When you think of large canyons, the Grand Canyon undoubtedly comes to mind. Designated a National Park in 1919 and having its largest depth at 6,093 feet, it is the most famous canyon in the United States. However, the U.S. has another canyon deeper than the mighty Grand Canyon…and it is right here in Oregon.
At a depth of 7,993 feet, Hells Canyon is a geologic wonder resulting from several million years of water flow along the legendary Snake River. The canyon forms the border between Oregon and Idaho from Copperfield, Oregon north to the Oregon-Washington border.
Our journey started in Baker City, Oregon, the southern terminus of the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway. From Baker City, we headed east on Oregon Highway 86 and were treated with some great views of the Wallowa Mountains along the way.
About 18 miles east of Baker City, Highway 86 meets up with and follows the Powder River for several miles.
After 40 miles, we reached Richland, a small ranching community with a population of 156 in the 2010 Census. Passing through Richland took less than one minute, even at 25 miles per hour.
We continued east on Highway 86. The scenery was amazing, with even more views of the Wallowa Mountains as well as ranches that have been around since the 1800s.
After 13 more miles we arrived at the tiny town of Halfway. Halfway is another small ranching community that maintains its rustic appearance from 100+ years ago, much like most small towns in eastern Oregon. However, in December 1999, Halfway agreed to change its name to Half.com as part of a marketing gimmick for the e-commerce company. In 2001, Half.com was purchased by Ebay and Halfway returned to its original name.
Continuing east another 17 miles, we arrived in Copperfield (also known as Oxbow), a small town on the bank of the Snake River. Here the road crosses the Oxbow Bridge to the Idaho side of the river to continue north into Hells Canyon.
From here, it is 22 miles to the Hells Canyon Dam. The road is windy and sometimes narrow, so go easy. The scenery is incredible…take the time to enjoy it!
Upon reaching Hells Canyon Dam, the road crosses back to the Oregon side of the Snake River. Hells Canyon Dam began operating in 1967 and is one of three hydroelectric dams in the area.
After crossing over Hells Canyon Dam, the road continues north for another mile and ends at the Hells Canyon Creek Visitor Center. Here you can find all kinds of information regarding the history, geology, and geography of the area. The visitor center is also a nice place to relax and have a picnic lunch. Restrooms are also available here. If you wish to further explore the canyon, access from this point is achieved by boat or by trail.
It is about 95 miles from Baker City to the Hells Canyon Creek Visitor Center and is worth every mile. The scenery is incredible!
Be sure to check online for river guide outfitters prior to your visit if taking a boat tour into the canyon interests you. They sell out fast.
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