Hells Canyon is a jewel of the Snake River protected in 1975 when the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area was established to stop the construction of new, destructive dams that would have flooded the canyon. At the same time, the river was designated as a Wild and Scenic River, with 32.3 miles from the dam, downstream, classified as a wild river. Another 34 miles below that is classified as scenic. This historic conservation victory was realized shortly after construction of the Hells Canyon Dam complex upstream of the put-in that was completed between 1959 and 1967 and blocks upstream migration for salmon and steelhead and other species. In addition to burying great whitewater beneath the stagnant waters of the reservoirs, these dams eliminated great fall chinnook runs upstream to Shoshone Falls, and into tributary streams like the Boise, Payette, Malheur and Owyhee. The impacts of the upstream dams on the river are evident by the lack of beaches and heavily armored banks characteristic of a sediment-starved river.
Hells Canyon is the nation's deepest river canyon averaging 5,500 feet below the rim for some 75 miles, and reaching depths of more than 8,000 feet below the Seven Devils Mountains on the Idaho side of the river. The result is a very scenic 3-4 day trip with a number of class II-III rapids and two class IVs. The Wild and Scenic Snake River Boater's Guide is available from the US Forest Service, giving detailed information on campsites, rapids, and regulations. A lottery permit season runs from late May to early-mid September. Before and after the lottery season, only a self issue permit is required and can be obtained for free at the launch site.
In addition to the whitewater and scenery the river has a rich human history. The Canyon is ancestral home of the Nez Perce people, and other tribes of the region were in and out of the canyon as well. White settlement occurred in the late 1800’s and early 1900s--sheep and cattle ranchers and prospectors tried to scrape out a living.
Look out for the big hole.
Optimal: 20,000 cfs, according to Vince's Idaho Rafting Page. This section, though, still has plenty of water at flows as low as 8,000 cfs. Flow is regulated by the dam, and flows rarely drop below 7000 cfs. That makes Hell's Canyon the perfect fall run when everything else is too low. Flows do fluctuate widly during the course of each day with changing releases for Hells Canyon Dam. Changes of 10,000 cfs are not uncommon.
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Beach at Bernard Creek
Surfing in Hells Canyon
Paddling Hells Canyon
Rafting Hells Canyon
Entering Hells Canyon
Hells Canyon Dam Launch
Hells Canyon Dam
Three amigos at Granite
Mike Harmon At Granite Rapid
unknown class IV
Hell's Canyon Scenery
Mark Adams runs the river left route at Granite Rapids
Sam runs the lower half of Wild Sheep
Wild Sheep series #5
Wild Sheep series #4
Wild Sheep series #3
Wild Sheep series #2
Wild Sheep series #1
Granite Rapid and the Green Room
If someone gets hurt on a river, or you read about a whitewater-related injury, please report it to
American Whitewater. Don't worry about multiple submissions from other witnesses, as our safety
editors will turn multiple witness reports into a single unified accident report.
If you want to obtain a permit to float the Selway, Snake, Middle Fork of the Salmon, or wild main Salmon Rivers in 2010, you need to know about changes coming in the Forest Service permit lottery and launch reservation system. The Four Rivers Lottery is going “green”, incorporating an entirely online system as part of our desire to go paperless.
One of the highlights of any Idaho river trip is the spectacular wildlife that paddlers glimpse on their way down the river. An AW member recently shared with AW that the US Forest Service is currently considering the fate of one species of wildlife, bighorn sheep, in the infamous class III/IV Hells Canyon of the Snake. Learn more about the issue, and send in some comments by March, 3rd.
<?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Idaho is proposing a $13 registration fee for non-motorized boats greater than 7 feet in length. Under this registration fee proposal all kayaks and rafts on Idaho waters would be required to have a registration sticker fixed to the bow of each boat greater than 7 feet in length. Stickers would not be transferable between boats. Out of state boaters would be required to comply as well.
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