Snake - I) Hells Canyon Dam to Pittsburg Landing

Snake, Idaho, US/Oregon, US


I) Hells Canyon Dam to Pittsburg Landing (Hells Canyon)

Usual Difficulty III-IV (for normal flows)
Length 32 Miles
Avg. Gradient 12 fpm

Paddling Hells Canyon

Paddling Hells Canyon
Photo by Thomas O'Keefe © taken 10/03/10 @ 10500 cfs

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-13290450 7000 - 80000 cfs III-IV 01h05m 11600 cfs (running)

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.

Permit Information

Three permit launches each day from Friday preceding Memorial Day weekend through September 10th issued through 4 Rivers Lottery. Outside of this season, self issue permits are available. Application due January 31.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2018-11-15 20:57:17

Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
-246.7Cliff Mountain RapidsIIPhoto
-243.7Rocky Point RapidsII
-241.2Wild Sheep RapidsIVHazard Playspot Photo
-239.2Granite RapidsIVHazard Playspot Photo
-238.2Three Creek RapidsII+
-235.2Upper Bernard Creek RapidsII+
-235.0Lower Bernard Creek RapidsIII+Playspot Photo
-233.7Waterspout RapidsIII+
-233.2Bills Creek RapidsII+
-231.7Sluice Creek RapidsII
-231.4Rush Creek RapidsIII+
-229.6Sheep Creek RapidsII+
-218.9Middle Kirby RapidsII+

Rapid Descriptions

Cliff Mountain Rapids (Class II, Mile -246.7)

Entering Hells Canyon

Entering Hells Canyon
Photo by Thomas O'Keefe © taken 10/02/10 @ 19000 cfs

Wild Sheep Rapids (Class IV, Mile -241.2)

Wild Sheep

Wild Sheep
Photo of Dave Steindorf by Thomas O'Keefe © taken 10/03/10 @ 10500 cfs

Granite Rapids (Class IV, Mile -239.2)

Granite Creek

Granite Creek
Photo of Jeff Leighton by Thomas O'Keefe © taken 10/03/10 @ 10500 cfs

Lower Bernard Creek Rapids (Class III+, Mile -235.0)

Surfing in Hells Canyon

Surfing in Hells Canyon
Photo of Dave Steindorf by Thomas O'Keefe © taken 10/03/10 @ 10500 cfs

Great surfing

Waterspout Rapids (Class III+, Mile -233.7)

Look out for the big hole.

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