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  • Oregon - Hells Canyon Expedition Adventure 2013

    The Grand Canyon is seriously overrated... Sure, it's well known (ie crowded) and massive at 277 miles long and 18 miles wide. However, it's only 6,000 ft deep which may sound deep until you compare it to Hells Canyon at nearly 8,000 ft deep. Apparently, whoever determined the Seven Natural Wonders of the World failed to see this canyon which may be why the vast majority of Americans haven't even heard about this natural gem. And maybe... that's a good thing as it was named Hells Canyon to scare people away (not you. other people).

    Day 1. July 4th 2013. Made the long 7hr drive from Portland to the Wallowa National Forest. The destination was a somewhat remote campground called "Lick Creek Campground". Unfortunately, there were three campers already there and one with a big white box (that's what I call those evil RVs). So proceeded exploring to find a more suitable remote camp destination and found the perfect location; a hunters campsite with an outhouse, fire pit and creek. Can't beat that. There were several fearless deer that snooped around the campsite that night and by the end of the trip had easily seen over a hundred deer; they were everywhere.

    Day 2. Drove to the "Hells Canyon Overlook" which included a several miles of asphalt driving. The view point was alright but it somewhat crowded with 2 other vehicles in the parking lot (vast contrast from the Grand Canyon) then followed the gravel portion of NF-490 which provided some better views. The next destination was the Hat Point Lookout. Getting to this location required driving 3hrs up the gravel Upper Imnaha Rd which followed the Imnaha River. This road provided excellent scenery and rather fun to drive.

    Hat Point Lookout is 20 miles up a steep, narrow, rough gravel road from the bustling town of Imnaha which included a post office, general store, school and yep... that's it. No gas station or anything else. Check out the tiny Post Office!

    One of my favorite signs seen before most rough roads: "Rough Road not suitable for passenger cars". Unfortunately, numerous daring people disregarded the sign. There were several cars that were encountered along the road to the lookout yet at the top there were only 2 vehicles parked in the lot. The active Fire Lookout Tower provided the best views of the canyon and surrounding area.

    The USFS Lookout guy was fun to talk with and provided excellent information about the area including an incredible camping location along the canyon rim. It once again was a remote campsite with fire pit and fire wood. The views were incredible and perfect destination for dinner and a relaxing evening. Being at the top of the canyon means high elevation (7,000ft) so be prepared for cooler evening temperatures and a late sunset; it didn't get dark till well after 10pm.

    Day 3. Destination was the Snake River via the Lower Imnaha Rd. This is a rough, narrow road just north of Imnaha. The author of "Oregon Byways: 75 scenic drives" claims this is his all time favorite drive in Oregon. It's certainly scenic and dry!

    Unfortunately, with the fuel gauge approaching empty it wasn't possible to complete the journey to the Snake River. It was rather unfortunate with only 4-5 miles remaining until the destination but getting stranded in the middle of nowhere wasn't appealing. So, stopped for lunch and cooled off the Imnaha River. Then drove toward the nearest fuel station in the town of Joseph. Joseph reminds me of Sisters, Oregon; it is like stepping back in time. After visiting the museum and the ice cream shop for some afternoon refreshment it was time to get back on the road. The final camping destination was off the Lower Lostine Rd from the town of Lostine. There were many small campsites along the road including a perfect spot by along the Lostine River with no other campers.

    Day 4. A camping trip isn't complete without some hiking. So... headed to the Chimney Lake trail near the campsite. This trail is about 5 miles in length (each way) and climbs 2,400+ ft in elevation which didn't know about the total elevation until afterward. The trail was rocky, steep and had several stream crossings that required rock jumping. The trail is much better suited for the backpacker type as it's a difficult day hike.

    After surviving the hike and yes surviving is the correct word it was time to hit the highway for home. It was a late return but incredible adventure and exploration packed four days.

    - By: Peter Stewart


    Comments 2 Comments
    1. KILRB's Avatar
      KILRB -
      Peter - What a great trip! Excellent photo's!
    1. Stan's Avatar
      Stan -
      I hunt the Chesnimus unit, which is slightly north of Imnaha, the "deeper" parts of hells canyon are in this area, it is very beautiful over there. We have been hunting there for years, even when we can't hunt we go to Wallowa Lake or just go camp over there at our hunting camp. Joseph and Sisters are one in the same you are absolutely correct Peter. I hope you stopped in for a Buffalo burger or Elk burger over there! They are quite good. Looks like a very good time, if you do this trip again I would be interested to go along and show you some of the area's most people don't know!