On their journey to find the Northwest Passage, Lewis and Clark passed through one of the most rugged areas of their trip to the Pacific Ocean when they rode through the rapids of the Snake River.
The days of Lewis and Clark may be distant history, but anyone who enjoys the rush of a raging river through rugged canyons will tell you that to them, the runs through the Snake River are pure whitewater heaven.
However, to experience this little slice of heaven, you must first make the journey through hell, Hells Canyon that is. Hells Canyon serves as the deepest gorge in North America, as it is nestled in the Lewis-Clark Valley on the Snake where the biggest rapids in the Pacific Northwest can be found. Here, the seasoned pro can experience the river ride of a lifetime.
Hells Canyon is an ancient canyon with rock walls and century-old boulders that have found their way into the waterway, which have resulted in Godzilla sized rapids that are sure to add fuel to anyone’s adrenaline rush.
In addition to the rafting there is plenty of terra firma activities available with trails for hiking and biking, and numerous campsites where you may get an opportunity to view bighorn sheep, mountain goats and elk in the rustic garden of natural beauty.
Along with the epic rafting adventures and wide variety of other outdoor sports available in the valley, visitors can also enjoy a jet boat ride in the summer, and during the winter season, there is plenty of opportunity for snowshoeing, cross country skiing and snowmobiling.
Even when the sun goes down, the nearby towns of Lewiston, Idaho and Clarkston and Asotin, Washington, who serve gateway cities to the canyon, also offer numerous relaxation and entertainment hot spots.
A life on the river
Kurt Armacost grew up on the river as a teenager and it was his family that started the Hells Canyon Raft Company. “It’s a magical place,” he said. “Last time I counted I had logged over 500 trips on the Snake River in Hells Canyon. Believe me, just being there on the river changes the way you see things.”
In 1976, Kurt’s family took their first trip through Hells Canyon and by the summer of 1977 they had purchased their own gear, which served as the foundation for a long legacy of guiding and rafting in the Hells Canyon region. “When my family was just beginning, trips were usually small, said Armacost. “Those were the good old days.”
At 14 years of age Armacost followed his Dad down the river. His father had guests on his boat, while Kurt would carry the gear. At 18, Kurt started to lead trips down the river, which he continues to lead to this day.
The nearby Salmon River offers the longest free flowing river system in the lower 48 states. It has a plethora of white sandy beaches for swimming and playing along with a huge paddleboat water slide. There are even rapids, but these are a little tamer and family friendly.
A trip on the Salmon serves as the perfect one-day getaway on rapids that are ideal for the beginner or families.
Along the way, your guides will point out the sites and wildlife you may encounter and will tempt your taste buds when you take a break for a gourmet lunch served on the banks of the river.
For those looking for a longer adventure, there is is also a two-day, 40-mile trip, which includes camping and a riverside dinner under a canopy of brilliant Pacific Northwest stars.
The trip is also educational for the kids, as they learn about the variety of wildlife and local geology, along with information about the regions Nez Perce Indians who have dwelled for centuries in the area and today live on a reservation not far from the river.
Along with the river and nightly microbrew infused entertainment, summer events in the Hells Canyon area are pure rock and roll. Every summer the area puts on a bash called “Rockin’ on the River”, which has featured music from artists ranging from Joan Jett to Everclear, who unleash their sounds to the massive crowds relaxing on the banks and beach of the Snake River.
Just a few miles away in Lewiston, motor heads and rock and roll fuse together to kick asphalt every August for the “Hot August Nights” festival where classic cars and oldies rock the valley.
So grab your adrenaline, stock up on courage and make your way to whitewater heaven, but remember to get there, you first must travel through hell.
For more information on the Hells Canyon Raft Company visit their website at www.hellscanyonraft.com.
For information on other events and activities in the region, click here.