Columbia Gorge vs. Hell\'s Canyon

Return to Message Board

Hi, I'm the guy from DC who asked last week about finding a 20-30 mile loop for 4-5 days backpacking. Well, after much calling around, the two big loops I've found the are snow-free now are the Columbia River Gorge (Eagles Creek/PCT/Ruckle Ridge) and...Hell's Canyon, way out by Idaho. Obviously these are two very different hikes. I am torn and would welcome anyone's thoughts, especially anyone who has done both!

Some things I am thinking about: Hell's Canyon is 7 hours from Portland. It seems more spectacular overall (5000 foot river gorge). Is it worth all the extra driving for someone who is only around for 5 days?

What is Hell's Canyon like in July? Most of what I has read recommends it April-June. Is it unbearbly hot? Is ther enough water?

How crowded is the Columbia River Gorge during the week? We'll start on a Sunday and I expect the early trail to be crowded, but on Monday and after, will it be more like wilderness levels of solitude? Will we be able to hear I-84 the whole time?

Thanks for any input!

I actually typed a long response here, but it didn't submit.  I've spent a lot of time at both Hells Canyon and The Gorge.  I would opt for Hells Canyon, but I would stick to the higher trails this time of year.  The lower canyons are very hot, overgrown with poison ivy and rattle snakes.

As Forrest mentioned, the Wallowas may be another option and 1-2 hours closer.  It is likely that most of the high country is still under a decent amount of snow, but I know that the area around the Minam river is open.  I spoke with a ranger who was there last week.  Call the ranger station and ask about the the Minam river, cougar ridge, bighorn ridge ect. 

Another option would be the Wenaha Tuccanon around the same area.  Southern Oregon may have some trails open as well.  Let me know if you need some loop options.
Hell's Canyon would be pretty cool - the Gorge is spectacular, and maybe this is just coming from someone who has easy access to the Gorge, but I would probably opt for Hell's Canyon

The Gorge should be fine during the week regarding crowds, especially if you are out more than a couple miles.  You won't hear I-84 for actually most of your trip.  You can't hear it at the Eagle Creek Trailhead, the only place where you will likely hear it is right before returning to your car, for the final mile or so as you drop down from the ridge.

I hate to further complicate things, but this does bring up another option; the Wallowas, which is right next to Hell's Canyon, but a little closer.  It's the best mountain range in Oregon, and recieves less snow generally than the high country of the cascades, so you may have some good options for spectacular mountain scenery that isn't possible on the west side of the state (or it could also be snowed in as well!?).  I'd check out the ranger station over that way for more info, but it could be a good option.