Much of Hells Canyon is wilderness and is accessible only by boat, on horseback, or on foot. Few roads lead into the canyon, and most of these are recommended only for four-wheel-drive vehicles. If you are driving a car without high clearance, you'll have to limit your exploration of this region to the road to Hells Canyon Dam and the scenic byway that skirts the eastern flanks of the Wallowa Mountains. If you don't mind driving miles on gravel, you can also head out to the Hat Point Overlook east of Joseph.
From the south, river-level access begins in the community of Oxbow, but the portion of the Snake River that has been designated a National Wild and Scenic River starts 27 miles farther north, below Hells Canyon Dam. Below the dam, the Snake River is turbulent with white water and provides thrills for jet-boaters and rafters. To get this bottom-up view of the canyon, take Ore. 86 to Oxbow, cross the river into Idaho, and continue 22 miles downriver to Hells Canyon Creek Visitor Center (tel. 541/785-3395), which is located 1 mile past the Hells Canyon Dam. This center has informative displays on the natural history of Hells Canyon and is open daily 8am to 4pm from early May to early October. The Stud Creek Trail leads 1 mile down the river from the visitor center and is an easy way to get a sense of what it's like to hike in the canyon.
To get a top-down overview of the canyon, drive to the Hells Canyon Overlook, 30 miles northeast of Halfway on Forest Road 39. From here you can gaze down into the canyon, but you won't be able to see the river.
You'll find many miles of hiking trails within the national recreation area, but summer heat, rattlesnakes, and poison oak keep all but the most dedicated hikers at bay. However, in early June, the wildflowers in Hells Canyon can be spectacular. For information on trails here, contact the information center for the recreation area.
The best way to see Hells Canyon is by white-water raft or in a jet boat. Both sorts of trips can be arranged through Hells Canyon Adventures, P.O. Box 159, Oxbow, OR 97840 (tel. 800/422-3568 or 541/785-3352; www.hellscanyonadventures.com). Jet-boat tours range from $45 to $75 per adult for a 2-hour tour to $147 per adult for a 6-hour tour. Children pay half price or less. A day of white-water rafting runs $185.
Multiday horseback trips into the southern Wallowas are offered by Cornucopia Wilderness Pack Station, P.O. Box 568, Union, OR 97883 (tel. 866/562-8075 or 541/562-1181; www.cornucopiapackstation.com), which charges $125 to $250 per person per day for most of its trips.
You can also opt to explore the southern Wallowas with a llama carrying your gear. Contact Wallowa Llamas, 36678 Allstead Lane, Halfway, OR 97834 (tel. 541/742-2961; www.wallowallamas.com), for more information. Trips range in price from $600 to $1,400.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.