Hells Canyon is a national recreation area located in Idaho and Oregon. It is primarily in Oregon but you can reach some of it from Idaho if you are traveling along Idaho Highway 95. Hells Canyon is the deepest river gorge in North America and has some pretty spectacular scenery. While planning for my trip I “googled” the best place to see Hells Canyon from Idaho and Heavens Gate came back as the number one spot to see the canyon.
Just so we are clear this Heavens Gate does not refer to the weird cult from the 1970’s.
Driving to Heavens Gate was going to be a commitment as it was 18 miles (28.9 km) one way of steep gravel roads. Never one to shy away from a driving challenge I decided it would take the drive. And since the land is operated by the Forest Service, Boomer would be allowed to join me on any of the trails we found.
Located just south of Riggins Idaho we turned up the 4 mile (6.4 km) paved road that later turned to gravel. We followed along the winding trail to the top of the mountain where we were greeted by some “wild mustangs”. There are also some cattle that you will need to watch out for – Idaho is open range, so you hit them – you’re paying for them.
We arrived to the parking lot and took in the stunning panoramic views. I packed Boomer and I some water (it was a really hot day) and proceeded up the hillside to the fire lookout tower I had read about prior to our arrival.
I have to mention this now… I hate hiking. I may have mentioned this before and the irony of this entire trip (including everything we were about to do in Utah) was pretty heavy. This is fair warning it will probably not be the last time I complain about hiking during the progression of this trip.
So back to this hike up the hillside that started out walking away from the lookout tower. I always find it odd when a trail leads away from your destination. Luckily I had a secret weapon that makes hiking easier… a dog. Boomer is always more than happy to pull me up a hillside!
Once we reached the top we found the lookout tower perched atop a rock pile with a somewhat unfriendly dog manning the observation deck. Dusty the dog was not a fan of Boomer so I tied Boomer up to a nearby post and climbed up the stairs to the observation deck. I was greeted by Dusty and his owners a man, who was a Forest Service Ranger and his wife (I’m not sure if she was a ranger or not – she wasn’t in uniform if she was). Their job was to keep a look out for fires and answer any questions that the visitors may have. Although the lookout was set up with a bed the ranger and his wife did not man the lookout overnight. If Dusty was anything like Boomer I am sure he would need his own bed, something that was lacking in the lookout.
After I completed the tour of the lookout Boomer and I headed down the mountainside. Here is where things got really exciting. We made our way around the cattle and the “mustangs” following the heavily washboarded road down the mountain.
As usual we were in a hurry because I, as always, plan a full day. In my haste I was not fully paying attention to my brake usage while driving down the road. I did notice that the truck was not stopping as well as I thought it should be. I figure it was probably just the steep hill and the washboards that was keeping the truck from stopping quickly. You can probably see where this is going, right?
As we got back onto the pavement the brakes felt “spongey” to me. Still oblivious as to what was going on I finally noticed once a family of deer walked out in front of my truck. I was excited to take a photo of them as I had not seen any wildlife that day (the “mustangs” don’t count). As I pressed on the brakes the truck came to a slow stop and a large puff of blue/gray smoke surrounded the truck. OH CRAP were my brakes on fire?!?!?!
I proceed to a safe spot and inspected my brakes. There seemed to be no fire (although I’m not sure what I would have done if they was) just a lot of brake dust and an alarming smell that surrounded the truck, filled the inside of the cab and soaked into my clothing giving me the subtle reminder that I’m a moron. A nice gentleman driving by saw me looking at my truck and asked if I needed any help. Embarrassed of what I had done I said everything was find and proceeded on my way. Although I am sure he could smell my hot breaks and knew I was lying 🙁
If you would like to visit Heavens Gate it is located off of Idaho Highway 95 1.3 miles south of Riggins. Turn onto Seven Devils Road which turns into Forest Service Road 517. Follow for about 18 miles. Be aware that this road is rough and has many washboards. My recommendation is to drive it slow. While driving down the hill, if you have an automatic transmission put your car in a low gear and don’t abuse your brakes like I did. Lastly if anyone offers you a drink of “the Kool-aid” pass 🙂