Hells Canyon Reservoir

  • Easy (to Spring Creek)
  • 5.2 miles round trip
  • 600 feet elevation gain
  • Open all year
  • Use: hikers, horses

The Oregon side of the Hells Canyon Reservoir is full of surprises—waterfalls in side canyons, slopes of wildflowers, and clifftop viewpoints where you can watch giant fish idling in the Snake River’s still green waters. Perhaps most surprising of all is the solitude. Power boats rarely venture here, and traffic is so light on the highway across the reservoir in Idaho that hours can pass without the sound of a motor. Because occasional patches of poison oak grow beside the shoreline trail, be sure to wear long pants.

To drive here …

In early summer, wildflowers brighten the slopes of dry bitterbrush above the reservoir. Look for stalks of yellow four-o’clocks, purple asters, white yarrow, yellow salsify, and tiny purple penstemons. The pretty little pink flowers with four elegant, cross-shaped petals are clarkias. The name honors Lewis and Clark, who first identified the flower in 1805-06 when they passed the northern end of Hells Canyon.

The upper Snake River’s native salmon runs died when the Hells Canyon Dam impounded this reservoir in the 1950s. The hundreds of brown, 2-foot-long fish you see lazing in the water are unappetizing crappies or catfish, whose O-shaped mouths suck scum from rocks. Look in the shadows near shore to spot dozens of livelier, 8-inch rainbow trout.

After …

Other Options

Explorers can extend this hike by …

This chapter taken from the book 100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Eastern Oregon.