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The Snake is one of America’s great rivers, flowing over 1,000 miles from its origins in the mountains of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, meandering slowly west across Idaho, then north to form the border between Oregon and Idaho before entering the Columbia near Pasco, Washington. Much of the Oregon section of the Snake flows through Hells Canyon National Recreation Area. Hells Canyon is one of Oregon’s—and America’s—most impressive natural wonders. At Granite Creek below Hells Canyon Dam, the canyon depth is almost 8,000 feet!

According to Nez Perce folklore, Coyote dug Hells Canyon with a big stick to protect ancestors in Oregon’s Blue Mountains from the ‘Seven Devils’ (mountain range) across the gorge in what is now Idaho. (Pictographs and petroglyphs, as well as winter pithouse villages, are scattered along the river, documenting Native American presence in the canyon for over 11,000 years.) Geologists believe that Hells Canyon was formed by normal stream erosion as the Snake River cut its way through rocks of a rising mountain range, beginning six million years ago.

Whichever explanation you favor, you’ll agree that time spent in the canyon is unforgettable. For whitewater enthusiasts, passing over Wild Sheep and Granite Creek Rapids are a rite of rafting passage. Anglers can find both migrating steelhead and a variety of warm water species. Wildlife—including bighorn sheep, deer, and bear—is often viewed from the river; a hike up one of the many trails leading up from the water offers up-close animal encounters. PLEASE NOTE: Special restrictions apply and some permits are required for boating on the Snake River in Hells Canyon.

Courtesy of “Boating in Oregon” by Oregon State Marine Board

What’s around here? Location & Nearby Things to See & Do

These maps and directions are for planning purposes only. You may find that construction projects, traffic, or other events may cause road conditions to differ from the map results. For travel options, weather and road conditions, visit, call 511 (in Oregon only), 800.977.6368 or 503.588.2941.

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A related Trip Idea

  1. Boat and Bike in Eastern Oregon

    written by Emily Forsha on April 8th, 2013

    We named it Hells Canyon to scare people but folks who appreciate jaw-dropping scenery and rugged rivers will want to tackle Eastern Oregon head first. There’s no better way to start exploring the region than on one of Oregon’s two…

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