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Best time to raft Hells Canyon?


Hells Canyon rafting is some the best in the US: secluded, serene, and an absolute blast of an overnight rafting trip. We often get asked when’s the best time to raft Hells Canyon. Every season is different in the canyon with its own pros and cons.

Spring Hells Canyon Rafting

Pros:

  • BIG. WATER. Hells Canyon is a dam released section of the Snake but the spring runoff is still the largest water of the year. The high water make the bigger rapids huge while washing out some of the Class II and III’s.
  • Green, green, green! Hells Canyon looks like Ireland in the spring. The hills and walls of the canyon are various shades of beautiful green.
  • Waterfalls everywhere: every side creek is running and there are many surprise waterfalls to see are you’re floating down the river
  • The Snake River is pretty warm for the time of year. Hell Canyon’s water is held back by many dams causing the water to warm in the reservoirs. HellsCanyon Dam is also a top fed dam, meaning that it pulls water from the warmer top of Hells Canyon reservoir instead the cooler bottom. The side creeks all rush with ice cold water from the mountains adjacent but the river still stay relatively warm.
  • Animals are out and about. The bottom of the canyon is much warmer than any area in the surrounding mountains, so in the spring the animal come down to the river. Black bears, bighorn sheep, mountain goats and deer are some of the big game to keep an eye out for.

Cons:

  • Rain. Spring is the rainy season. You might luck out and get some sunny days, but definitely bring your rain gear.
  • It’s a little chilly. With highs in the 60’s and lows possibly getting down to the 40’s, its super important to bring the right kind of gear to keep the trip enjoyable and fun.
  • Small camps. With the water high, the camps get small. You can plan around this and look for larger camps but sometimes there aren’t any eddy’s to park in.
  • Not good for fishing. The big water blows out the fishing.

Summer Hells Canyon Rafting

Pros:

  • The weather is hot and the sun is shining. Summer hits and the rain stops. It’s gloriously sunny and makes you want to get splashed, have water fights, and swim. It’s a great summer vacation.
  • The stars are incredible. With the skies crystal clear, the star gazing is amazing. The milky way stares down at you through the dark canyon walls, and every now and again a shooting star or satellite streaks across the sky.
  • The whitewater is fun and rollercoaster-y. The water level mellows out in the summer and creates fun wave trains. Some waves are still boat-sized, but all the rapids start to pack a punch instead of just the Class IV’s.
  • Wild fruit blooms. Hells Canyon is full of wild fruit planted from old inhabitants and spread by animals: cherries, mulberries, plums, apricots, raspberries, dates, apples, and more. Because Hells Canyon is a warmer climate than its surroundings, look for fruit that in civilization has already been in season for at least a few weeks.
  • Great fishing. Trout, smallmouth bass, sturgeon and catfish fill the river and because Hells Canyon is so remote, there are plenty of fish to catch even for the most inexperienced fisherman.
  • It’s quiet in the canyon. Hells Canyon is strictly regulated for both rafting and jet boating, so you’ll only see a few other groups on the river throughout the whole multiway trip.

Cons:

  • Smoke. Forest fires are a fact in the West and occasionally smoke gets blown into Hells Canyon. It’s hard to predict when the canyon will be smokey because it could be from fires as far away as Washington or even Canada.
  • The heat. It can get too hot in Hells Canyon. Temperatures over 100 are common but it usually cools off at night for a great sleep. Hikes in the cool mornings are recommended as is a lot of swimming and drinking water.

Fall Hells Canyon Rafting

Pros:

  • The weather is beautiful. Hells Canyon cools off just a bit to around the 80’s. Warm fall days on the warm Snake River are great.
  • The rapids are still great. As the water lowers, the Class IV’s get smaller but the Class III’s get bigger and sportier. The only exception in the Class IV called Waterspout which pretty much just keeps getting bigger as the water goes down. Keep an eye on the rapids at lower water. They can be surprising.
  • Chukar hunting. A chukar is an upland game bird that looks like a partridge or small chicken. The hunting season opens in September or October and Hells Canyon makes for great hunting grounds.

Cons:

  • It’s dry. Like dry dry. There usually isn’t much rain throughout the summer, so by the time fall comes along the canyon is brown and dry. Occasionally there is a fire warning or ban, so just be cautious.
  • Chance of rain and cooler weather. Fall is a hard time to predict the weather in Hells Canyon, so bring clothing for everything.

Winter Hells Canyon Rafting

Pros:

  • Steelhead fishing. You can steelhead fish Hells Canyon October through March. Unfortunately, the steelhead runs haven’t been great in the past years so do some research before you head out.
  • It’s quiet. Hells Canyon is usually quiet but it gets even more so in the winter. Besides the occasional jet boater you’ll have the canyon to yourself.
  • Chukar hunting season is usually open until the end of January.

Cons:

  • It’s cold. It hardly ever snows in the canyon but be prepared for cold weather.
  • It’s slow. The water is running low in the winter, so be prepared for a slower ride.

Want to experience Hells Canyon rafting yourself? Check out more information on overnight rafting trips here or give us a call at 208-347-3862 to chat about the best time to go!

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