7 Incredible River Hikes in the Western U.S.
One of the added bonuses of rafting through a beautiful river canyon is the exclusive access you get to some of the best (and least-traveled) hikes out there. After all, you need a boat to get to these hidden trailheads. The effort to get there often comes with big rewards, though, like secret water slides, hot springs, and swimming holes. From Oregon to the Grand Canyon and everything in between, here are a few outstanding river hikes in the Western U.S. worth the trip…down the river, that is.
Hop on a River Trip to Access These Unforgettable Hiking Trails
1) Doll House Hike | Colorado River through Cataract Canyon, Utah
On a Colorado River rafting trip through Cataract Canyon you can access the Doll House region in the remote Maze District of Canyonlands National Park, which would otherwise require an extensive backpacking trip or 4WD expedition. The approximate 6-mile, round-trip Doll House hike begins from from either Spanish Bottom or Brown Betty camp with a grueling 45-minute, 1,300-foot Stairmaster climb, but is well worth it once you arrive at the top of the canyon’s rim and stand among the playful rock formations of the Doll House. Here you’re also rewarded with an awe-inspiring, 360-degree panoramic view of the colorful spires of the Needles and Island in the Sky Districts of Canyonlands, and the Colorado River below you. Wander around the rim of the canyon to discover an Anasazi granary, and an area called the Refrigerator that offers a slot canyon experience with relief from the heat.
2) Wind River Hike | Main Salmon River, Idaho
Winding its way back into the Humboldt Wilderness, the Wind River Hike on a Main Salmon River rafting trip ranges from 3 to 6 miles round trip. After approximately 1.5 miles, the trail leads to a beautiful shady nook of pouring pools to cool off in. This is a good turnaround point for people looking for a shorter hike, or you can continue on from here for a longer moderate-to-difficult 6-mile round-trip trek.
3) Stone Creek Hike/Land of the Seven Waterfalls | Colorado River through Grand Canyon, Arizona
Accessible on a Grand Canyon river trip from two separate and superb camps, above and below mighty Dubendorf Rapid, this one has it all: Ancient granaries, incredible geology, numerous swimming spots, and one waterfall after another. You can make it as long or short as you want, as leisurely or as active as you want. If you go long there’s an incredible cove an hour or so up. Or, you can up the adventure level and find your way into the final Quartzite slot, over boulders and around a few exposed ledges, to the best waterfall of all (a four-hour round trip including some hang time).
4) Tate Creek Slide Hike | Rogue River, Oregon
Despite being a short, ¼-mile hike, the Rogue River Trail at Tate Creek Camp offers a special surprise that will leave a lasting impression. Following a creek bed on the moderate-to-challenging trail, hikers find themselves at a lovely waterfall. But this isn’t just a waterfall to admire. Lively spirits can go hand-over-hand, up a rope to the top of the waterfall, which turns it into a wild 10-foot water slide with a 5-foot free fall into a refreshing pool below.
5) Jack Creek Overlook Hike | Middle Fork of the Salmon River, Idaho
This is a buns-of-steel hike approximately 1-mile straight up from Little Pine Camp on Idaho’s Middle Fork of the Salmon River. The pay-off after an hour’s worth of very steep and switch-backed hiking is unquestionably worth it, though, as the overlook’s summit gives an unencumbered view of Impassable Canyon and an incredible perspective on the far-reaching Frank Church Wilderness. Hikers get unbeatable views of snow-capped peaks and forests for as far as the eye can see.
6) Loon Creek Hike | Middle Fork of the Salmon River, Idaho
Also worth the mention on the Middle Fork Salmon is the 1.5-mile (one-way) Loon Creek Hike to hidden hot springs. The trail to the springs is easy to moderate and offers lots of options for hikers who might want to peel off and sit by Loon Creek or even go fly-fishing. For a longer, harder hike, going past the hot springs takes you into a gorgeous granite gorge. The trail climbs from there and gives a great view of a valley before descending back to the creek and crossing a lovely small bridge.
7) Seven Devils View Hike | Snake River, Idaho
From Salt Creek Camp on Idaho’s Snake River, deep in Hells Canyon, take on a difficult ¾-mile round trip hike for stunning mountain and river views. The steep, semi-marked trail is a steady gradient with some need for scrambling. When you reach the top, you’ll see a bird’s eye view of the winding Snake River below you, or look off onto the horizon to take in the Seven Devils Mountains, which make up the Idaho/Oregon border.
Photos: Doll House hike in Canyonlands National Park – James Kaiser; Stone Creek hike in Grand Canyon – Josh Miller; Tate Creek Slide along the Rogue River – James Kaiser; Seven Devils View Hike in Hells Canyon – Andrew Miller
*An earlier version of this post first appeared on the blog in 2013 and was last updated February 2021.