The road is long and dusty, but is it ever worth it.

The only settlement in Oregon even close to the Hat Point overlook of Hells Canyon is the tiny community of Imnaha, 23 miles away. Joseph is another 30.

Hat Point is said to be where the sun first rises each day over Oregon, due to its eastern and elevated location (6,982 feet above sea level). Hat Point is the high point on the Oregon rim of Hells Canyon, 5,600 feet above the Snake River that runs in view below.

The view is often smoky during summer because of wildfires. One was already reported this year during the second week of June. Be sure to check local conditions before attempting the journey.

Hat Point is an easy addition to a summer outing to Wallowa County in northeast Oregon, though it should add a full day to an itinerary to do it justice.

The road between Joseph and Imnaha is paved, lightly traveled and those who drive it flow easily downhill to a bridge over the Imnaha River. Then it’s steeply up the other side on a narrow, Wallowa-Whitman National Forest road.

This gravel road is actually in excellent driving condition, compared to what its reputation may have been in the past. The primary challenge is the 16 percent grade for the first seven miles as it climbs away from Imnaha. This can even be worse on the return due to wear and tear on the brakes.

The gravel road passes a couple of viewpoints, some places to camp off the grid and then a seven-site walk-in tent campground with restrooms at Saddle Creek. Hat Point is a short drive beyond, with its picnic tables, restrooms and trails to scenic overlooks.

One of Oregon’s highest fire lookout towers (82 feet tall) crowns the point, with a viewing platform 90 steps up. The room perched even higher is a working lookout station, though the person staffing the site has a cabin to live in below.

The view takes in a vast swath of Oregon and Idaho in the deepest river-carved gorge in the United States. The Seven Devils Mountains across the Snake River rise to 9,393 feet, making the depth of the gorge nearly 8,000 feet.

The colors are not nearly as striking as Arizona’s Grand Canyon, so even though Hells Canyon is deeper no one would ever argue which is more beautiful.

Look at this website for more Wallowa County coverage daily until Monday, June 22, when photos taken in morning light (after the evening light photos shown above) are published.

If you go: Check road and forest fire conditions before heading out with the Wallowa Mountains Office, 201 E. Second St., Joseph; 541-426-5546; fs.usda.gov/wallowa-whitman.

Terry Richard
[email protected]
503-221-8222; @trichardpdx

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