Hells Canyon Wilderness Area

Hells Canyon Wilderness Area

The United States Congress designated the Hells Canyon Wilderness in 1975 and it now has a total of 217,927 acres. Idaho contains approximately 83,811 acres. It is primarily managed by the U.S. Forest Service with approximately 940 acres managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). 

Hells Canyon Wilderness is a subset of the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area (HCNRA), which straddles the border of northeastern Oregon and western Idaho. Split into two distinct halves by the Wild & Scenic Snake River, approximately one-third of HCNRA is designated Wilderness. A small portion of the Wilderness in Oregon is managed by the BLM.

The Idaho side of the Wilderness is smaller than the Oregon side and encompasses the Seven Devils mountain range. The Wilderness stretches south from Pittsburg Landing for approximately 31 miles along the Snake River. 

On the Oregon side, the higher elevation areas are characteristic of rocky slopes and grasslands laced with 'stringer canyons' and groves composed of Douglas fir and ponderosa pine. The lower elevations are dominated by grassland benches with steep canyons and ravines dissecting the isolated Oregon-side. Two National trails are found at various elevations: Western Rim/Summit Ridge Recreation Trail at the upper elevation, and the Nez Perce National Historic Trail near the Snake River. Species of interest are Rocky Mountain Elk, bighorn sheep, mule deer, and chukar.


Access the southern portions of the Wilderness from trailhead at Copper Creek, approximately nine miles north of Oxbow on the Oregon side. Primitive camping and restrooms available. No fees or permits required.

Hells Canyon Hiking

Conditions vary significantly with season of use and elevation. Lower elevations may be accessible year-around, while higher elevations may retain snow well into summer months. Carefully consider time of year, topography, and elevation changes when planning your trip. Many trails are unmaintained, or seldom maintained in primitive condition. 

Rugged hiking and equestrian travel in steep terrain offering breathtaking scenery and a variety of wildlife. Excellent opportunities for solitude and self-reliant, cross-country travel. Be forewarned: the Hells Canyon Wilderness can be very hot in summer; finding reliable water sources may pose a challenge. Running water may usually be found in major tributary creeks to the Snake River. All water should be treated before drinking. 

Be sure to check clothing often for ticks, especially in humid, warm weather, or when traveling through brushy terrain. Watch for rattlesnakes and give them plenty of space. Some trails have been completely destroyed by flooding and have not been reconstructed; expect primitive trail conditions and anticipate the need for cross-country travel. Overgrown vegetation along narrow trails may include thorns and poison ivy. Check bulletin boards for seasonal fire restrictions and special notices.

Know Before You Go

Visitors can help in protecting this fragile ecosystem by adequately planning and by arriving prepared! Knowledge of the area, weather, terrain, and common sense can help to ensure you have safe, fun, and memorable trip to the wild. Trail junctions are generally unsigned, so you should carry a map and a compass. And always be sure to bring your ten essentials!

Management Background

The Hells Canyon Wilderness is part of the 110 million acre National Wilderness Preservation System. This System of lands provides clean air, water, and habitat critical for rare and endangered plants and animals. In wilderness, you can enjoy challenging recreational activities like hiking, backpacking, climbing, kayaking, canoeing, rafting, horse packing, bird watching, stargazing, and extraordinary opportunities for solitude. You play an important role in helping to "secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness" as called for by the Congress of the United States through the Wilderness Act of 1964. Please follow the requirements outlined below and use Leave No Trace techniques when visiting the Hells Canyon Wilderness to ensure protection of this unique area.

The 940-acre BLM portion of the Hells Canyon Wilderness, located at the southernmost end, is cooperatively managed in conjunction with the U.S. Forest Service.

Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is generally prohibited on all federal lands designated as wilderness. This includes the use of motor vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles, hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the landing of aircraft including helicopters, unless provided for in specific legislation.

In a few areas some exceptions allowing the use of motorized equipment or mechanical transport are described in the special regulations in effect for a specific area. Contact the Forest Service office for more specific information.

These general prohibitions have been implemented for all national forest wildernesses in order to implement the provisions of the Wilderness Act of 1964. The Wilderness Act requires management of human-caused impacts and protection of the area's wilderness character to insure that it is "unimpaired for the future use and enjoyment as wilderness." Use of the equipment listed as prohibited in wilderness is inconsistent with the provision in the Wilderness Act which mandates opportunities for solitude or primitive recreation and that wilderness is a place that is in contrast with areas where people and their works are dominant.

Wilderness managers often need to take action to limit the impacts caused by visitor activities in order to protect the natural conditions of wilderness as required by the Wilderness Act of 1964. Managers typically implement 'indirect' types of actions such as information and education measures before selecting more restrictive measures. When regulations are necessary, they are implemented with the specific intent of balancing the need to preserve the character of the wilderness while providing for the use and enjoyment of wilderness.

The following wilderness regulations are in effect for this area. Not all regulations are in effect for every wilderness. Contact the Forest Service office for more specific information about the regulations listed.

Entering Hells Canyon Wilderness with more than eight (8) people is prohibited. Entering Hells Canyon Wilderness with more than sixteen (16) head of stock per party is prohibited. Hitching or tethering of horses or other saddle or pack animal to trees at campsites except for the purposes of loading, unloading, saddling, unsaddling is prohibited.



Designation: Public Law 94-199 and Public Law 98-328
Date: December 31, 1975
Size: 217,927 acres



• Hells Canyon National Recreation Area Offices located in Wallowa Mountains Office, in Joseph, Oregon or Riggins, Idaho

• The U.S. Forest Service, Wallowa Whitman National Forest site


BLM Vale District
100 Oregon Street
Vale, OR 97918
Phone: 541-473-3144

Baker Office
3100 H Street
P.O. Box 947
Baker City, OR 97814
Phone: 541-523-1256