Hat Point Overlook on the Snake River Hells Canyon

Hat Point Overlook is 7990 feet above sea level and looks down well over 6000 feet to the Snake River as it flows through Hells Canyon. The Overlook has a fire watch tower, campground and picnic tables. It is safe to say that this is remote. Access is up a one lane gravel road consisting of one section 7 miles long that is a continuous 16% grade over rutted gravel and dirt road that hangs onto the edge of the mountains very tenuously. The journey begins at Imnaha and climbs about 6000 feet in 20 miles. It was an exciting excursion with many white knuckle moments for Peg!

We began the day driving to Joseph where we stopped at the Chamber of Commerce Visitors Center for a map and general directions. The lady, Debra if I remember correctly, was most helpful. The Center had all kinds of maps and sights to see. Debra asked us where we were going and Peg told her Hat Point. You could see Debra’s eyes light up, she came half way out of her chair grabbing a map and highlighter pen. “Has anyone told you about the road to Hat point?’, she asked in a kind of excited tone. Uh no, I thought to myself. “It starts out with a 16% grade, you know. Does your vehicle have good brakes?” Sure, the Bronze Brute has this one. “The road has pull outs,” Debra continued, “so when you see someone coming pull over and wait”. I recognized right away that our trip was going to be challenging and loads of fun. The blood drained from Peg’s face. God, I love her, she is such a trooper.

We buckled up and headed to Imnaha where we exited the highway and took off on the USFS road. It was asphalt for a little ways, just to fool the casual driver. Four wheel drive, on, engine braking, on, transmission in trailer/haul mode, smile on face. Off we went.

Frankly, the road was pretty bad, more of a path in some places. It got really interesting as we headed up on the side of the mountain with ruts, washouts, blind corners, no guard rails and who knows how far down the steep grassy mountain sides to the cliffs below. It was a quiet ride up to the forest. Traffic was lite. Peg was quiet. Scout slept on the rear seat.

5 Mile Overlook was great. Wonderful view to the Snake river valley that shows the river cutting through the mountains creating this scenic canyon. One interesting item is the effects of wildfire here. Along the road the east side was burned very badly at some time (Maybe the Summit fire of !989). On the west side the trees still stand, leading me to believe that fire was fought to a standstill on this road. Although higher up at Hat Point the Summit Fire of 1989 raged on over the top and beyond.

Granny View Vista as well worth the trip itself. Parking lot, toilets (clean this time of year), pretty trail that had outstanding views of the valley. Scout and I walked the trail and got some nice images. Heading up the road we moved into heavy forest that had escaped fire and logging. Wonderful to drive through. We stopped at Horse Creek Overlook which is poorly maintained. The trees have grown so high and dense that the view is mostly blocked. Horse creek drops 5000 feet into its own canyon as it flows to the Snake. This is like being in Chicago and having a mile of rock on top of you!

Hat Point did not disappoint. First we drove by the campground then parked at the base of the tower. The first thing I noticed was the old burned out trees. It is hard to believe that the Summit Fire was almost 30 years ago and these dead trees were still standing. It is also a testament to how hard the climate is at this altitude. Coming from the east side the trees have not really recovered, on the west side 30 year old trees of about 20 feet in height grow in abundance. They are sheltered from the wind and, I imagine, get more water. 

A group of young folks had climbed to the top of the watch tower and I marveled that they were not even breathing hard when they got down. Top to the tower had to be around 8100 feet, Peg and I just looked at each other and walked on. Never to speak of those kids again. Got a great image of Peg walking the trail to the picnic tables. It seems odd that there is a campground and all these picnic facilities at this spot. This is remote. Quiet, beautiful, peaceful and powerful in a way.

The mountains to the east (over in Idaho) are called the Seven Devils. We took the time to count them and yes there are seven distinct peaks. From this point it is about 7000 feet down to the Snake. There is a good view of the place where a mountain slide occurred thousands of years ago that blocked the Snake. The remaining rapids are clearly visible as is the original height of the slide on both sides of the river.

Turning around and back down was fun. It really didn’t seem that steep on the way up; however, going down was a bit nerve wracking, even for me. About half way down was a large pull off where you were recommended to stop to cool off the brakes. The Bronze Brute’s brakes are guaranteed for life so we didn’t bother to cool them off. We just kept on. I do believe that Peg finally took a breath when we crossed the last cow crossing and found asphalt. 

A fine day on the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway! Enjoy the pictures. 



Note: the linked album is edited with the colors enhanced. Some of you might prefer the unedited originals located at https://www.flickr.com/photos/sjharshman/albums/72157697997166574



About sjh1010

Retired full time RV living
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