Oregon Canyonlands: Hat Point and Buckhorn

In late May I took a short introductory trip to the Oregon side of Hells Canyon.  Time was spent primarily along the Imnaha River.  The ruggedness was inviting and I knew I’d be revisiting it with decent regularity.  My original July 4th plans were for Mount Rainier NP but lingering snow made me choose otherwise.  I was reluctant to revisit this area because I already had plans to go in mid-July.  However, the prospects of Buckhorn Overlook being accessible and Hat Point Road mostly clear drew me back to the canyons.

Hat Point road exceeded my expectations.  Aside from the two official viewpoints with a turnout/parking area and some placards, there were also many impromptu pullouts and campsites along the road.  There were continual views to the canyon below and the Wallowa Mountains in the distant, still with a significant amount of snow.  As pleasing as those views were I had yet to behold the grandest view along the road.  As the road turned near Freezeout Ridge and began to head north, the forest became thinner.  There was also a large burn area that was experiencing new growth with short evergreens surrounding giant toothpicks, remnants of the burn.  Towards the east the canyon fell away sharply yet abruptly rose again almost 8000 feet above the Snake River to the heights of the Seven Devils.  Now these mountains may not possess extreme prominence like the Sierras or the Tetons, but, witnessing climates from balmy canyons to cool mountain heights was breathtaking.  I was even more surprised as I stood at Saddle Creek Campground next to a sign demarcating “Wilderness” while talking on my cell phone with full signal.  I know this is the antithesis of the outdoors, but it was a surprise that I took momentary advantage off.


Seven Devils Sunset


Seven Devils Twilight


Oregon-Idaho Border Shadows

Overnight I parked and slept at Granny View hoping for good light in the morning to capture the Imnaha Canyon and Wallowas.  Unfortunately the morning light wasn’t that great; thick haze muddled the canyon and softened the distant mountains.  Still I persisted and enjoyed the quiet, cool morning and the scenery.  After a midday trip back to Joseph for some food and relaxation I continued on to my afternoon destination: Buckhorn Overlook.  Again, the haze was an issue and ultimately curtailed my sunset plans (along with an almost four hour drive back to Pullman).  Given a choice between Buckhorn and Hat Point,  I would choose Hat Point for the proximity to the Seven Devils and the shear canyon.  However, Buckhorn is very impressive and has different offerings from Hat Point.  The Seven Devils are visible along with the Wallowas and even the Gospel-Hump Wilderness in North-Central Idaho can be seen.  What is most impressive about Buckhorn is the big view.  Four canyons and four ridges is quite a sight especially being about 3500′ above it all.  Another trip is less than a week away.  I’m not disappointed at all with my visiting frequency to this area.


Imnaha Canyon Morning


Wallowa Mountain Dawn


Seven Devils from Buckhorn Overlook


Haas Ridge Detail at 400mm




8 thoughts on “Oregon Canyonlands: Hat Point and Buckhorn

  1. Fantastic. I’m considering a visit to Hat Point next week. The official website says that there is still some snow at the top, but it seems you were able to get there. Can you confirm that you can access the very top? Can’t seem to get an answer from the Forest Service by phone.

  2. Dean,

    I sent you an email but just to cover all my bases I’ll repeat myself here. Two weeks ago the road to Hat Point wasn’t clear. I’d assume the only thing holding up progress is fallen trees. Even if the road isn’t clear all the way to the viewpoint there are plenty of good views along the road and at Saddle Creek Campground. The sunset and twilight shots I posted were probably a mile north of the campground just right off the road. There are plenty enough unofficial viewpoints to capture the mountains and canyon. I hope this helps.

  3. These are awesome, Aaron! I’m definitely jealous of your opportunities to explore that country, seems like it’s seriously under-exploited, photographically speaking. My favorites in here are Seven Devils Twilight and Seven Devils from Buckhorn. Imnaha Canyon Morning is an awesome view and comp, seems like if you returned in sweeter light it would be over the top. Glad to hear you’ll be spending a lot of time over there!

    • Thanks Jackson! That place really is under-exploited as you put it. I just got back today from another trip down there and finally got to Hat Point. The views were nice, but snags prevented a clean shot. We did see about 40 mountain goats though, and that was quite a sight. I’ll keep the pictures coming.

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