Heaven’s Gate is not as spectacular as its larger, more precipitous neighbors just to the south, but with over 800 feet of prominence and more than 2 miles away from the higher peaks it is significant. It rises over 6,400 feet above the Rapid River Canyon to the east and over 7,200 feet above lower Sheep Creek and the Snake River to the west. It is also the most visited point in the entire mountain range and offers the best views of the main peaks as well as panoramic views of two of the deepest canyons in the U. S., Hells Canyon and the Salmon River Canyon. The high Wallowa Mountains of Oregon are also clearly visible to the southwest. The mountain is also known for its spectacular July wildflowers.
This is a good mountain for grandma because a road and parking lot sits just a short 270 vertical feet below the summit. On most days dozens of visitors climb the short trail to the large stone lookout complete with interpretative signs and a Forest Service employee who often spends more time acting as host than he does looking for fires. The long ridge is formed by broken undifferentiated rock intermittently covered with montane grasslands and open parklands of contorted subalpine fir and white bark pine. The wildflower blooms along the ridgeline are spectacular. Besides the drive and short walk to the top, the long mountain offers other intermediate to difficult routes to reach the summit. These are reviewed in the next section.
Heaven’s Gate is situated on the boundary of the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area
and just outside the Hells Canyon Wilderness
. The Idaho portion of these units are in the Nez Perce National Forest, but are managed by the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest
Take Highway 95 to Riggins, which is 153 miles north of Boise or 118 miles south of Lewiston, Idaho. Just outside the south edge of Riggins, look for a large brown recreational sign for the Seven Devils and Heavens Gate. This will be Forest Service road 517. Turn west on this road and follow it about 17 miles to its end at the Heaven’s Gate parking lot. From the parking lot the summit is a very short walk on a wide trail.
More interesting and challenging routes can be had from lower down on the mountain’s east side. Follow road 517 to mile 13.1 and at this point park where the road crosses a creek. Follow the creek west into the cirque basin formed by the steep north face of Heaven’s Gate and the adjacent ridge that runs to the north. There are numerous routes up the face ranging from class 3 and class 4 scrambles to more difficult rocks if one desires to seek them out. The north face can be climbed from immediately below the summit lookout or to the east followed by a nice ridge run to the top. Another route is from the campground at the south end of the ridge. This route is an easy hike on a broad subalpine ridge that climbs 830 feet, over approximately 1.5 miles to the lookout. There will be some rocks to scramble over just south of the summit.
Views From The Summit
None. However be aware of wilderness regulations if hiking away from the road to the north or west.
When To Climb
June until late fall snows get deep (Oct or Nov).
There are two small, primitive campgrounds very close to this mountain. The first is Windy Saddle Campground where road 517 crosses Windy Saddle at the south end of the long summit ridge of Heavens Gate. At this saddle a left turn leads to Seven Devils Campground, which is a short distance below near Seven Devils Lake.
Mountain ConditionsHells Canyon NRA
Riggins Field office
189 Highway 95
Riggins, Idaho 83549
This office is located near the south end of Riggins just north of where road 517 turns off of Highway 95.
Papoose Cave, the largest in Idaho lies just off the 517 road to the east of Heavens Gate. The cave entrance is locked, but experienced cavers can obtain a permit to enter at the local Forest Service or NRA offices.