Hell Canyon - High Country Paradox

September 20, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

The early loggers, miners, and settlers had a very different idea of the alpine high country than us modern enthusiasts. Where for us these places are of incomparable beauty and splendor, a retreat from our hectic modern lives, they viewed these high valleys with trepidation.

Such is Hell Canyon, a high glacial valley in the Indian Peaks Wilderness of Colorado.

Hell CanyonHell CanyonThe upper end of Hell Canyon, in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. The pass above here leads down into Paradise Park in Rocky Mountain National Park, quite the contradiction in nomenclature, given the two connected valleys are both gorgeous.


Until a trail was built to access the canyon from the Roaring Fork Valley to the south, getting into this wilderness was 'hell'. Outdoor.com gives this description of the trail: "The Hell Canyon Trail is appropriately named, as it is a steep, rugged, unmarked and un-maintained trail. Hikers find fallen logs across the trail and report that the footway is often obscured."

Land of DreamsLand of DreamsLand of Dreams

View across Upper Lake in Hell Canyon, Colorado


The trail in from the Roaring Fork Valley is steep and rocky, but manageable. It's approximately 6-7 miles into Hell Canyon, starting at the Roaring Fork Trailhead on Arapahoe Bay, Lake Granby, about 16 miles from the town of Granby, on the western slope of the Indian Peaks Wilderness.

Upper LakeUpper LakeUpper Lake in Hell Canyon, Indian Peaks Wilderness, Colorado


There are four lakes in the long canyon: Long, Crawford, Stone, and Upper Lake. The latter two are near where the trail comes into the canyon from the Roaring Fork, and are near the treeline, and the most photogenic(Upper Lake above)

- Google map coordinates for Stone Lake -

The area above Upper Lake is magnificent high alpine tundra, covered in wild flowers in July and early August.

ParadoxParadoxBeautiful Alpine Garden in Hell Canyon

Indian Peaks Wilderness, Colorado


The upper end of the canyon leads to the high pass between Hell Canyon and Paradise Park, the boundary between the Indian Peaks Wilderness and Rocky Mountain National Park

Paintbrush on the PassPaintbrush on the PassPurple Indian Paintbrush blooms on the pass between
Hell Canyon and Paradise Park, the boundary between the Indian Peaks Wilderness and Rocky Mountain National Park

Elephant HeadsElephant HeadsCan you see the trunks and ears on the tiny purple elephants?(look at the small bloom in lower left:)

These beauties were blooming in August, upper Hell Canyon, Indian Peaks Wilderness, Colorado
Paintbrush MagicPaintbrush Magic'Paintbrush Magic'

Pale yellow Indian Paintbrush highlights the alpine tundra garden in upper Hell Canyon, Colorado


















Night time in the canyon is magical, the stars so close in the thin air you feel you could touch them.

Double MoonDouble MoonMoon rise reflecting in a tundra tarn in Hell Canyon, Colorado


'Magic Night''Magic Night'Light painting on a tundra tarn, with the galaxy high in the sky over Marten Peak, Indian Peaks Wilderness, Colorado Galaxy and Marten PeakGalaxy and Marten PeakThe Milky Way looms over the Indian Peaks Wilderness, Colorado
































While camping in the canyon one night, I heard strange noises, and awoke with the lyrics from a Cat Stevens song in my head:"I'm being followed by a moon shadow". When I poked my head out of the tent at daybreak, there was a doe a few feet away, nonchalantly having her breakfast. the sound from her pulling the grass was the same one I had heard off and on during the night.

Four-legged VisitorFour-legged Visitor















Doe z DoeDoe z Doe










From my backyard in Granby, I can make out the distinct outline of Hiamovi Tower, a pinnacle on the Hell Canyon side of Hiamovi Peak. Camped in the canyon, the Tower loomed above, giving a view of its otherwise hidden eastern flank.

Hiamovi TowerHiamovi TowerHiamovi Tower in upper Hell Canyon


Thanks for looking at the photographs, and for letting me share the beauty of "Hell" Canyon with you.

Marten Peak ReflectionMarten Peak ReflectionMarten Peak reflecting in a tundra tarn in Hell Canyon

High CampHigh CampCamp under Hiamovi Tower in Hell Canyon



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