Discovering Valhalla: Oregon's Hidden Gorge

What You Should Know Before Entering Valhalla

By John Rosman (OPB) and Jule Gilfillan (OPB)
Feb. 8, 2016 5:15 p.m.

Oregon Field Guide's special on a gorge deep in the wild is an unprecedented look at an enchanting, remote Oregon wonder. However, it's in a wilderness area and there are numerous hazards that can challenge even the most experienced hikers.

Before you go off to explore Valhalla, with a half-full water bottle and a handful of trail mix, keep this in mind: This amazing destination can kill you.


What You Should Know Before Going

You don't go to Valhalla — you plan to go to Valhalla.

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For example, water temperature is a big concern. Safety expert Jared Smith traveled through Valhalla last summer. The professional canyoneer climbed, rappelled and swam through the gorge.

“If you don’t have a wet suit, you’re going to die of hypothermia, it’s that cold," Smith said of the chilly waters.

Where Is It?

Valhalla is in the Mount Jefferson Wilderness. There is no trail. Depending on the route, it's a multiple day hike off a remote forest road into a thick old growth forest.

Our crews — including safety experts, outdoor guides and forest service employees —  returned from their expedition fatigued, scrapped and bruised. They encountered numerous hazards, including logjams, thick patches of devils club, waterfall drops, cliffs lined with loose rocks and yellow jackets.


More importantly, the remoteness of the canyon means a rescue operation could take days. There is no place to land a helicopter and the rough terrain might also put rescue crews at risk.

Our partner, the Outdoor Project, has more information about the two hikes into Valhalla.

As always, travel at your own risk and regardless of where you are hiking — on well-trodden trails or pristine wilderness — Leave No Trace. Clean all gear and footwear before and after your trek so you're not tracking noxious weeds and other foreign matter into areas where they don't belong.

For more information about why we Leave No Trace and clean our gear, go here:

When Should I Go?

The forest roads are typically closed due to snow until May. In regards to visiting the Gates of Valhalla, the water levels will be too high and cold until late July. But everything is entirely dependent on the year's water levels. For example, 2015 was a low water level year, and it's possible that Valhalla is not navigable in a high-water year.

Is It Possible To Explore The Whole Half-Mile Gorge Of Valhalla?

It took a team of seasoned outdoor professionals three days to travel the half-mile Valhalla gorge. It’s not like walking through a wonderful slot canyon in Utah. It’s forging into a wild river. They rappelled, climbed, swam and tumbled their way through.

The answer is yes, if you’re a canyoneering expert. If not, then don’t be foolish, because if you’re not careful you’ll find yourself in deep trouble.

Some Resources For Planning

The Outdoor Project is an adventure guide working to create a comprehensive catalog of outdoor adventures; it highlights two hikes in Valhalla. The U.S. Forest Service also has some general information about the slot canyon.

Jared Smith, Discovering Valhalla's safety coordinator, is another resource. He's traveled through the gorge and canyon and is happy to be a point of contact if you decide to plan a trip.