Travels in Geology: Hells Canyon

The best seat in the house: the wooden Dory named the "Might As Well"

The best seat in the house: the back of the wooden Dory named the “Might As Well”

Why would you ever visit a place called Hells Canyon? Especially given how hard it is to get there: Few roads and only steep, difficult trails run down into the 2,400-meter-deep gorge — the deepest canyon in North America — which forms part of the border between Oregon and Idaho. Despite its remote and rugged challenges, however, Hells Canyon has attracted visitors for thousands of years, from the Clovis people and Native Americans to turn-of-the-century gold miners, sheep ranchers and homesteaders.

Riding shotgun in the "lunch boat" with guide Anna at the helm

Riding shotgun in the “lunch boat” with guide Anna at the helm

Today, the canyon is popular among whitewater rafters and fishing enthusiasts. A trip through Hells Canyon, with its diverse geologic pedigree involving 300 million years of island arcs, volcanism and catastrophic floods, will also delight geology-minded travelers. You don’t even need to be an extreme adventurer to enjoy the canyon: Shove off with a reputable rafting company like ROW Adventures and you’ll barely even need to paddle.
So this is what a class 4 rapids feels like...

So this is what a class 4 rapids feels like…

Hiking in Hells Canyon. After a few days sitting in a boat, I was jonesing for a walk!

Hiking in Hells Canyon. After a few days sitting in a boat, I was jonesing for a walk!

A few of my past Travels in Geology features are there too: West Virginia’s New River Gorge, British Columbia’s Burgess Shale, and the German Alps.

About theblondecoyote

Mary Caperton Morton is a freelance science and travel writer with degrees in biology and geology and a master’s in science writing. A regular contributor to EARTH magazine, where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for the anthologies Best Women's Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently based in western Colorado. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, skiing, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at
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9 Responses to Travels in Geology: Hells Canyon

  1. bubbasuess says:

    What trail were you hiking on?

  2. ritaroberts says:

    Welcome back Mary. When I was much younger I always fancied white water rafting. Looks really exciting, dangerous too. More interested in the geology now. Thanks for sharing your fantastic journeys.

  3. JohnGalt says:

    How long or far did ya float?

  4. klbexplores says:

    Loved your article….this is near where I live so I especially enjoyed it! I have wintered my trailer at a RV Park at the bottom of the White Bird Grade….no snow all winter. I look forward to seeing more of your travels!

  5. dlh62c says:

    Welcome back, I was wondering about you.

  6. It sounds terribly exciting and beautiful. Good on you!

  7. Dan Beideck says:

    Nice! You’ll be hitting up a Grand Canyon float before you know it!

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