Hells Canyon


Hells Canyon is a ten-mile wide canyon located along the border of eastern Oregon and western Idaho. It’s North America’s deepest river gorge at 7,993 feet (2436 m) and the most spectacular feature of Hells Canyon National Recreation Area.

The canyon was carved and created by the waters of the Snake River which plunges more than a mile below the canyon’s west rim on the Oregon side and 8,000 feet below the peaks of Idaho’s Seven Devils Mountains range to the east. The area is inaccessible by road and a true wilderness paradise.

Artifacts from prehistoric inhabitants as well as the ruins of early 19th century miners and settlers are visible along the Snake River. The earliest known settlers in Hells Canyon were the Nez Perce tribe. Others tribes such as the Shoshone-Bannock, Northern Paiute, and Cayuse Indians frequented the area as well–the mild winters along with ample plant and wildlife were the primary attractions. Pictographs and petroglyphs on the walls of the canyon are a record of the Native American settlements and life in the area.

Three members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition entered Hells Canyon along the Salmon River in 1806. Unfortunately, they turned back without reaching the canyon. It wasn’t until 1811 that the Wilson Price Hunt expedition explored Hells Canyon while seeking a shortcut to the Columbia River. Hunger and cold forced them to turn back, as did many explorers who were defeated by the canyon’s inaccessibility.

Early miners with visions of wealth were next to follow. In the 1860s gold was discovered in river bars near the present-day Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, and miners soon penetrated Hells Canyon to seek their mother lode. As well as being difficult to access, gold mining was not profitable here. Evidence of their failed endeavors remains visible along the corridor of the Snake River.

Although uncommon on most wild and scenic rivers throughout the United States, powerboats have long been used on the Snake River in Hells Canyon for many years and Congress included specific language in the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area Act which allows their continued use. Jet boat tours of Hells Canyon are one of the quickest and most exciting ways to explore the canyon. Boat tours feature beautiful, calm water areas along with wild rapids guaranteed to thrill. Elk, bighorn sheep, golden eagles, and bald eagles are usually visible during boat tours of the canyon as well as the historic remnants of the Native Americans and miners who lived in the area.

Outside of the canyon itself, the National Recreation Area contains many other exciting areas that beg exploration too. With over 650,000 acres of beautiful scenery to explore, time spent in the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area is guaranteed to create many wonderful memories for individuals and families who take the time to explore this wild, west landscape! To find out more about jet boat tours, white water rafting on the Snake River, and other exciting activities featuring Hells Canyon, please contact TMI Tours at 1-800-975-7775 or email us at [email protected].