Despite its colorful name, Hell Hole reservoir is a beautiful and enjoyable place to camp. It was described by 1913 visitor and author George Wharton James as a “paradise”, filled with “delightful surprises”. The three and a half mile long artificial lake is maintained by the Upper Hell Hole Dam and divided into three distinct sections: Upper Hell Hole, the Narrows, and Lower Hell Hole.
There are two campgrounds; the first, Lower Hell Hole, is home to a ranger station and a paved boat launch area, which is the only point that has vehicle access. The second campground, Upper Hell Hole, can be reached in two different ways: by boat, or by hiking three and a half miles on a trail several hundred feet above the water level. The latter promises a spectacular view in the process, with the trail going across the breakwater of the dam.
Camping at Upper Hell Hole is free; there are 15 campsites and two pit toilets, but no trash service, so be sure to bring a secure container to hold your garbage during your stay. Streams and creeks are abundant near the campsites, particularly during snowmelt in the spring. The three-tier campgrounds have steps carved into the granite to navigate between them, and camping is allowed wherever the wild terrain will allow boat landings along the lake’s shoreline.
For a fun day on the lake, visitors can canoe, kayak and ride small motor-powered boats. The tendency toward high winds during the afternoons discourages visitors from outright sailing. Due to the small number of campsites, the lake is rarely crowded, even in the height of summer. There are numerous small granite “islands” to explore on the lake, as well; depending upon what time of year it is, they may appear larger or smaller. The peak month for high water levels in Hell Hole reservoir is May, after which levels start to gradually go down again.