Hells Canyon Wilderness is a subset of the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area (HCNRA), which straddles the border of northeastern Oregon and western Idaho. Split into two distinct halves by the Wild & Scenic Snake River, approximately one-third of HCNRA comprises the Hells Canyon Wilderness. A small portion of the Wilderness in Oregon is managed by the BLM.
The Idaho side of the Wilderness is smaller than the Oregon side and encompasses the Seven Devils mountain range. The Wilderness stretches south from Pittsburg Landing for approximately 31 miles along the Snake River. In the summer, the temperature at the river often reaches 110 degrees F. After May, hiking in the canyon is very difficult due to heat. Even so, in early June the Seven Devil Mountains on the Idaho side are often still under five feet of snow.
On the Oregon side, the higher elevation areas are characteristic of rocky slopes and grasslands laced with 'stringer canyons' and groves composed of Douglas fir and ponderosa pine. The lower elevations are dominated by grassland benches with steep canyons and ravines dissecting the isolated Oregon-side. Hells Canyon is 8,000 feet deep in places. The average depth is more like a mile – 5,280 feet. At any rate, it is 9,393 feet elevation at He Devil Mountain in the Hells Canyon Wilderness of Idaho, and from 1,000 to 800 feet down on the river. Two National trails are found at various elevations: Western Rim/Summit Ridge Recreation Trail at the upper elevation, and Nez Perce Historic Trail near the Snake River. In total, Hells Canyon Wilderness contains 360 miles of trails. Species of interest are Rocky Mountain Elk, bighorn sheep, mule deer, and chukar. Plant species include sagebrush, Engelmann spruce, sub-alpine fir, western larch, Douglas fir, and ponderosa pine. Prickly pear cactus and poison ivy are fairly common as well.
Leave No Trace
How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Hells Canyon Wilderness.
To access the trailhead, follow the Snake River Road North from the small town of Oxbow, Oregon. The road ends at the Copper Creek Campsite. You can then locate the trail as it leaves from the northwest corner of the campsite and travels just above the waterline of the Hells Canyon reservoir.
Digital and paper maps are critical tools for wilderness visitors. Online maps can help you plan and prepare for your visit ahead of time. You can also carry digital maps with you on your GPS unit or other handheld GPS device. Having a paper map with you in the backcountry, as well as solid orienteering skills, however, ensures that you can still route-find in the event that your electronic device fails.
Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is generally prohibited in all wilderness areas.
This includes the use of motor vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles, hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the landing of aircraft including helicopters.
(No official title, designates Hells Canyon Wilderness) - Public law 94-199 (12/31/1975) To establish the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area in the States of Oregon and Idaho, and for other purposes
Oregon Wilderness Act of 1984 - Public law 98-328 (6/26/1984) To designate certain national forest system lands in the State of Oregon for inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation
System, and for other purposes
Access the southern portions of the Wilderness from trailhead at Copper Creek, approximately nine miles north of Oxbow on the Oregon side. Primitive camping and restrooms available. No fees or permits required.
Conditions vary significantly with season of use and elevation. Lower elevations may be accessible year-around, while higher elevations may retain snow well into summer months. Carefully consider time of year, topography, and elevation changes when planning your trip. Many trails are un-maintained, or seldom maintained in primitive condition.
Rugged hiking and equestrian travel in steep terrain offering breathtaking scenery and a variety of wildlife. Excellent opportunities for solitude and self-reliant, crosscountry travel.
Climate and Special Equipment Needs
Very hot in summer, finding reliable water sources may pose a challenge. Running water may usually be found in major tributary creeks to the Snake River. All water should be treated before drinking.
Safety and Current Conditions
Check clothing often for ticks, especially in humid, warm weather, or when traveling through brushy terrain. Watch for rattlesnakes and give them plenty of space. Some trails have been completely destroyed by flooding and have not been reconstructed; expect primitive trail conditions and anticipate the need for cross-country travel. Overgrown vegetation along narrow trails may include thorns and poison ivy. Check bulletin boards for seasonal fire restrictions and special notices.
Want to Volunteer for Wilderness?
Citizens who volunteer their time to steward our wilderness areas are an essential part of wilderness management. Contact the following groups to inquire about volunteer opportunities.