Hike to Hell's Hole

Colorado Hell's Hole Trailhead

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Distance: 9 miles roundtrip. Elevation gain: 1860 ft. Great fall hike. Hike through a large aspen grove. Lesser known trail. Great views of Mount Evans. Bristle cone pines. Unique glacial valley.

The name is uninviting, but Hell’s Hole is a scenic, shallow basin in the Mount Evans Wilderness near Idaho Springs. Starting elevation is about 9500 feet. Right after the trailhead, you pass through a few camping sites in the Chicago Creek Picnic Area. About five minutes into the hike is the permit station. Permits are free, but registration is required for Mount Evans Wilderness. You’ll hike along West Chicago Creek for about a mile on this trail.

The first splotches of gold are already showing up in the aspens in early September. In the morning sunshine, the green and gold of the aspens is spectacular. Because of the size of this grove, Hell's Hole is a phenomenal fall hike.

As you hike through the large grove, you go over two water crossings that are easy to maneuver. After the second water crossing, it quickly turns rocky. The splotches of gold get less and less as the aspens change to pines. You gain about 1200 feet in elevation in the first two miles.

Once you hit the ridge at almost 10,900 feet, the trail levels out. You can pick up the pace through the pines for miles two and three. As you hike at treeline, you get a great view of Mount Evans. Make sure to dress in layers and a take a jacket. Temperatures are cool on the ridge and the jacket comes in handy once you reach Hell's Hole.

At about 3.5 miles, you'll hike by first batch of alpine willows. You'll cross a small stream and then notice the pine trees start thinning out. The pines open up to a wide glacial valley filled with alpine willows.

About halfway through the valley, you will see you're first bristle cone pines. The twisted and knotted trees thrive in the harsh environment of persistent winds, high elevation, and cold temperatures. They are very unusual and oddly beautiful. Take some time wandering through the bristle cone pine grove as there are lots of great photo ops.

As you continue down the trail, you'll see the last clump of trees that almost look like a gate to the final stretch of the hike. The trail just seems to fade away as you get to Hell's Hole. Elevation is close to 11,200 feet. There are a few bristle cone pines sparsely spread out. The pines almost look like they are standing guard at the base of Gray Wolf Mountain.

Hell's Hole is a swampy, rocky marshland. Hike down through the willows as you can walk out into the middle of it in the fall. The shallow basin isn't scary at all, although it can look a little eery as clouds move in and the winds pick up.

Hell's Hole is a heck of a hike and worth the effort to get there. The hike is 9 miles round trip. The trail is also a great snowshoe adventure in winter.

Getting there: The trailhead is 6.5 miles south of Idaho Springs, Colorado, on Highway 103. Take West Chicago Creek Road for 3 miles. The dirt road dead ends at the trailhead.

Pack List

  • Water
  • Snacks
  • Jacket
  • Camera
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8 months ago

Great Hike

I missed the aspens by a week or two, but it was still a great fall hike with some early dustings of snow higher up. The permit spot moved perhaps because it was definitely a mile or so in. The initial ascent slowly levels off and the remainder of the hike is pretty easy. I would definitely come do this one again next fall!

8 months ago

Added by Jennifer Broome

I'm the traveling weather chick. I'm a television meteorologist, host and reporter based in Denver. I'm a weather expert and travel expert. I'm also a travel writer. I love travel, weather, adventure, outdoors, food, wine, fitness, hiking, skiing, and yoga.

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