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Eastern Oregon Travel Guide

Hells Canyon

This remote place along the Snake River is the deepest river-carved gorge in North America (7,900 feet), with many rare and endangered animal species. There are three different routes from which to view and experience the canyon, though only one is accessible year-round.

Most travelers take a scenic peek from the overlook on the 45-mi Wallowa Mountain Loop, which follows Route 39 (part

of the Hells Canyon National Scenic Byway) from just east of Halfway on Route 86 to just east of Joseph on Route 350. At the junction of Route 39 and Forest Road 3965, take the 6-mi round-trip spur to the 5,400-foot-high rim at Hells Canyon Overlook. This is the easiest way to get a glimpse of the canyon, but be aware that Route 39 is open only during summer and early fall. During the late fall, winter, and spring the best way to experience Hells Canyon is to follow a slightly more out-of-the-way route along the Snake River Segment of the Wallowa Mountain Loop. Following Snake River Road north from Oxbow, the 60-mi round-trip route winds along the edge of Hells Canyon Reservoir on the Idaho side, crossing the Snake River at Hells Canyon Dam on the Oregon-Idaho border. In some places the canyon is 10 mi wide. There's a visitor center near the dam, and hiking trails continue on into the Hells Canyon Wilderness and National Recreation Area. Be sure you have a full tank before starting out, since there are no gas stations anywhere along the route. If you're starting from Joseph, you also have the option of heading to the Hat Point Overlook. From Joseph, take Route 350 northeast to Imnaha, a tiny town along the Imnaha River. From there, Forest Road 4240 leads southeast to Route 315, which in turn heads northeast up a steep gravel road to the overlook. This route is also open only during the summer. Carry plenty of water.

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