Difficulty III-IV
Length 32 Miles
Flow Range 7000 - 80000 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 47 minutes ago 13800 [CFS]
Reach Info Last Updated 06/04/2019 7:59 pm

River Description

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.

Rapid Descriptions

Cliff Mountain Rapids

Class - II Mile - -246.7

Rocky Point Rapids

Class - II Mile - -243.7
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Wild Sheep Rapids

Class - IV Mile - -241.2

Granite Rapids

Class - IV Mile - -239.2

Three Creek Rapids

Class - II+ Mile - -238.2
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Upper Bernard Creek Rapids

Class - II+ Mile - -235.2
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Lower Bernard Creek Rapids

Class - III+ Mile - -235

Great surfing

Waterspout Rapids

Class - III+ Mile - -233.7
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Look out for the big hole.

Bills Creek Rapids

Class - II+ Mile - -233.2
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Sluice Creek Rapids

Class - II Mile - -231.7
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Rush Creek Rapids

Class - III+ Mile - -231.4
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Sheep Creek Rapids

Class - II+ Mile - -229.6
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Middle Kirby Rapids

Class - II+ Mile - -218.9
Rapid Thumbnail Missing


Gage Descriptions

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.

Directions Description

We have no additional detail on this route. Use the map below to calculate how to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.

Date Flow Result Factor  
1999-05-15 Medium Fatality One Boat Trip Read More



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New Online Reservations Coming for Four Idaho Rivers

Kevin Colburn

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.

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Hells Canyon Bighorn Sheep Need a Hand

Kevin Colburn

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. 

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Future of Hells Canyon Up For Debate

Kevin Colburn

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is accepting written public comments on the draft Environmental Impact Statement it prepared as part of the relicensing process for the 3-dam complex on the Snake River, on the Oregon-Idaho border.  These dams and upstream land management severely impact the once great Snake River in many ways, including impacts to the incredible class IV Hells Canyon reach immediately downstream.
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Idaho Proposes Registration Fee for Non-Motorized Boats

John Gangemi

<?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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Can You Taste Victory?

American Whitewater

FERC revokes Preliminary Permit for
hydropower project on Boundary Creek in
Northern Idaho.

Chris Dawkins


Thomas O'Keefe


Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1190427 08/13/05 Chris Dawkins n/a
1198932 12/04/10 Thomas O'Keefe copy edits
1198945 12/04/10 Thomas O'Keefe title edit
1198612 11/08/10 Thomas O'Keefe copy edits
1198803 11/29/10 Thomas O'Keefe permit link added
1198802 11/29/10 Thomas O'Keefe permit link added
1198316 10/05/10 Thomas O'Keefe rapid edits
1199367 02/27/11 Thomas O'Keefe copy edits
1198987 12/04/10 Thomas O'Keefe abstract edit
1200920 01/06/12 Thomas O'Keefe permit edit
1207039 12/05/16 Thomas O'Keefe permit updated
1202979 01/03/14 Thomas O'Keefe permit link update
1207049 12/05/16 Thomas O'Keefe permit updated
1210530 11/15/18 Thomas O'Keefe minor edit
1210528 11/15/18 Thomas O'Keefe river permit link updated
1212704 06/04/19 Thomas O'Keefe updated image position