Hell Canyon Loop

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Featured Hike

17.7 Miles 28.5 Kilometers



4,939' 1,505 m


-4,997' -1,523 m


12,222' 3,725 m


8,290' 2,527 m



Avg Grade (6°)


Max Grade (43°)


This Featured Hike content is still in development or in editorial review.

A long day hike or backpack with substantial off-trail adventures, peaks, lakes, and views.

Thomas David Kehoe


This hike has everything: peaks, lakes, a long off-trail section, and photo opportunities.
Features: Lake — River/Creek — Views — Wildflowers
Dogs: Leashed

Need to Know

This hike has two trailheads two miles apart so it's best done with two cars.

You must pay the entry/parking fee when your turn off Highway 34. Even if you camp at Arapaho Bay you still have to pay the entry/parking fee.


Considering the long drive to the trailhead, you might want to drive up Friday afternoon and hike in 0.8 miles to a beautiful campsite, large enough for a dozen people, just above Monarch Lake (waypoint 065).

At 1.3 miles reach the junction with the Arapaho Creek trail. Cross Hell Canyon at 2.1 miles. Reach Shelter Rock campsite and the junction with Cascade Creek trail at 3.0 miles.

Go up Buchanan Creek and at 5.3 miles reach the Gourd Lake trail junction. There are several good campsites here. Climb 1270 feet in 2.5 miles to Gourd Lake. There are good campsites on the east side of the lake. Continue on the trail around to the north side of the lake and at 8.2 miles the trail leaves the lake and climbs 325 feet in 0.3 miles to a tarn. The trail ends at 8.5 miles.

Continue up to several more tarns at 8.7 miles and then Island Lake at 9.1 miles. Continue around the west side of Island Lake. A small cliff with krummholz is a little tricky.

At the Island Lake inlet you can go up Cooper Peak, adding about a mile round trip with 800 feet of non-technical climbing. Don't try to go directly from the summit of Cooper Peak north to Cooper Pass as there is a cliff.

Continue from Island Lake through a boulderfield to Cooper Pass. This section is about 0.5 miles with 450 feet of climbing. In July you can easily walk on snowfields to avoid the boulders, especially if you bring microspikes. The east side of Cooper Pass is a bit loose in places but nothing difficult.

The west side of Cooper Pass has large areas of steep, loose scree. Go straight down the lowest line of the gully to avoid the loose scree. This about a quarter-mile. Then you reach steep meadow and descend another quarter-mile to Upper Lake at 10.5 miles.

Continue down another quarter-mile to Stone Lake. The best campsites at around the outlet of the lake.

You can do a 2.5-mile round trip to Hell-Paradise Pass, with a view of Paradise Park. No camping or dogs are allowed in Paradise Park.

From Stone Lake hike up to the Irving Hale Pass at 13.1 miles. Descend to the Watanga Lakes trail junction at 14.5 miles. Pass a small campsite at 14.9 miles and another small campsite at 16.1 miles. Continue down Roaring Fork Creek to the Roaring Fork trailhead at 17.5 miles.

If you didn't bring two cars you'll have to walk or hitchhike two miles back to the Monarch Lake trailhead.

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