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Backpacker Magazine – March 2014

Hell's Canyon, ID

Boise, ID: Soak in desert warmth.

by: Kelly Bastone

Hells Canyon deserves its name for most of the summer, when 2,000-foot cliffs trap the desert sun and roast foolish hikers along the 28-mile Snake River National Recreation Trail. Far better to enjoy this canyon-bottom route during its March, April, and May comfort zone: Water flows in seasonal creeks, and green grasses brighten the stark hillsides where elk and bighorn sheep feast on spring’s bounty. The trail’s lack of road access necessitates hiking out-and-back from Pittsburg (alternatively, call River Adventures, 800-524-9710, for a pick-up at Johnson Bar or Granite Creek Rapids and ride the river back to your car; about $135). Sans water taxi, do this two-night, 23-mile option: From Pittsburg’s Upper Landing, roller-coaster upstream (south) over countless rocky outcroppings fringed with delicate wildflowers (purple larkspur, yellow balsamroot, and pink phlox bloom in spring). Top off your water bottles at Kirby Creek (2 miles in). Continue south, contouring across steep hillsides on a route that suspends hikers several hundred feet above the river, then descend to camp at Kirkwood Bar (no permit required) for a 6.5-mile first day. Pitch your tent on the grassy, riverside flats near Kirkwood Ranch (an old log cabin) and follow a creekbed upstream to explore a prehistoric Indian pit house. Next day, hike south to Suicide Point and its wide-angle views over Oregon’s snow-capped peaks and Idaho’s Seven Devils Summits (the tallest rises 8,000 feet above the Snake River) before descending to Big Bar and its blessedly flat stretch of trail. Rock-hop Myers Creek and enjoy a few minutes’ rest on its shaded banks, then continue to Little Bar and pitch your tent at this grassy spot beside the Snake. Here, soaring canyon walls seal out all signs of the modern world, and only honking geese interrupt the river’s lullaby. Wake early for day three’s 11.5-mile return.

Drive time from Boise 5 hours

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