Out of Joseph, Oregon drive 350 Northeast 30 miles to Imnaha, Oregon. You will make a left onto County road 735 (forest road 4260) for 28 miles to Dug Bar on the Snake River. Stay on the road that follows the North/ left side of the Imnaha river until you reach the Imnaha river trail. At this point the road crosses a bridge and no road continues along the Imnaha. This road takes time, but the scenery is well worth it.
There are many trail options in Hells Canyon. You could pull of a hundred mile loop if you wish. However; not all roads are accessible in the spring. Dug bar and the Imnaha river make for great spring and winter backpacking.
I had intended on a longer loop than I actually accomplished, but I way underestimated the drive, so I had to cut down on my hiking time.
On the up river side of the ranch at Dug bar the trail begins. You will have to go through the gate at the top of the field. From here the trail climbs about 700 feet and then down into dug creek, less than 3 miles. Before the trail crosses the creek you will come across a trail on the right that heads to square mountain and the rim trail. This could be another loop option, but not this one. There will be a trail on the left that will head to the snake river trail, part of the loop. If you wish to do the loop clockwise then head down this trail. This portion of dug creek is surrounded by wide open meadows and during my visit about 300 head of elk. The hill sides were covered with them, grazing and digging out mineral licks.
Out of Dug Creek the trail climbs approx. 1700 feet over the ridge to Robinson ridge and to Coyote gulch, approx. 2.5 miles. This portion of the trail will be as high as it gets, 3400 feet. The trail drops into little deep creek. There is a nice little camp site below a large ponderosa next to the creek. You might want to fill your water bottle here. It is a dry 2.5 miles to deep creek. The trail climbs a few hundred feet out of little deep creek and over the ridge into the deep creek drainage. I saw a rare mountain quail here. The trail stays high then slowly side hills to the creek and the old ranch next to it. When you reach the creek you will need to cross. During high run off, like my trip, deep creek is dangerous stream. Once across, you will connect with the deep creek trail. From here you can head up stream and connect with a number of other trails or head down stream to the Snake river, as I did. This trail climbs off the creek and puts you on an exposed hillside for the majority of it's length (not the best place to be on a hot afternoon). At about 2.5 miles you will break over a ridge in sight of the river. Off this ridge there is a shortcut off to left. I wasn't aware of it until later. Take it if you can. I lost the trail in the overgrowth and had to cut cross country until I found it again. If you stay on the main trail, there is a fork, stay to the left. The trail cuts across the meadows and the switchbacks it's way to the river. Follow the river down stream, a very short distance to the mouth of deep creek. This is a great camp site. There are some nice rocks by the river to hang out on. The fishing was good and I saw a bear on the other side of the river.
Considering that crossing deep creek was dangerous up stream, you can imagine 4 miles downstream after a few more creeks joined forces. The creek was moving at an extremely rapid pace, one fall could send me down through the rapids and into the icy river. I made a harness that I attached with some rope to a tree. I tied another to my pack unless I had to ditch it. I also made a floatation device out of my sleeping pad that I had strapped to my chest. It was a hairy situation, but I made it. If I wasn't alone, I wouldn't have put as much into it, but it's a different situation when nobody is there to bail you out.
Follow the Snake river trail down stream until it heads back up deep creek and becomes overgrown. After about a mile you will complete the loop. Just head back to Dug bar.
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