Experience Hells Canyon: Jet Boat Tours with Nimíipuu Guides
Hells Canyon, a geographically stunning location situated in the Western United States, spans 16 km (10 miles) wide and beckons visitors from around the world with its natural beauty and cultural significance. One of the most captivating ways to explore this canyon is by embarking on a jet boat adventure along the Snake River, weaving through the towering canyon walls. On a recent road trip, my partner, Garrett, and I had the privilege of experiencing one of the iconic Hells Canyon jet boat tours firsthand, and we were truly captivated by the entire journey.
Numerous tour operators in the Western Idaho region offer boat tours of Hells Canyon, and after careful consideration, we chose Nez Perce Tourism for several reasons. Our tour was not merely a sightseeing excursion; it was also a cultural immersion led by Nimíipuu (Nez Perce) guides who shared knowledge and stories passed down through generations. The experience was both unique and informative, allowing us to learn about the area from a perspective deeply rooted in its history.
Indigenous peoples have inhabited Hells Canyon and its surrounding areas for millennia, relying on the Snake River for fishing and the abundant wildlife for hunting. In the 1800s, the Lewis and Clark expedition reached Lewiston, Idaho, where the Nez Perce tribe extended hospitality to the explorers, establishing friendly relations. However, this friendship turned deceptive during the 1877 Nez Perce War, as the U.S. government seized ancestral lands, leading to escalating tensions.
Chief Joseph, a prominent Nez Perce leader, led his people on an extraordinary journey covering over 1,882 km (1,170 miles) in an attempt to reach the safety of the Canadian border. The U.S. Army intercepted them just 40 miles from the border, and Chief Joseph surrendered. This tragic episode marked a significant turning point in the Nez Perce tribe’s history, highlighting the complex interactions between Indigenous peoples and the expanding United States.
Today, Nimíipuu (Nez Perce) descendants seek healing and reconciliation as they work to preserve and revitalize their cultural heritage, foster community connections, and embrace a future that honors the resilience of their people.
Preparing for Hells Canyon Jet Boat Tours
Booking your tour is easily done online at www.nezpercetourism.com or by phone at (208) 790-8873. On the day of your tour, bring snacks, drinking water, a camera, and sun protection such as sunscreen, a hat, and/or sunglasses.
Jet Boat Adventure: The Overall Experience
As Garrett and I reached the starting point for our 4-hour Hells Canyon Jet Boat Tour, Stacia Morfin, the Chief Executive Officer of Nez Perce Tourism and a proud member of the Nimíipuu nation, warmly welcomed us. Adorned in traditional regalia, Morfin underlined her deep connection to her cultural heritage. With anticipation building, we boarded the jet boat, with Morfin serving as our knowledgeable guide for the day.
Immediately, we were treated to breathtaking views of towering canyon walls flanking both sides of the river, along with numerous opportunities to observe wildlife. Highlights included Bighorn Sheep drinking from the river and passing Bald Eagle nests. Throughout the journey, Morfin shared captivating stories and the rich history of Hells Canyon, transforming the boat ride into an immersive experience. Upon reaching the midpoint, the captain skillfully guided the boat close to the rock edges, allowing us to marvel at ancient Nimíipuu Petroglyphs.
To conclude our tour, we made a stop at a scenic beach along the Snake River, where we had the privilege of participating in a traditional dance known as The Circle of Friendship dance. Morfin not only demonstrated this dance but also showcased several others, providing insightful explanations for each style. The rhythmic drumbeats and the sight of traditional dancing created a memorable finale to our day.
Reflection and Farewell: Hells Canyon jet Boat Tours
As we neared the dock, each guest was allowed to share something they enjoyed from the afternoon. Answers varied, with some moved by the soaring cliffs and the majesty of the canyon, while others spoke of the thrill of spotting wildlife in their natural habitat. Stacia Morfin’s storytelling left an indelible mark, as her passion and personal connection to the Nimíipuu culture resonated with everyone on board, transforming the excursion into a profound cultural experience. It was evident that the tour had not only showcased the natural wonders of the area but had also created a shared sense of awe and respect for the enduring cultural legacy of the Nimíipuu people.