an easy two-hour drive to Cambridge.
After your trip you can:
A) Fly out of the Lewiston Airport (Airport shuttle provided free by the Red Lion Inn) to your hometown or back to Boise, Idaho to connect with your round-trip flight. Lewiston is serviced by Horizon Air or Delta Air only.
B) Take a shuttle van/taxi to Spokane, Washington (two hours north) for a better selection of flights as Spokane has a much larger airport. If you choose to shuttle to Spokane.
Drive to Cambridge, Idaho and arrange for the Frontier Motel to shuttle your vehicle north while you are on the river.
Plan to arrive in Cambridge in time for the 8:00 pm Orientation meeting.
On all 3-day trips and some 4-day trips your car will go to White Bird or our actual take-out at Pittsburg Landing. The cost to have the vehicle shuttled to Whitebird is $110 (not including fuel). If you have your car shuttled to the Pittsburg Landing the cost is $145.
On all 5- or 6-day trips and some 4-day trips, your car will be shuttled to Lewiston for $200. If you decide to get your car shuttled to the take out at Heller Bar you will need to have a Washington State Discover Pass. If your flight arrives later than 4:00 pm into Boise, you have two options:
Rent a car and drive two hours to Cambridge. Then have it shuttled to the ending point of the trip, as per the above paragraph.
Take an airport shuttle from Boise to Cambridge. Contact either Boise City Taxi at 208-377-3333 or use an Uber. If you are unable to schedule your flight into Boise by 4:00 pm or if your flight arrives late and you need to arrange other transportation, the cost for this transportation will be at your expense.
ROW makes this easy... You bring the clothes you want to wear at camp and on the trail/river. Then, once you make a reservation ROW will send you a complete packing list. ROW provides the camping equipment, food, and beverages.
On many of our summer trips, frequent swimming leaves you feeling clean. For those who want to soap up, we always do so well above the river's high water line (not even "bio-degradable" soap goes in the river). We also take sun-showers on many of our trips and the hot water is great for shampooing and taking a sponge bath. Buckets of river water help with the process.
At each camp we set up a special, private tent with a portable toilet inside, which works just like yours at home, without the flush. This is available from the time we get to camp until we leave the next morning. The views from our toilet locations are simply inspiring. Nearby we set up a handwashing system. During the day, liquid waste goes in the river by simply wading into the water or going for a swim. A day-use toilet is available too for solid waste. If you have any other questions or concerns please call our adventure consultants.
For feminine hygiene, come prepared with some small zip-lock bags. These are useful for disposal during the day while on the river and can be put into our trash containers at camp. Along with our toilet supplies, ROW will have extra pads and tampons available. Using portable toilets allows us to carry out all human waste.
All our guides are certified in first aid and river rescue. Many have had advanced training specific to the wilderness environment in which we operate and are certified as Wilderness First Responders or Emergency Medical Technicians. Thus we are able to cope with most on-river accidents. If in our judgment, evacuation is deemed necessary we have several options depending on weather and our location. Sometimes we are near remote ranches or roads that we can use to evacuate. We carry a satellite telephone along with a GPS on trips lasting three or more days. (Cell phones don't work in the remote areas where we travel.) We can use these to contact emergency transport, including helicopters. Evacuation, if needed, can take from as little as a couple of hours to as many as 24 hours, or in extreme cases, longer than this depending on the situation, weather and location.
It's important to drink plenty when you're outdoors so ROW provides fresh drinking water at all times. In camp, there's also juice, herbal tea, black tea, coffee, and cocoa. We provide two complimentary sodas and two beers per person, per day and complimentary wine with dinner. If you wish to bring more sodas, beer, or other alcoholic drinks to enjoy in the evening, bring them along. We'll have cocktail ice.
Absolutely! You will want to capture the stunning scenery. A waterproof camera with extra batteries and a memory card is highly recommended. While many guests use their smartphones, please realize you will not have cell service or power source for charging and we highly recommend a waterproof case. Portable power banks are a great source for recharging.
If you do not own trail boots it is a good idea to note the following specifications – buy your boots long before the trip. Wear them as much as possible to break them in. Well designed boots, well broken in, and in good condition are the key to enjoying this trip. Good ankle support is important. Light trail boots are adequate and should have lug soles. Tennis shoes, sandals, and other light weight shoes should not be worn on the trail. A handy trick for insuring foot comfort is carrying a spare set of socks for the day. At lunchtime, you can change socks. Dry socks at mid-day will go a long way toward keeping tender feet in good condition.
Clothing should be loose fitting and allow full movement. Cotton-polyester blends are cool and dry fast. Bring shorts and long pants as you see fit... and a wide brim hat. Rain gear is required. Your daily clothing will be carried in your pack. Extra clothing, personal items and are carried in a waterproof river bag on the raft. Space is limited so keep your gear to 30 pounds or less.
The key to a good pack is comfortable and well-designed shoulder and waist straps. Even a light pack can be irritating if it doesn't ride well on your back. If you carry your water bottle in the pack, get one with an outside pocket on the side of the pack and large enough to carry your water bottle (your water bottle should be at least one-liter capacity). Be certain that the straps and waistband have enough adjustment to allow the pack to be worn over your warm clothing; some inexpensive packs have very short straps. If you will be buying a pack for this trip be certain it is large enough, but don't go overboard. After reviewing the gear list, make a pile of everything you need to carry in the pack, box it up, and take it when shopping for a pack. This is the best way to size a pack.