Imagine rambling among 9,300 foot alpine
peaks before descending 7,000 feet to desert like river bottoms
on trails that crisscross open grassy benches and thickly timbered
draws; trails that cross level flats and fade into the horizon and
steep narrow trails that were blasted into sheer rock bluffs. These
are just a few of the unique experiences and challenges that await
the Hells Canyon Wilderness visitor.
Hells Canyon Wilderness, in parts of Oregon
and Idaho, was classified wilderness with the establishment of the
Hells Canyon National Recreation Area in 1975. Additional acres
were added as part of the Oregon Wilderness Act of 1984 resulting
in a total of 214,944 acres ( includes W-W NF, Payette NF, Nez Perce NF, and BLM lands). Read the Wilderness Act in pdf
Roads leading to Wilderness trailheads and
viewpoints for either area are mostly single lane, and suitable
for low-speed use only.
The extensive trail system within the wilderness
mostly follows old Forest Service access routes to fires, and stock
trails used by ranchers to move livestock to remote salting areas
and watering holes. You can take short day trips or extensive treks
on these trails, which are passable - though somewhat unaccornmodating.
Many routes follow ridges and traverse moderate slopes and benchlands
with ease; others track steep slopes.
Foot and stock trails are maintained for travel;
however, higher elevations remain inaccessible due to snow throughout
much of the year. Both access roads.and trails begin to open in
June, remaining open until September or October.
The Idaho portion is characterized by three
geologic-vegetative regions. The upper areas are alpine and subalpine
with several lakes and geologic formations of glacial origin. Vegetation
is sparse and broken by large areas of rock. The middle portions
contain dense forests of larch, lodgepole pine, and true firs. Lower
elevations are characterized by dry, rocky, barren, steep slopes
breaking into the Snake River and its major tributaries. Trees are
sparse consisting mostly of ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir. This
entire area is dissected by several major drainages including Sheep
Creek, Granite Creek, and Deep Creek.
The Oregon portion of Hells Canyon Wilderness
is characterized by two steep breakland areas (slopes in excess
of 60 percent) paralleling the Snake River. These are separated
by a benchland from Saddle Creek to Dug Bar. This bench is situated
at mid-elevation between the river and canyon rim. The dominant
vegetation is native bunchgrasses and shrubs. Trees are scattered
throughout, but concentrated on north slopes and in stream bottoms.
Ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir predominate. The three topographic
provinces are dissected by many drainages including Saddle, Temperance,
Salt, and Sluice Creeks.
Humans have historically used the area for
farming, ranching and mining activities. Sheep and cattle grazing
has occurred and cattle grazing continues today in a small portion
of the Wilderness. Some mining has occurred, primarily in Idaho.
Many people homesteaded on the benchland of Oregon and the mouths
of major streams along the Snake River in the late 1800s and early
Wildlife, Forests, and Wildflowers
The wide range in elevation creates diversity
in both plant and wildlife communities. Diversity ranges from hillsides
of clarkia and peregrin falcons overhead to rocky bluffs of prickly
pear cactus, poison ivy, and rattlesnakes. Numerous wildlife species
occur, including bighorn sheep and mountain goats. The area also
provides important winter range for elk and deer. Areas of rugged
terrain offer ideal habitat for the chukar partridge.
Grazing In The Hells Canyon Wilderness
While visiting the Hells Canyon Wilderness
don't be surprised if you encounter cattle grazing along a hillside.
Historically sheep and cattle have grazed this area of Northeastern
Oregon since the 1730s as the Nez Perce Indians grazed horses and
cattle in the main canyons. By the 1800s settlers were grazing sheep,
cattle, and horses throughout the valley and canyons. Today the
herds have greatly decreased in number but cattle allotments still
exist in the area. Grazing impacts are minimal as ranchers work
with Forest Service managers to monitor grazing activities closely
under annual operating plans. These grazing activities still exist
in wilderness due to the 1964 Wilderness Act which allows some traditional
activities to continue as long as wilderness values are not compromised.
Fire in the Wilderness
Fire under controlled conditions can be beneficial
to wilderness resources. Under certain circumstances, natural fires
(lightning-caused) are allowed to burn within the Hells Canyon Wilderness
to aid in the natural development of plant communities.
In the Wilderness, all human-caused fires are
suppressed as soon as possible after discovery. Natural fires that
threaten human safety or property are also suppressed. Only natural
fires meeting predetermined requirements are allowed to burn. These
fires are closely monitored by Forest fire managers and are kept
within the Wilderness boundary. If they exceed the predetermined
safety or resource management objectives, they too are suppressed.
Report all fires that are obviously hurnan-caused
to Forest personnel or other local authorities. Out of place and
out of proportion, fire, especially human-caused fire, is a threat
to the environment. Please continue to be careful with fire.
Northwest Forest Passes
The following trailheads on the Hells Canyon
NRA will require a Northwest Forest Pass:
- Buck Creek
- Freezeout (Self-Service pay station on site)
- Hat Point (Self-Service pay station on site)
- Indian Crossing (Self-Service pay station on site)
- P.O. Saddle
- Warnock Corral (Self-Service pay station on site)
WHERE TO OBTAIN NORTHWEST FOREST PASSES
Northwest Forest Passes may be purchased at self-service fee stations on site or at any Forest
Service Office in Oregon and Wahington. For your convenience you
may also obtain passes at the following locations:
- Our Little Store
- Wallowa Outdoors
- Joseph Fly Shoppe
- Joseph Hardware
- Sports Corral
- Wallowa Lake Lodge
- Matterhorn Swiss Village
- Lostine Guard Station (during summer months)
- Baker County Visitor and Convention Bureau
- Blue Mtn. Sports
- La Grande-Union County Visitors and Convention Bureau
You can also obtain your passes online at naturenw.org or by calling 800-270-7504.
and thank you for your interest in the volunteer programs and opportunities
in the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area. The word "volunteer"
is a magical word to those who have utilized the power of a volunteer.
The power is unleashed when you see what kind of service is graciously
given for what the volunteer gets in return. It is not, however,
the mighty dollar these volunteers are after, they are seeking far
more. To many, it is the satisfaction of contributing to something
they believe in and enjoy. To others volunteering provides a means
to meet new people, and some seek challenge both of mind and body.
At any rate, volunteers have for decades dedicated thousands of
hours to Forest Service projects. Many of these projects would not
have been completed without this strong force of people. When budgets
have declined and districts are unsure how they will complete their
work, volunteers have come out of the woodwork to fill this gap.
They take an active role in the management of our public lands and
are greatly appreciated for their incorrigible dedication to service.
The U.S. Forest Service
continues to welcome those who are interested in challenging opportunities
found in managing forest resources. There is a guarantee in this
experience, you will see new country, meet new people, and share
in a wealth of ideas. Join us in trail maintenance, wilderness ranger
work, being campground hosts, interpreters, or visitor information
assistants. The oppoutunities are endless for volunteers. Join us
in the experience of a new adventure.
Listed below are the
volunteer organizations and events planned for this year:
1 . Backcountry facility
2. Trail maintenance
- 3. Tree planting
in riparian areas
- 4. Campground
and trailhead work
- For further
information on Volunteer opportunities, please see the volunteer
page of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest or contact
Cathy Conover at the HCNRA Riggins office at 208-628-3916.