Hell's Canyon of the Snake River is one of those places that can be argued as to what state it belongs to because it forms the boundary of three states and it can be visited from any of the three. But since all of the east side is located in Idaho, that is where I chose to place it on our site. We first visited this National Recreation Area from Oregon, while spending a few days in Baker City. We drove in from the west and the drive was well worth the time, even without the canyon.
Our arrival at the canyon was actually at the upper end of Hell's Canyon Reservoir, and just below Ox-Bow Dam. At this point you cross the Snake River and travel on a road owned and maintained by Idaho Power & Light. They have also developed a campground & park along the lake, north of bridge.
The campground is several miles up the lake but the roads are good and it is accessible for even larger RVs. The park is beautiful and popular with fishermen. The canyon is very steep and narrow even here at the very upper end. The road is paved and well maintained, though not overly wide. Steep grades are few and short.
Although you see little of the roughest part of the canyon, this area is very impressive. We were so impressed that our May visit inspired us to route our travel through eastern Washington such that we could take a jet-boat tour of the lower canyon when we traveled back this direction in July. If you choose to make this trip, by all means take the full day trip, as the half day trip does not get into the most scenic part of the canyon.
We chose Beamer's Hell's Canyon tours to travel with and I highly recommend them. Our tour left from a dock within walking distance of the Granite Lake RV Park in Clarkston, WA, where we were staying. Since we left the dock at 8am and returned at 6:30 pm, we found that to be very handy. There is also an Idaho state park on the Lewiston side of the river that has a nice campground and a vendor takes tours from there. The boat was 40' long and powered by two turbo-charged, 500 hp diesel engines. The boat has a toilet, but they suggest it only be used when stopped. The ride can get quite rough in the rapids, of which there were 182!
Our boat stopped about every 1 1/2 hours for a rest and stretch break and at our first stop, at about 9am, we were also served breakfast. The stop was at a resort owned by the tour company and was located at the point that the road up the canyon ends. Breakfast was excellent and we were hungry!
At times the ride gets quite rough as the rapids can be as high as class 4, with a rating system that goes from class 1 to 5. But there are also many scenic spots where we stopped to take pictures and to observe features of the canyon. It is not a trip that ever becomes boring.
We stopped for a picnic lunch at the Kirkwood Ranch Historic site, and made a rest stop each way at the Copper Creek resort, both of which are only accessible by boat. Lunch, drinks and such were all provided by the tour company. We even stopped at a beach for those who wished to take a quick swim in the river.
Our captain and mate gave us an outstanding tour and the food and service were excellent. On the return trip we stopped to photograph bighorn sheep and petroglyphs. On the trip up the canyon we traveled at about 35 mph by GPS. On the return trip it was even more exciting as the boat must travel faster to maintain control in the fast water. The GPS read our speed on the return as 42 mph. Should we ever return we will choose to travel with Beamer's again. You can check them out on the internet if you wish more information.