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Hells Canyon Scenic Byway between Joseph Oregon and Hells Canyon 2015


UPDATED ON June 29, 2015: It’s that time of year again when our bed and breakfast guests ask, “Is the road open between Joseph and Halfway?” The answer for Summer and Fall 2015 is both yes and no because there is road construction on a portion of the road. There is also a construction bypass that, as of June 10, 2015, is clear of snow and open for cars (not recommended for motorhomes). However, as of June 29th, this hypass is no longer absolutely necessary. Let’s break it down into smaller questions:

  • Can I get from Joseph to the Hells Canyon Overlook? Yes. The paved road is open and access isn’t affected by the construction on Forest Service Road 39.
  • When can I drive past the Hells Canyon Overlook and continue towards Copperfield/Oxbow and Halfway on the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway? UPDATED INFORMATION: As of June 29 through October 15, 2015, the road will be open; however, travelers should expect up to one-hour delays. There is no longer a need to detour around the construction (see next question) unless you prefer a more scenic (and longer) gravel route.
  • What about the detour to avoid the construction zone? The detour is a well-maintained, 30 mile long, gravel road called Forest Service Road 66, and connects FSR 39 with the town of Halfway (located on OR Highway 86) via Baker County Road 999. Depending on what map you’re using, this road is also known as “Duck Creek Road”, “Fish Lake Road”, “Twin Lakes Road” or “Clear Creek Road” (no wonder people get lost in Oregon!) The road is suitable for vehicles pulling trailers, but not recommended for motorhomes.
  • When can I drive to Hat Point Lookout? The paved road from Joseph to Imnaha (OR Highway 350) connects to the 26-mile gravel Hat Point Road and neither one is affected by the construction. In 2015, the gravel road was freshly graded and our bed & breakfast guests have reported the road is in great condition. It is not recommended for motorcycles unless they are off-road bikes. However, the drive to Imnaha is paved and worth the trip to the Imnaha Tavern.
  • If I want to take a jetboat trip with Hells Canyon Adventures, will I be affected by the road construction? Perhaps, depending upon how you plan to get to the launch site at the Hells Canyon Dam. If you plan to travel from Joseph to the Hells Canyon Dam, then yes you will. If you plan to travel from Baker City, Oregon, or anywhere in Idaho, then you will not be affected.
  • Is there any gasoline along the way? No. The last gas stations are in Joseph and in Copperfield/Oxbow and in Halfway. Note that these are not 24-hour gas stations and, because they are in rural locations, close fairly early in the evenings.
  • Is there cellphone service along the way? Pretty much no.
  • Where can I see a map that explains all of this? The best map we’ve found is a two-page PDF file available from the Wallowa County Chamber of Commerce. Please click on the link: Wallowa County Chamber of Commerce FSR39 map to view the map. It is oversized and probably won’t print properly on 8 1/2″ x 11″ (letter-sized) paper, but you can download it to your computer or digital device for easy reference.
  • Who can I call for more information? Monday through Friday during working hours, contact the Forest Service Wallowa Mountains Office at 541-426-5546 or Pine Field Office at 541-742-7511.

CNN Travel Recognizes Hells Canyon

Jet Boat on Hells Canyon originally produced by Kyle Hill of the Lewiston Tribune

Jet Boat on Hells Canyon originally produced by Kyle Hill of the Lewiston Tribune

If you’re planning your spring and summer travel schedule, here’s a great article from CNN Travel about the tallest, deepest, longest, etc., record-setting places in the United States to visit.  Feature writer Helyn Trickey Bradley has come up with 10 superlative sights for US travel.  Two are in Oregon.  And one is right here in Wallowa County!  She writes:

The Grand Canyon in Arizona may be immense, boasting nearly 277 river miles in length, but for sheer depth, Hells Canyon in eastern Oregon, eastern Washington and western Idaho wins hands-down. . .read more from this article

Helyn suggests a trip to Hat Point Lookout, the highest point on the Oregon side where you can look down deep into Hells Canyon and see the rapids at the bottom.  We also know that you have a fine view of He Devil, the highest point of Hells Canyon on the Idaho side and the reason that Hells Canyon is the deepest canyon in the US.  As one of the Seven Devil Mountains, you feel you can almost reach out and touch them when you’re up there.  We try to get up to Hat Point every now and then and have written some blog posts about it before.

The getting to Hat Point isn’t dangerous, but it is a bit more than some people bargain for.  From Joseph, the drive is 26 miles of pavement to to the little town of Imnaha, followed by 26 miles of dirt road to the Hat Point Lookout.  Ask a local and they’ll tell you the first 5 miles of that 26 mile dirt road can be a little unnerving, but once you’re through that it’s home free all the way to the lookout.  Of course, you’ll have to come back the same way you went.  Best to leave the low slung city car at home.

Might you need some local advice when planning this Eastern Oregon vacation trip?  Give us a call here at the Bronze Antler Bed & Breakfast in Joseph.  We’re along the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway and are one of the closer Hells Canyon lodging locations for a trip to Hat Point.  And a resource for maps, guides, and other things to take along for your trip to Hells Canyon.  See you soon!





Hells Canyon Scenic Byway: A Video You Won’t Want to Miss

Never traveled on the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway?  Here’s a really good taste of what you can experience.  The Oregon Department of Transportation film crew came through a little while ago and shot a lot of footage to create this comprehensive video about the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway.  What’s nice about this particular video is you’ll see the byway in all seasons.

It’s a little bit lengthy at 8 minutes, but it really takes that long to see the scenery and some of the sights along the way.  I’m thrilled they included a scene from the Wallowa Valley Festival of Arts (3:58), our juried fine art show that takes place every first weekend of June here in Joseph Oregon.  And there are scenes from Hells Canyon Mule Days (3:04) that takes place every weekend after Labor Day in September in Enterprise Oregon (the weekend after the first Monday of September).  You’ll even have quick view of one of your Bronze Antler Bed and Breakfast innkeepers in the introduction (0:57)–it’s amazing what sorts of things I get roped into doing for our area!

Harle Butte Lookout is one of the historic lookouts a bit off the beaten path

Harle Butte Lookout is one of the historic lookouts a bit off the beaten path

You’ll find other posts on our Bronze Antler blog about things you can see along the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway–just look for the “Hells Canyon” (without the quotes) category in the margin around the blog and a list of Hells Canyon-related blog posts will appear.  This image is of Harle Butte, one of the historic staffed fire lookouts along the rim of Hells Canyon.  It’s at the end of a dirt road leading from the byway and a fabulous view (recommended for trucks and other higher clearance vehicles).

Just a reminder:  the center section of the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway (Forest Road 39 or the Wallowa Mountain Loop Road) is seasonal–it usually closes in early November and doesn’t open again until May or June depending upon snowpack.  If you’re planning to drive the entire Hells Canyon Scenic Byway, check in with the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest Office at (541) 426-4978 or 426-5546 or by visiting their website

And be sure to call us to see about your Hells Canyon lodging while you’re on your trip.  Our phone is (541) 432-0230 or visit our website for more information.

See you along the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway!