The Wild and Scenic Snake River through Hells Canyon carves the deepest gorge in North America and is one of the most imposing river canyons in the West. Once called the “Grand Canyon of the Snake,” it is a monumental landscape with warm, clear water, powerful but approachable ‘big water’ rapids – the largest by volume in the Northwest – incredible fishing and hiking, abundant wildlife, a history steeped in Native American mythology and the Old West, and sprawling riverside camps with a view of it all. Hells Canyon is one of the West’s most famous wild river trips and, like Oregon’s Rogue or Idaho’s Salmon, it is one of those rare rivers loved by both seasoned river runners and first timers.
The Snake River drainage is massive, including parts of Yellowstone and the Tetons in Wyoming, dozens of tributaries across southern Idaho and eastern Oregon (including the Owyhee River), and even parts of northern Nevada and Utah. The Hells Canyon portion of the Snake travels north at the foot of the jagged peaks of the Seven Devils mountain range and straddles the Oregon-Idaho border. Nez Perce legend says that Hells Canyon was created when the tribe’s chief asked the Coyote to protect them from seven giants. In a single day Coyote turned the giants into the high peaks of the Seven Devil Mountains, and then struck the earth and created Hells Canyon gorge so that the giants could not cross back to the west.
Despite its formidable size and ominous sounding name, Hells Canyon offers a river trip that is exciting, but incredibly friendly and comfortable in the summer months. The air and water are warm, the days are long, and the views are epic with snow capped peaks high above the river and rocky canyon walls topped with golden grasses and pine forests. It is common to see bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and golden eagles.
The rapids are big water style, with huge glassy tongues leading into massive splashing waves and holes – think the Grand Canyon. Fun and exciting, but like the Grand, approachable – and during the summer, great for almost any age level. You have the choice of sitting and holding on, paddling, or navigating the whitewater in an inflatable kayak (this adds a whole other level of excitement to the rapids). For most, the rapids are one of the biggest highlights of the trip.
The camping in Hells Canyon is mostly on grassy benches just above the river with tons of room to spread out, stunning views, and endless opportunities for hiking and exploration. We send our gear boats ahead to set up camp, and the grand scale of the place really allows us to show off the comfortable and innovative wilderness camping we have become known for. The trips are done with Momentum’s signature style, attention to detail, and handcrafted quality. With creative menus, personal service and hospitality, one of the most experienced (and friendly) guide staffs in the world, and with all the little details and touches we are known for.
Hells Canyon is one of those rare river trips that is ideal for seasoned whitewater runners or for first-timers looking for their first river trip or an amazing outdoor vacation. The trip can be enjoyed by those wanting high adventure, those wanting a very active trip, or those simply wanting a beautiful, lazy vacation. Trips range from groups of families to college buddies to chartered private trips – and it is not uncommon to have trips enjoyed by three generations of family or friends.
Our standard 4-day trip includes the best stretches of whitewater, tons of historic sites and hikes, and more time to unwind, explore, and truly experience the place. The summer months offer long sunny days and a more mellow (but still exciting) version of the whitewater while spring trips feature higher flows and much higher adventure. There are also charter options for trips from 3 to 5 days long that can include lower stretches of the river. The trip options and styles are incredibly varied.
Hells Canyon is a journey through a canyon of epic size and one of the West’s iconic landscapes, offering a rare combination of beauty, excitement, and approachability.