Location: Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, Wallowa-Whitman National Forest Difficulty: Moderate; drastic elevation changes Season: April-November, campground open year-round Services: Parking lot, campsite, vault toilet, no fee or reservations needed Trail Notes: Well marked trail, beware of poison ivy and rattlesnakes during summer months! Just […]
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Location: Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, Wallowa-Whitman National Forest
Difficulty: Moderate; drastic elevation changes
Season: April-November, campground open year-round
Services: Parking lot, campsite, vault toilet, no fee or reservations needed
Trail Notes: Well marked trail, beware of poison ivy and rattlesnakes during summer months!
Just three hours south of Moscow, Idaho lays one of Idaho’s greatest gems: The Hells Canyon Recreation Area. Hell’s Canyon is the deepest river gorge in North America and home to some of the most extraordinary hiking and outdoors activities you will ever see. It features dramatic and drastic changes in elevation, terrain, climate, and vegetation on 652,488 acres of beauty and adventure. The canyon has a mysterious way of evoking a sense of wonder and adventure. Carved by the mighty Snake River, the canyon stretches 10-miles wide and plunges to depths of over a mile.
We found our Wilder Adventure on Snake River Trail #102. This trail, in entirety, runs 30 miles, however, on our adventure we only went in 6 miles to the Kirkwood Historic Ranch. The Kirkwood Historic Ranch was the home of the 23rd governor of Idaho and U.S. Senator, Len Jordan, whose family ran thousands of sheep on the property. For a duo that raises sheep, loves history, and always looking for a good hike- this was the ultimate trip.
The access point to the trail is from Pittsburg Landing, near Whitebird, Idaho. Here, there are camping spots and vault toilets available for use. On our expedition, we chose to go the day prior and camp overnight in order to get a feel for the area and enjoy even more time in the canyon and on the river. Keep in mind, the campground is called ‘Pittsburg Landing’ but the trailhead itself is at the ‘Upper Pittsburg Landing’. From the campground, you can drive to a parking lot directly in front of the trailhead (we did not realize this and accidentally added a couple extra miles to our trip).
Once at the trailhead, the trail is very well marked and maintained. Do not let this fool you though, it is not an easy trail. The whole 6 miles to the ranch is full of steep up-and-down stretches, many of which hug the edge of a cliff with a sheer drop to the river. After 1 mile of hiking, you will come up on the Mouth of Corral Creek, following this point the trail will turn from steep cliffs to following along the river- a refreshing change of scenery! Later down the trail, you will then cross one more creek, Kirby creek. After this point you start to climb back up and stay high above the river until you descend into the Kirkwood Historic Ranch. Fair warning, the descent into the ranch is STEEP and full of switchbacks.
Once you get to the ranch, though, it is well worth it. The ranch is a living piece of history equipped with a museum, staffed year-round by very friendly people, that interprets the history of homesteading the canyon and the industry that helped build the foundation for the state of Idaho (sheep!). The museum itself is an original building on the property, the field are scattered with old farm equipment, and the creek that flows through the property still has its original irrigation system intact. This is truly an incredible piece of history, one that many do not think of when they think of Idaho. It was almost surreal looking out across the fields and imagining that at one point in time they ran up to 10,000 head of sheep there!
After the ranch, we chose to turn back. However- there is still miles of trail left if you are interested. One of the more popular attractions is two miles north, Suicide Point. The view from this point was described to us by a friend as “the best view in all of Hell’s Canyon”.
Before embarking on this adventure be aware that Hells Canyon is smack in the middle of rattlesnake and poison ivy territory. When we went, we saw neither, however, still exercise caution. Additionally, if you need to refill your water supply, opt to use the creek water over the river water. And finally, if you want to backpack through this, there are limited spots for campgrounds so do your research beforehand.
Directions: From White Bird, Idaho, head south on Highway 95 for about 0.5 miles to Old Highway 95 at mile marker 222 (sign for Pittsburg Landing and Hammer Creek Recreation Area). Turn right on Old Highway 95 and go about 1 mile to bridge crossing the Salmon River, turn left and cross the bridge, immediately after the bridge turn left on the Deer Creek Road (Forest Road 493). Travel on this road for 16.5 miles to Forest Road 493A, turn left on Forest Road 493A and go 1.3 miles to trailhead parking lot. Camping spots are available at both Pittsburg Landing and Upper Pittsburg Landing.