Seven Devils Loop


Forest Service Trails #124 and #101

Why? Fabulous scenery

Season: Mid-July through September

Ease: Strenuous. The loop is 27 miles with lots of elevation change – 5,000 feet each, up and down. However, hiking out and back from Windy Saddle in either direction can make for a fine day hike.

The trail around the Seven Devils area is one of the area’s best known and most travelled trails, and for good reason. The scenery is well worth the hard work of the hike, which without side trips makes for a fine three to five day outing. The mountains are stark, the open areas vast, the lakes inviting, and the distant scenery of the Wallowas and Snake River just icing on the cake.

I hiked the circle in a counterclockwise direction from Windy Saddle, and the first few miles are attention-getters. In the 5 miles to Iron Phone Junction, the trail heads down, then up, then repeats twice more for a total of more than 1,500 feet in elevation gain and a bit more in loss. However, the downs include a fine look at the Devils’ Tooth with He and She Devils behind and a lovely upstream waterfall at the West Fork Sheep Creek. The ups offer views north, west and east. I especially noted the last, a view of the Goat Pass area above Sheep Lake – a place I had reluctantly hiked on my first backpack into the Devils.

The loop heads south or left at Iron Phone Junction. There are few treed areas on this side of the loop, for fires have opened most of this almost 10 miles of trail. The most recent was in 2005, near the trail to Echo Lake. Walking the black earth it left made a hot day’s work even hotter. But the openness had its rewards – views, for one, of the Wallowas from the east, a different perspective than the one we usually see as we drive toward Enterprise from the north. It drove me crazy trying to identify peaks from this perspective, especially since I hadn’t thought to bring a map of the Wallowas along. There also were views into the Seven Devils and of Hells Canyon below.

From the Echo Lake Trail junction, the loop heads down to Baldy Creek. This bit is skunky and steep, but has great views of Devils Throne. Then it’s up again and down to the Devils Farm, a stunning, huge talus area with occasional trees and the Twin Imps above. But the nicest part of the west leg for us was the hike up to the shoulder of Pyramid Mountain and the lovely downhill from there into the junction with the east leg of the loop, the downhill through a fine open meadow splashed with colorful dock and paintbrush in July.

The hike from the junction back to Windy Saddle on the east side of the Devils was delightful. First, it’s down through talus slope with flowers and a huge old whitebark pine along the upper West Fork Rapid River drainage. Then it’s into the trees and through grasses – a very different experience than the west side, and a whole lot nicer place to hike. There were some views through the trees now and again, of some of the devils. But if you hiked the circle in summer as we did, what you note the most is the shade, at least until you get to the last half mile or so that is decidedly in the open and uphill.

One of the neater views along the hike north is of Cannonball Mountain, shaped as you might presume from its name. When the dividing line is visible, it looks like someone took a ruler, laid it along the mountain, and planted trees on one side, grass on the other. When you drive into Windy Saddle, you see only the side with trees. When you hike, you see both.

Notes: There is no water between the outlet to Baldy Lake and that of Dog Creek. Gary D. Jones Hiking Idaho’s Seven Devils is definitely worth carrying.

There are two possible sources of the name “Seven Devils.” One says that the Hudson Bay Company named them because they were mysterious and weird and thus associated with the devil. The other says that the source was an Indian legend involving a lost man who found a devil here, then six more as he ran away.

Directions: Take a right just south of Riggins on Road 517, the road to the Seven Devils. It’s a 17-mile uphill drive. The first 11 are great but the last 6 are rocky. The Seven Devils trailhead is at the top at Windy Saddle where there’s also parking, an outhouse and a campground.

Information: Hells Canyon National Recreation Area in Riggins, (208) 628-3916, or Clarkston, (509) 758-0616

Maps: Essentially all of the loop trail is on USGS He Devil, Idaho, a quad that covers four times the area of the standard USGS 7.5 maps. The easternmost end hangs over into Heavens Gate, Idaho, in two places, but you really don’t need that map. Jones’ book also contains a map without topo lines.

Connections: There are several side trails that branch off the basic circle, and it is pretty much necessary to use some of them for finding camping spots.

For the sake of completeness, I mention that there is a user trail up out of Sheep Lake that goes over Goat Pass and into the Seven Devils Campground. It is very steep, with a significant dropoff. I have hiked it, and others do, but I don’t recommend it.