Hells Canyon, North America's deepest river gorge, encompasses a vast and remote region with dramatic changes in elevation, terrain, climate and vegetation. Carved by the great Snake River, Hells Canyon plunges more than a mile below Oregon's west rim, and 8,000 feet below the snow-capped He Devil Peak of Idaho's Seven Devils Mountains.
The Snake River is designated a Wild and Scenic River. The 31.5-mile section of the river between Hells Canyon Dam and Upper Pittsburg Landing is designated Wild and the 36-mile section of river downstream from Upper Pittsburg Landing to mile 180.2 is designated Scenic.
Although uncommon on most wild and scenic rivers, powerboats have been used on the Snake River in Hells Canyon National Recreation Area for many years and Congress included specific language in the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area Act which allows their continued use.
Reservations are required during the primary season, which is the Friday before Memorial Day through September 10, 7 days a week in the Wild section and Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays in the Scenic section. The system will be available for current year reservations March 1, annually.
Wild River reservations are required for all powerboat trips between Hells Canyon Dam and Upper Pittsburg Landing during the Primary Season. Six wild river launches are available for each day. A wild river permit also allows use of the scenic river. Non-Motorized periods in the wild river have additional restrictions.
Scenic river permits are required on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays from Cache Creek Administrative Site at the Oregon-Washington State Line to upper Pittsburg Landing during the primary season unless you have a wild river launch reservation which also allows use of the scenic river. Twenty-three scenic launches are available for each day; five of the 23 are for Lower Salmon River access and are day-use only.
The 1994 Wild and Scenic Snake River Recreation Management Plan (revised in 1999. Click here to view) established a non-motorized period. The objective of the period was to provide for extended periods of remoteness by limiting encounters with motorized users in the wild river section. The non-motorized section of the wild river is from Kirkwood Historic Ranch to Wild Sheep Rapids. Powerboat access will not be authorized during those times in that section of the wild river. Click Here to see the current year’s non-motorized calendar.
Self-issue river permits are required for the entire river corridor outside of the primary season, but do not require an advance reservation. They can be self-issued at any river portal.
Rafting and power-boating the rapids of Hells Canyon is not recommended for the inexperienced or poorly equipped. For more information about the most challenging areas in Hells Canyon, as well as trip lengths, consult the Wild and Scenic Snake River Boaters Guide