Yep, I’m still catching us up on last year’s travels 🙂 We’ve been trying to get to Hells Canyon for a few years, but RV issues kept us from it until this past September. It was worth the wait!
Sometimes hiking leads to — trams?!? We struck out our first morning in Joseph, OR, to find a trailhead, but as we passed the Wallowa Lake Tramway stand and decided it was meant to be, so we plunked down $56 for two tickets and up and away we went.
The tram climbs 3700 vertical feet in about 13.5 minutes along a 19,300-foot cable to the top of Mount Howard. Summit elevation (for those of you keeping track of all these numbers) is 8150. They say you can see four states from the summit — Oregon (of course), Idaho, Washington, and Montana. How cool is that? And with about 2.5 miles of trail, we managed to get some hiking in anyway.
It was like walking on the top of the world!
And the casual birdwatcher in me was happy to see this Clark’s Nutcracker up close (the only nutcracker in the US):
… a stunning one for an impromptu ride up Mount Howard:
The next day, we struck out in the opposite direction, finding a trailhead at the end of the road, which branched in so many directions we knew we could hike for days and see something different each day. With wildfires in the area, we took an often-trekked path where the autumn foliage surrounded us:
The views were spectacular…
…and the gurgling of this small river gave us background music as we walked:
Of course, the big attraction for many is the canyon itself, and there are several ways to get there. We opted for the Hells Canyon Overlook first, so we took Route 350 out of Joseph then turned right onto Route 39. From there we took a series of backroads until — tah-dah! — the overlook:
Hard to get good photos when wildfire smoke dulls the contrast… but trust me when I say the views were amazing. For a better view of the canyon itself, we struck out another day for the Hat Point Overlook. Getting there was even trickier than the Hells Canyon Overlook: Route 350 all the way to Imnaha, and from there tiny gravel roads around hairpin turns on steep cliffsides without guardrails. Not for the squeemish! But despite signs warning people not to take trailers up this way, we spotted a few RVs and horse trailers parked farther up the mountain and were glad we weren’t on this road when they decided to travel it. If you’re thinking of taking your RV up this way, we have a bit of advice: DON’T!
We followed the GPS, on the hunt for a trailhead out here Bob had found, and this is where the trail took us:
Not a cliff we wanted to go down, not even in our Jeep. So on down the bigger road we went, stopping at the parking area by the fire tower…
…which we couldn’t resist climbing, of course (actually, we ran up the steps — not once but twice; gotta get that excercise in when we can and it felt good after all that sitting on the drive out!). The 360-degree views from the top kept us there for awhile. And then, in the distance, we saw smoke from one of the fires that had been burning several days:
To the northeast, we could make out the Snake River as it wound through the bottom of the canyon. Most people think the Grand Canyon is the deepest in the US — but Hells Canyon is actually deeper. Did you know that? It’s less visited because it’s so much more remote and difficult to access.
On non-hiking days, we found plenty to do, like snapping photos of the deer that roamed the area oblivious to the two-legged humans nearby…
…and the two-legged humans enjoying the sensation of being birds by paragliding overhead. Just specks after leaping from Mount Howard…
…they became much more visible as they fell closer to the earth, and into my zoom lens 🙂
We would have stayed longer but the RV park was booked, so we packed up and headed south before the winds blew too cold. We did decide this spot was going on our “must return here and stay longer” list!