Hells Gate State Park

I keep intending to get pictures of Hells Gate State Park since I run there at least once a week. Finally, some follow-through. For those visiting the Lewis-Clark Valley, Hell's Gate State Park is up the Snake River about two miles from town.

Depending on your mood, you choices include single track trail, jeep trails, and even a bit of pavement.

You also get a variety of routes. I typically start at the trailhead by the archery range where the horse trailers normally park in the busy seasons. In the picture, that would be off to the right side.  If you blow up the picture, you can see my blue FJ down in the parking area. From there, I follow the single track up to the jeep trail you see.

Once you reach this little plateau, you can head up towards the power lines  or running more of a rolling hills route to the back edge of the park. For those that want all flat, all the time, stay down by the river.

The single track to the left runs at about a 30 degree slope.

The single track to the left runs at about a 30 degree slope.

I used to go up a bomber climb on the face of the hill but the Park Service decided to close the trail for restoration. Instead, you switchback up. Not nearly as challenging.  

There is also a trail that branches off the edge of the switchback to the right. Definitely a treat to run as it bops up and down on short rollers. None of the ups on that side-trail will leave you winded while the downhills encourage some fast playful footwork.

Today, I looped out to the back on the jeep trail, switching out to single track to head deeper into the park. The total distance on this run is about 4.4 miles and none of it qualifies as challenging, though a few stretches have a little bit of technical running involved. Most of the time, a second fork gets created by the horseback riders who don't want to risk their steeds. When I night run out here, I usually slide down to the easier path.

If you follow the switchback up to the top and head out on the ridge, you have a couple of choices coming back down. One is Devil's Slide which is pretty runnable if you are careful and the footing isn't wet. When the dirt turns to mud, traction drops to zero. You may find your velocity increasing rapidly though. Running up it is an adventure in a "three-steps-forward, two-steps-(sliding)-back kind of way. Fun.

Devils Slide to the middle, the technical trail tracing through the ravine just to the left, and another side trail that loops back to the jeep trail.

Devils Slide to the middle, the technical trail tracing through the ravine just to the left, and another side trail that loops back to the jeep trail.

The second choice is a technical trails that winds down through the ravine. In the winter, it gets icy. In the summer, it gets overgrown and rattlesnakes like to hide and shock the unwary.

All these trail come together at the bottom, so if you're in the midst of a group run, you can set out in different directions depending on how sprightly everyone is feeling and still meet up later for some of the other stretches.

Some day, in the not too-distant future, I want to GPS the hill version of the run and get a semi-accurate distance on it.

The views from the top of the ridge extend to Oregon. When thunderstorms roll in, you can watch the sky light up with the flashes as you trace the progress of the storm on the horizon. Of course, sitting totally exposed to weather on a regional high point is going to earn you questionable looks from loved ones.


The footing is pretty good except when it's wet. Most of the trails have a sandy feel to them though you need to keep your eyes on the lookout for the stray toe-catching rock. Some of the trails have deep sand. Not my favorite running surface but easy on impact force. The main trails stay pretty clear of vegetation, so you can see your footing. After a major windstorm, the trails tend to collect tumbleweeds, and the ravines capture a lot of them, too.

If you really need to have pavement, there's a paved trail in the camping area of the park that will lead you to the greenbelt levee trails of Lewiston and Clarkston. You can, if you want, get in a marathon length long run without ever having to go up a hill steeper that a bridge over the river. All sorts of variations exist.

For those interested in visiting, cabins and camp spaces are available year round. The cabins line the river. The camping spaces (shown in the picture) include wonderful open spaces. The park does allow dogs but would not qualify, in my opinion, as being very dog friendly.