Hells Gate State Park: much less scary than the name would imply

Hells Gate State Park: much less scary than the name would imply

Learn a little history or ride a jet boat at the lowest point in Idaho (733 feet) when you visit Hells Gate State Park. The name sounds a lot less inviting than this park actually is.

Lewis & Clark Discovery Center at Hells Gate State Park
Discover something new about Lewis & Clark at the Lewis & Clark Discovery Center (😉)

State Park Overview

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Hells Gate State Park is located near Lewiston and is on the banks of the Snake River. A Nez Perce fishing village used to be in this location. Nowadays, the main focus of the park is still fishing, only instead of canoes people use fancy jet boats.


  • Interesting history
  • Nice historical walking trail
  • Fishing
  • Jet-boating
Information sign about Lewis & Clark at the Hells Gate State Park Discovery Center
Lewis and Clark came through this area on their trek. The walking trail by the Discovery Center has informative signs to help you understand what it was like for them.


  • If you aren’t into boats, there is not much to do
  • Hot temperatures (due to the low elevation)
  • Closing down the Discovery Center during COVID really made me mad

What To Do at Hells Gate State Park

  • Fish
  • Jet boat
  • Learn about Lewis and Clark and Native American history


They have a really nice Discovery Center visitor center with flushing toilets, boat ramps, indoor showers and a small marina. For a list of all amenities, visit the Department Parks and Rec website for Hells Gate State Park.

Crowd situation

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Almost no one was there when we visited. Maybe they knew the Discovery Center was shut down and stayed away. Or maybe they realized how hot it was and chose to stay in air conditioning.

Unique to Hells Gate State Park

Lewis & Clark Discovery Center.
See that rope? The Discovery Center was a big tease.

A little history about Hells Gate State Park

I tried to find the origins of a name as unwelcoming as Hells Gate, but it turns out there are actually quite of a few places named this around the world. Let’s just go with the idea that the park is on the shore of the Snake River as it goes through one of the deepest canyons in the U.S.

The park was developed by the Army Corps of Engineers, which seems fitting as a main part of the park highlights the L&C Corps of Discovery. In 1971, the Army turned it over to Idaho Parks.

You can see ancient history here, geologically speaking. The area was carved out by ice age floods 15,000 years ago. More recently, you can learn a lot here about the Nez Perce Tribe that lived in this area. And those travelers that they came in contact with (L&C) in 1805.

Explore nearby

Our experience at Hells Gate State Park

We took a back road to get to the visitor center at Hells Gate State Park which gave us a scenic view along the Snake River. This area is pretty hot and brown in the summer and I don’t know that I would want to visit it without getting in the river. Since jet boating is one of the main reasons people come to Hells Gate State Park, we looked into taking a ride. However, most rides were full days (which we didn’t want to dedicate that much time to) and I have already been jet boating on the Snake so we decided to just check out the Discovery Center. Unfortunately, due to COVID restrictions, the Discovery Center was roped off. Were there any other visitors there? No. Could we have checked it out safely? Yes. Oh well. 

Hells Gate State Park signage.
Check out the river and the canyon and hills. This sums up this State Park.

We were able to go on a nicely done nature/history trail along the river and next to the visitor center. I learned all sorts of stuff from the placards, like that Lewis and Clark tried to name the Snake River the Lewis River. It didn’t stick. After we walked around for a while we went and checked out a pier and saw some fisherpeople out doing their thing.


If you enjoy fishing and jet boating, Hells Gate State Park is the place for you. It is hot and dry most of the year, so make sure to drink lots of water and wear sunscreen.

Note: we visited Hells Gate State Park as part of our Idaho State Parks Challenge. The challenge consists of visiting all of Idaho’s state parks in one year. We made up this challenge to see a bit more of our beautiful state and help alleviate the restlessness caused by Covid-19 travel restrictions. Feel free to join the challenge!

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