Hell on Wheels – Soaring with Eagles – Day 3

_MG_4549Cambridge advertises itself as the “Gateway to Hells Canyon,” which of course is why we’re here (Duh!).  Very little traffic uses the state highway from town to the Snake River, which makes a great cycling route with gentle climbing until reaching the top of a little grade after fifteen miles.  Then a great downhill of over thirteen miles leads to the Brownlee Reservoir, and a return to Oregon.

This 57-mile long reservoir separating Idaho and Oregon (impounding the Snake River) is in many experts’ opinion the best warm water fishery in the western United States. The Oregon State record smallmouth bass and the current state record flathead catfish IMG_4638were caught in Brownlee. Idaho Power operates three hydroelectric dams in the Hells Canyon Complex (Brownlee Dam, Oxbow Dam, and Hells Canyon Dam), and Cycle Oregon riders can see all three (visiting Hells Canyon Dam will take a little extra work).

After the second stop of the day at Woodhead Park on the lake, the route follows the reservoir past Brownlee Dam, then along the Oxbow Reservoir to climb another little grade (hill) past Oxbow Dam, and then downhill to Copperfield for lunch. Copperfield Park, the campground (managed by Idaho Power) across the road from our lunch site, is the old town site of Copperfield, a mining community known in the early 1900s as the rowdiest town in Oregon.  Fire, reportedly of dubious origin after the Governor dispatched the state militia to restore order, destroyed Copperfield in August 1915.

When arriving in Copperfield, its decision time:

  • IMG_46301st Option – Eat lunch and then start the climb to Halfway and the overnight site  eighteen miles away, (we get back in the Pacific Time Zone when leaving Copperfield) or;
  • 2nd Option – Ride to Hells Canyon Dam (the end of the road) along the Snake River through Hells Canyon, the deepest gorge in North America, before returning to Copperfield for lunch and the climb to Halfway. (An interesting fact: this road to the dam in Idaho is owned by Idaho Power.)

The option ride is not an easy ride. It is a challenging forty-six mile out-and-back ride with quite a few whoop-de-doos and one big hill, with approximately 3,000 feet of elevation gain, and sometimes a head wind on the way back to Copperfield.

To make the decision a little easier, there is a way to see part of Hells Canyon without riding all the way to the dam.  Six miles from Copperfield is Hells Canyon Park. One could ride to this park, return to the Copperfield lunch site, and then ride to camp in Halfway.

Cycle O Hells Canyon 2If interested in the option ride all the way to Hells Canyon Dam, because of the difficulty of the ride –The option route will close at Hells Canyon Park at Noon.

No Cycle Oregon participant may begin the option ride and travel past Hells Canyon Park after Noon.  Please plan ahead if considering the ride to Hells Canyon Dam from lunch.

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  1. David bogie says:

    Try to drag your butt out of bed early in time to make the ride to the dam. You will not be sorry. Hells Canyon Park is a lovely place but the topography changes dramatically the further you go. The canyon deepens and closes in over your head about ten miles further downstream, due north. You can see more about the area (and the dams and reservoirs and hydro plants) at

    1. David, we could not agree more! you get a sense of the enormity of the canyon at Brownlee, but moving 10 miles downriver you start to feel like you’re on another planet!

      1. 10 miles UPRIVER!?! Thought the river was headed in the same direction, north!

  2. Mark Scott says:

    Are we going to have some rancher’s fresh beef in Halfway for dinner again, like we did in 2008? Man, that was delicious!!

    1. Mark, we tried the local Tri-Tips when we were there May. They’ll definitely be on the menu in September!