After leaving the McCall area we traveled west to follow the Snake River north to Hells Canyon. The Hells Canyon Wilderness has been on our must see list for quite some time. Three dams were constructed on the river by Idaho Power Company (IPC) in the early 1960s, which generate significant power to Idaho. The dams and power plants are so remote that IPC provides company housing nearby each of the facilities.
The good news is that below the last dam (Hells Canyon Dam) the canyon and river remain a protected wilderness – there is no road – no electricity – no water. In order to access the canyon in the wilderness area you have three options – walk, go down river (raft, kayak or jet boat) – access at HC Dam – or fly in utilizing the grass airstrip on the banks of the river by the former Kirkwood Ranch.
Today, Hells canyon is completely uninhabited. A number of families attempted to make a living ranching and mining within the canyon but only a couple of ranches managed to survive for any length of time. The last ranch was abandoned in the early 1960s. There is ample evidence from pictographs that native americans were in the canyon long ago.
Hells Canyon at is deepest point is the deepest gorge in North America (7900 feet). We wanted to experience the canyon from river level, from above, and go as far downriver as possible. Fortunately, we were able to catch a jetboat tour that took us downriver 27 miles to the site of the former Kirkwood Ranch (sheep) before returning to the dam access point. Our river journey provided us with the ability to see the very remote and pristine canyon – we could not possibly have hiked anywhere near that far downstream. The added benefit was the fun of running the numerous rapids on the river between the dam and our turnaround point. We did hike along the river for several miles which gave us the on the ground vantage point. Finally, we drove the Hat Point Road to gain a spectacular view of the canyon and river from an elevation of 6900 feet above sea level.
The Hells Canyon Wilderness is a beautiful, awe-inspiring area, but come prepared as there is very minimal infrastucture anywhere near the area and almost no connectivity.
P.S. Summer temperatures average daily high 100+F!