HELLS CANYON RAFTING
The Snake River begins in Yellowstone National Park in northwest Wyoming. It runs first south, then west across all of southern Idaho. Once the Snake River touches Oregon it starts to head north into the deepest canyon in North America, Hells Canyon. The Snake River continues running north through Hells Canyon marking the border between Oregon and Idaho.
Hells Canyon rafting is possible year round, but the ideal rafting time is May through September. Temperatures can get over 100° during the end of July and August, but the Snake River is warm and great for swimming.
Camping in Hells Canyon is first come first serve, but there’s almost always plenty of beautiful campsites for everyone.
Transportation and camping before and after rafting Hells Canyon:
There are few roads into Hells Canyon. It is carved through the Blue Mountains in Oregon and the Seven Devils Mountains in Idaho making for beautiful driving to and from the river. Hells Canyon rafting starts at the Hells Canyon Dam located 62 miles from Cambridge, Idaho. There are plenty of pay campsites and free campsites along the winding road to the dam, but no camping within a mile or 2 of the boat ramp.
For the first 34 miles of Hells Canyon, there are no roads or bridges in sight. This section, designated as a Wild and Scenic River in 1975, is preserved to keep it natural and the river free-flowing. At 34 miles Pittsburg Landing is visible on the Idaho side of the Snake River. The dirt road into Pittsburg Landing boat ramp is about 20 miles from the town of White Bird, ID but about an hours drive. It winds up the Seven Devils Mountains and the Salmon River Drainage and crests over into the Snake River drainage, dropping a huge amount of elevation in about 10 switch backs. Enjoy the view but go slow and watch for other vehicles during this stretch. Trailers are ok on this road. There is pay camping and bathroom facilities in Pittsburg Landing, although at this time there is no potable water.
After Pittsburg Landing, it’s about 46 miles until the next boat ramp: Heller Bar in Asotin, WA. Some books and maps do show another ramp located in Oregon called Dug Bar. This road is not well maintained, requires a 4 wheel drive vehicle, and is not recommended as a usable boat ramp. Heller Bar is located at the confluence of the Grande Ronde River and the Snake River. It’s an easy 30 mile drive from Clarkston, WA on a mostly paved road that slowly turns into a 1 lane road. A Washington park pass called a Discovery Pass is required in order to use the Heller Bar boat ramp. A daily or annual pass can be purchased ahead of time online. There is no where to buy a pass at Heller Bar. There is no camping at Heller Bar but there are hotels and some pay campsites closer to Clarkston, WA and Lewiston, ID.
Hells Canyon Rapids:
Hells Canyon has Class II-IV rapids that vary greatly by water flow. Idaho Power and The Hells Canyon Dam are in charge of how much water runs through Hells Canyon and it can vary about 10,000 cfs a day depending on the year. The Class IV rapids are Wild Sheep Rapids and Granite Rapids located within 10 miles of the dam, and Waterspout Rapids can sometimes be considered a Class IV rapid at lower waters. All 3 of these rapids are wide and long making for super fun high volume river rafting. A professional guide is recommended.
Interested in rafting Hells Canyon on a guided trip?
America’s Rafting Co provides the best whitewater rafting trips in Hells Canyon from May through September. Click here for more information on a Hells Canyon overnight rafting vacation.
Are you a seasoned rafter and looking into Hells Canyon rafting on your own personal trip? Three private permits are available for everyday during the primary season from the Friday before Memorial Day through September 10th. These permits need to be purchased ahead of time HERE. The lottery on these permits run from December 1-January 31 but cancellation permits are usually available after those dates. Outside of the primary season, self-issued permits can be filled out at the Hells Canyon Dam.
Other helpful information for Hells Canyon Rafting: