Spring is prime time in the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, and arrives a bit earlier there than most other locations in the Pacific Northwest. When snow sports begin to lose their appeal, Kirkwood Ranch can offer an early glimpse of spring flowers and has a higher likelihood of sunshine.
The hike to Kirkwood Ranch is gorgeous, although moderately difficult due to rocky terrain and areas of steep drop-offs. Hikers should come prepared with trekking poles, and it might not be a good selection for visitors with small children or pets. The area does have cacti, poison ivy, and the potential for rattlesnakes. But after navigating the tricky canyon trail, the Kirkwood Ranch historic site has fantastic camping for those who make the trek, including lovely flat campsites with picnic tables and backcountry bathrooms that even have flush toilets! Be warned that the trailhead parking lots can fill up on peak weekends and during spring break, and you may need to park farther away and extend your hike a mile or so.
The main Kirkwood Ranch cabin hosts a USFS volunteer who can provide site interpretation and a small museum is located on the grounds. It’s about 6 miles one-way with little elevation change (but does have some steep climbs and descents). The trail continues past the ranch for those seeking a longer visit. Or, if the hike seems too much, there’s always the option to engage a local jetboat operator for a day’s tour of the Snake River Canyon.
Getting There: Kirkwood Ranch is accessed via Upper Pittsburg Landing. From Lewiston/Clarkston take US 95 eastbound through Grangeville to Whitebird. Turn on Old US 95 to cross the Salmon River, then continue on Forest Service Road 493 over Pittsburg Saddle. Just before Lower Pittsburg Landing (campground and boat launch), turn left on Deer Creek Road to Upper Pittsburg Landing, which dead-ends at the Kirkwood Ranch Trailhead on the Snake River National Recreation Trail.