Scenic USA - Idaho
Hells Canyon Scenic Byway
|Photos by Denny Barnes
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The Snake River marks the border for about 150 miles between Oregon and midwestern Idaho. This land of extreme mountains, fast rivers and broad river valleys is also sliced open by one of the deepest canyons in North America. The Snake River, once unchecked, exhibited the raw power of nature as it gnawed its way through sections of granite batholiths and Columbia Plateau basalt.
After years of litigation, three dams created the largest privately owned hydro-electric complex in America. This system not only generates power for a million people, but also doubles as a unique playground for thousands of visitors every year. North of Oxbow Dam, a 22 mile scenic byway winds through this canyonland and offers views of the Snake River reservoirs and glimpses into this dramatic canyon. Here, the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway winds along a narrow ledge on the Idaho side of this huge rift in the earth's crust. Overhead, towering cliffs, made up of green and black basalt, dwarf the two lane road. Significant grades add more challenges to the many obvious distractions.
North of the Hells Canyon Dam marks the beginning of the Wild and Scenic Snake River, a primary point for float trips and jet boat tours. River excursions head northward through the most rugged, deepest and wildest parts of the canyon. More than a dozen licensed outfitters provide the ultimate Hells Canyon experience, lasting from one to six days.
For those happier on terra-firma, hiking trails, campsites, and picnic areas are spaced out in this lower section of the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area. Tours of the Oxbow Power Plant offer a brief overview of hydro-electric generators in action. Although unnatural, the Oxbow Fish Hatchery ensures prime fishing up and down the Snake River, where steelhead, bass, catfish and crappie are the most popular catches. While the Hat Point Overlook, from the Oregon side, offers views of the deepest section of the canyon, its 24 mile, rugged one lane track makes Idaho’s Hells Canyon Byway the most appealing.
Best reached via Oregon Rt 86 (Baker City)
Nearby Points of Interest
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