Service with the Seven Devils, Hells Canyon Wilderness, Idaho

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14282A, Service/ Volunteer


  • Repair tread and perform brushwork along scenic alpine trails with majestic views
  • Base camp under 9,000-foot peaks of Seven Devils Mountains
  • Explore, hike, or just observe the majesty of the area with like-minded volunteers


  • All meals and snacks
  • Project tools and instruction in a variety of habitat restoration techniques
  • Pack support for community-use tools, cooking equipment, and food


DatesJul 24–Aug 2, 2014
StaffLee Bowen

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Trip Overview

The Sharon Churchwell Fund is offering youth 18-25 years old a discount on this trip. Visit the Sharon Churchwell Fund page for more details.

Please note that the trip leader and title have changed from what was originally published. If you have questions, please contact us. 

The Trip

Are you in good physical shape? Do you enjoy backpacking? Want to do something different with your summer vacation?

Then this trip may be for you! This 10-day hike-in back-country service trip offers the unique opportunity for you to immerse yourself in wilderness and hard work to refresh your mind and spirit. Far removed from the concerns of everyday life, we will laugh, explore, and work hard together to accomplish something good for the environment. Expect to be pleasantly surprised by the wide range of experiences, personalities, lifestyles, and professions that participants bring to this trip.

On the Idaho side of the Snake River Canyon are the Seven Devils Mountains of Nez Perce tribal legend. This rugged and scenic mountain range divides the Snake and Salmon River drainages and looms high above Hells Canyon. These high, rugged, and spectacular mountains have evil-sounding names: The Ogre, The Goblin, She Devil, and He Devil -- the highest peak, topping out at 9,393 feet. The name Seven Devils is presumably derived from the Native American name for the area, while explorers and climbers named the individual peaks.

The Seven Devils Mountains are remote and wild. Access is limited to horseback and foot traffic, which will give us the unique opportunity to experience a place still relatively pristine and untouched by humans. High alpine forests and meadows dominate the area and we will be visiting at the perfect time for wildflowers, as there will probably be beautiful fields of penstemon, lupine, Indian paintbrush, and sego lilies among others on display. While these mountains are home to elk, deer, black bears, and even mountain lions, it is unlikely that we will see any of these animals, but if we are lucky we may catch sight of mountain goats or even bighorn sheep.

The Project

We will perform brushing, treadwork, and some rock/debris removal along 15 miles of trail in the Basin Lake area of Hell's Canyon National Recreation Area.  Details on the specific project will be available as the trip date nears, and is always subject to the needs of the park. Since the project is within a wilderness area we will be using only primitive tools and there will be no motorized equipment. We will also be emphasizing Leave No Trace ethics.


The trip starts on Thursday, July 24. We will meet in the late afternoon and car camp that night at a campground located 17 miles from Riggins, Idaho. Dinner will be provided that first evening. That night we will have time to get to know one another, hear tales of regional lore, and make those last-minute checks of our equipment.

Day two starts the next morning when we will have breakfast, pack a lunch to carry along, and begin the strenuous six-mile backpack from our trailhead campground into our base camp. We will hike together as a group, taking rest stops and a break for lunch. There are many steep uphill climbs as we ascend to our base camp, so we will need to be in good cardio shape! The Forest Service will provide a horse-pack train to carry our group food and kitchen equipment. However, each of us will be responsible for carrying our own personal clothing and camping gear by backpack. Our backcountry campsite for the nine days will have no amenities, except those that we pack in ourselves.

Day three is our first work day. We will likely work five days and have two days off for activities of our choice -- hiking, swimming, fishing, or just relaxing at camp. Our workdays will generally be around six hours, with longer days possible as we progress further along the trail.

The last meal provided is the hike-out lunch on the last listed trip day. Do not plan to fly home on that last day; we cannot be certain when we'll arrive back at the trailhead. Do plan to attend a Dutch-treat, good-bye dinner in Riggins that evening.

About three weeks before the trip, the leader will send all trip members a newsletter with all the last-minute-details. Due to extreme weather patterns and the potential for wildfires in the region, our itinerary may change at any time before or during the trip to ensure participant safety and trip satisfaction.



Getting There

Transportation to the meeting place will take some planning. The nearest airport is in Boise, Idaho. From Boise, it is approximately 160 miles to Riggins and then another 17 miles up a narrow dirt and gravel forest road. This road to the trailhead is steep and rough in places. Passenger cars should have no problem, but you need to proceed with caution and allow at least an hour or two for the drive. Participants will need to arrange their own transportation, and of course carpooling with other participants is encouraged (a trip roster will be provided to facilitate ride-sharing).

If you’re flying, Boise is the recommended airport and rental cars are available. From Boise, it is a three-hour drive to Riggins. Other options are Spokane, WA, which is a four-hour drive; Lewiston, ID (small airport), a two-hour drive; and Portland, OR, a ten-hour drive.

We will return to the trailhead (where we first met) on August 2. Please do not make your flight reservations for August 2, because it is uncertain what time we will return to the trailhead. It is best to arrange for flights or other departure travel a day later than the trip's end date. There is a historic and rustic hot spring in the area that may provide some welcomed soothing relief. Riggins has several motels and restaurants to accommodate us on our return.

When making flight arrangements for arrival and departure, remember to allow enough time for the slow secondary travel to/from the trailhead.

Accommodations and Food

We will be camping in a wilderness area where the only amenities will be those we backpack in ourselves. Your tent in the beautiful outdoors will be your home for the week. Meals will be provided from dinner on the starting day to lunch on the last day. All trip participants take turns assisting with cooking and clean-up. There are obvious limitations on the type of food that we can prepare for a large group in a backcountry setting, but we try to surprise our trip members with variety and quality. Meals will be vegetarian friendly with special attention paid to providing you with the energy and nutrients necessary for the work and environment. If you have special dietary concerns, please let the leaders know prior to the trip start; if we can accommodate you, we will. Come with the attitude that food is part of the adventure.

Trip Difficulty

This trip is considered strenuous and not for beginners. Prior backpacking and backcountry camping experience are highly encouraged. We will be in very rugged terrain and anytime we go anywhere we will be going uphill and downhill -- there are very few flat places. A pack train will carry our group's food, kitchen equipment, and work tools, but we will each be responsible for carrying in our own personal gear (i.e. tent, sleeping bag, clothes, etc.) in a backpack.

The trailhead elevation is 7,200 feet. We will gain (and lose) about 1,200 feet of elevation several times during the six-mile hike to our base camp in a large meadow. We will be hiking, working, and living above 8,000 feet elevation. Prior aerobic and hiking conditioning is an absolute necessity for enjoying this trip and ensuring your safety.

Trail work can be difficult, but we will all work at our own pace. We will be working as we hike along the trail, carrying and using clippers, Pulaskis, and shovels. Participants should be prepared to hike up to 5-10 miles each day depending on the amount of work we encounter along the trail. You will also be carrying your day pack with personal comfort items, water, and your lunch. The trail will gain and lose elevation along the way, may include lose rock and can often be along steep cliffs.

A good conditioning program prior to the trip will be essential so that you can do a full day’s work and enjoy your off days. Conditioning means three to four months of aerobic exercise, such as bicycling, running, or swimming. Preparation should also include hikes with your fully packed backpack -- approximately a 35-pound load. The hardest part is hiking in; you'll be in much better shape hiking out! Be especially diligent with exercise if you live near sea level.

Equipment and Clothing

A good quality and well-fitted backpack, and a pair of sturdy, well broken-in boots are absolute necessities. Long pants and leather gloves are required during the work project and long-sleeved shirts are a good idea to help protect against sunburn and scratches. You’ll need a day pack large enough to carry your lunch, water, and raingear to the work site each day. Since the weather can change quickly in the mountains, you will need good quality raingear to keep comfortable as we may continue to work or have to hike in inclement weather.

Expect a variety of weather conditions. Temperatures can range from the 30s at night to the 90s in the afternoons, with thunderstorms always a possibility. The high mountains will offer spring-like conditions -- chilly mornings and evenings, with beautiful sunny days. Snow can fall even in July and August, so a three-season tent, a good quality sleeping bag, warm clothes, and quality lightweight raingear are must-haves. Layering is the best bet in these conditions. If you've got it you can always take it off.

We will provide all food and the gear for cooking it, but you should bring personal eating utensils (a bowl, a cup, and a spoon). A reusable hard-sided container with a tight-fitting lid (like Tupperware or Glad plastic bowls) will be needed for lunch fixings. While we will provide a first-aid kit for emergencies, you should bring your own personal kit and any personal medications you require. A detailed equipment list will be sent to registered participants.  The Forest Service will furnish our work tools.



  • The Hells Canyon National Recreation Area map, sold through the Riggins office of the HCNRA for $6.36, covers the area. You can send your check or money order to Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, PO Box 832, Riggins, ID 83549. Make the check out to Discover Your Northwest (DYN). You can also get the map from and pay for it with a credit card. Just type in Hells Canyon NRA on the search.
  • U.S.G.S. Quad "He Devil -- Idaho-Oregon" (N4515-W11530/15, 1957, DMA 2674 I Series V793) covers the area in which we will be traveling and can be ordered from any store that sells USGS Quads or can be purchased from the HCNRA Riggins office for $8.48 (check to DYN, the same as above). The topo map can also be ordered directly from the U.S.G.S. at 303-202-4200.


  • Carrey, Johnny, Cort Conley and Ace Barton, Hell’s Canyon: The Snake River of Hells Canyon. Backeddy Books, 1977. Covers the history of the area. It’s a good read, but it deals mostly with river corridor history.
  • Vallier, Tracy, Islands and Rapids: The Geologic History of Hells Canyon. Confluence Press, 1998. Good for geology buffs.
  • Barstad, Fred, Hiking Hells Canyon and Idaho's Seven Devils Mountains-A Falcon Guide. Has detailed information about every trail. 

These items are (or will be) available from: Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, PO Box 832, Riggins Idaho 83549. It would be best to phone and find out what is currently available before ordering: 208-628-3916.

Fishing Licenses:

  • Idaho State fishing licenses are required if you will be fishing. You can buy them from any vendor within the state. Contact the HCNRA office or Idaho Fish and Game for more information.


Although we’d love to be able to camp anywhere we’d like in a wilderness area, the consequences of unrestricted heavy-use camping can decrease the quality of wildlife habitat, cause undue stress on the ecology of the area, and decrease the wilderness experience for others who pass through. While we try to mitigate the overuse of the lakes around our base camp, we’ll learn how proper management of a wilderness area can maintain long-term habitat quality while still allowing a quality wilderness experience for both backpacker and day-user alike. We’ll also discuss tactics for managing grazing and hunting in wilderness areas.

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.
While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.



Lee Bowen is a hardware store owner who enjoys biking and maintaining two trails in Shenandoah National Park when he isn’t entertaining three grandsons. He has led over 20 service trips from sea level at Olympic National Park to 11,000 feet at Piute Pass in the Sierra.


As a science teacher and physical therapist in Pennsylvania, Kathy Maier looks forward to any time spent west of the Continental Divide. In addition to cooking for and feeding people who love to eat, Kathy likes to spend time outdoors, especially with her two dogs. This will be her second trip to the area.

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