Karen and Andy Savage, owners of Heaven’s Gate Outfitters outside of Riggins, Idaho, looked all over the West for the perfect place to set up their outfitting business. Then in 2009 they rode into the Seven Devils Wilderness and saw the breathtaking views of the jagged black peaks rising over the green pine forests and meadows filled with blooming wildflowers.
“When we saw this, we knew immediately that we’d found the right place,” says Karen. The couple had found their patch of heaven and named their venture Heaven’s Gate Outfitters after the nickname of the local foothills leading to the Seven Devils Mountains.
Sandwiched between the Salmon River to the east and Hell’s Canyon (America’s deepest gorge) to the West, the Devils stretch along the border of Idaho and Oregon. They rise up from Hell’s Canyon to almost 10,000 feet at the crest of He-Devil Peak. It’s a dramatic variation in elevation that produces a variety of landscapes and ecosystems found few other places. Relatively unknown until a few years ago, the Seven Devils Wilderness remains much as it did when Lewis and Clark passed just north of the area more than 200 years ago.
Andy and Karen lease more than 1,200 square miles of wilderness, stretching from the Salmon River all the way to the high cliffs overlooking Hell’s Canyon. Since it receives so little human traffic, the Seven Devils Wilderness remains in pristine condition. It’s the kind of place where you can ride for hundreds of miles through all types of mountain landscapes without seeing the fingerprint of man. On a 16-mile overnight ride with Andy and Karen, we passed through emerald meadows choked with wildflowers, rode along rocky slopes and through forests of huge tamarack, and wove through lodge pole pines that grew along the clear waters of Rapid River.
“There aren’t even any planes that fly over here,” Andy says as he waves his hand at the broad empty blue sky marked only by a pile of white clouds above the crooked black crest of He-Devil Peak.
The Savages moved to Idaho from New England and were looking for breathtaking country that stretched from one horizon to the next. Well, they found it. Andy and Karen’s lodge serves as their base camp and the starting point for trips into the Devils. Accommodations on the trail consist of rustic cabins or wall tents with comfortable beds and a large dining tent. Heaven’s Gate maintains an excellent string of well mannered, trail-tested horses, although they do allow visitors to bring their own horses if they wish. Andy and Karen also operate pack trips, fishing excursions, and family trail rides from various camps in the summer and outfit hunters in the fall and winter months.