Panorama of view from Graves Point Lookout of Hells Canyon

Highway To Hell – Kirkwood Ranch in Hell’s Canyon

Kirkwood Ranch is difficult to get to, but very worth the trip.

Years ago, when I worked for Frito-Lay, I went on a company excursion on a jet boat up Hell’s Canyon from Lewiston Idaho. Along the way, we fished for sturgeon (giant prehistoric fish), saw the sites in North Americas’ deepest river gorge (7993 feet deep), and stopped at Kirkwood Historic Ranch to see the museum that is maintained there. Hell’s Canyon is really close to where I live and it is a huge obstacle in the way of any travel to Oregon from here. Chief Joseph and his Nezperce used to cross the Snake River on the way to the Wallowa mountains in Oregon. The only way to drive there now is to go around Hell’s Canyon. You can drive either north or south to go all the way around the canyon. Either way takes several hours of driving to get to the other side.

Hell's Canyon view from Idaho

Hell’s Canyon divides Idaho and Oregon.

I always thought that the only way to access Kirkwood Ranch was by jet boat, but I found out that I was wrong. I went with some of the guys from my church on an ATV trip and we were able to ride down to the ranch. It’s a really small trail and quite rocky and steep, but it’s there. It was also very fun. I like to joke that now we have been to Hell and back together.

The trail descending into Hells Canyon

You can actually hike to Kirkwood Ranch from Pittsburg Landing or haul your ATV to the forest via Whitebird or Riggins Idaho. We took the Whitebird route. There’s a little side trip along that route with amazing 360-degree views. When you are on NF Rd. 420, look for the small sign and road on the right leading up to Graves Point Lookout. Here is a map of the route.

I think May – June is the best time of year to make this trip. The wildflowers and butterflies are abundant both in the forest and canyon. The temperature change can be quite drastic from the higher elevation to the bottom of the canyon. Bring layers to put on and take off as needed. The day we went the change was from the 40’s to the 80’s. Also, bring shoes that you can get wet. You have to walk the last little bit along and through a stream.

Wildflowers in the forest

Springtime forest wildflowers

The road down to Kirkwood Ranch

The road down to Kirkwood Ranch

Just before reaching the ranch you will see The Carter Mansion on the left. Here’s a pic of the historical sign there.

Carter Mansion

Carter Mansion

There is a small log footbridge to cross the creek. Use caution going in the mansion. The ceilings are covered in wasp nests. Thankfully, there were no wasps around when we went.

abandoned mansion

The detail in the trim is quite impressive considering how remote this site is.

Once you reach the end of the road, you have to walk along the creek and sometimes in it if the water level is high. The water level was high both times that I have been. At Kirkwood Ranch, you can browse through the small museum or walk down to the Snake River to take in the rugged beauty of Hells Canyon. Picnic tables are available under the shade trees on the large lawn. While the directions show this as a 1 3/4 hour trip, you should set aside the whole day so you can take your time and enjoy the scenery. The last bit of the road is quite rough and you have to take it slow.

Kirkwood ranch museum

Inside the museum

David Kirk grave

Hells Canyon at Kirkwood Ranch

snake river

The Snake River in Hells Canyon

I made a video including drone footage along the route. It shows some amazing views of this extreme landscape.

Please check out my full gallery of pictures from this trip.

The pictures were taken with my Sony a7r2 and my DJI Mavic Pro.


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barn at sunrise

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