This Side of Paradise

Sometimes the most memorable trips are ones of perfect weather, far reaching views and where the whole day seems to be done delight after another.

This was not one of those trips.

The hike for this past weekend, was to enter Paradise by going through Hell. Into Hell's Canyon, over Hell's Pass and then a descent into Paradise Park. A total of just under 20 miles and 3500' gain. Eight miles of this route would be 'schwacking.

Hell's Canyon and Hell's Pass are in national forest lands that borders Rocky Mtn National Park. Paradise Park is unique in that NO camping is allowed nor are horses. It is also trail-less. A steep price to pay, but a magnificent area to see.

We drove from Boulder Fri night, stashed my truck at a trail head (and having to explain to a Park ranger what we were doing at a National Park TH at 9pm at night. No we weren't camping. Yes we are picking up my vehicle tomorrow. Yeah..seriously, we are hiking the mileage. No we are not camping here, honest.), went to blissful, regulation free National Forest land, made camp for the night and drove to Roaring Fork Trailhead the following morning.

A CDT trailhead, it brought back some memories for d-low and I. In fact, we saw a group of CDT SoBos on the drive to the trailhead. D-low and I wished them luck….and to not get snowed out. Considering the weather in store for us, a rather funny statement.

We walked up the switchbacks and reached an unnamed saddle with views to the nearby Indian Peaks.

Eventually, we made it to the lakes below the pass. Alas, the weather was a bit too overcast and cold to enjoy a leisurely break. We said to ourselves we'd take a break at the pass. It would also be our last bit of trail before getting to East Meadow on the other side of the pass and through Paradise Park.

We ascended through Hell's Canyon up to Hell's Pass.


At the pass, the weather started picking up. Snow, sleet, graupel…seems the entire spread of Colorado Fall weather hit all at once! Rather than continue to get wet and cold at 12k ft, we decided to nix the break and get wet and cold lower down.

We made it to Paradise Park, and then noticed that golly-gee, the meadows were a bit boggy, full of water and cold. The 'schwacking through the trees, the streams and the willows began in earnest.

We entered a copse of trees, took a break and were envious of Levon heating up soup on his stove. Mmmm..looked good.

After more rain, sleet, snow and graupel (along with banging knees, sliding on rocks, ducking under and over blow downs), we finally made it to real, honest-to-goodness, national park grade trail. Aaahh…. Some noshing was done on snacks to power up for the last four miles of trail.

The trail made its way through East Meadow where the sound of elk bugling greeted us. A truly awesome sound and very much a part of the Colorado high country in the Autumn.


At 7pm, we made to the Mag Wag, loaded up my truck. (3 people in the cab..and six in the bed!) and had a post-hike libation at Grand Lake

Finally, at 2 am, I arrived back home at Casa Mags. Took a shower and went to bed. Today? The weather is beautiful…and I sat on my butt and drank coffee.

It was a difficult, but exhilarating trip. The weather was a real test of being comfortable in the outdoors. The beauty of Hell's Pass and Canyon, with the touch of snow, was awesome.

Bushwhacking through Paradise Park was a challenge..but one that I was glad to have done. Another in my long line of outdoor memories.

Man…life is good.

All the photos

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
James Yates
James Yates
2 years ago

I hiked Paradise Park a very long time ago. Went up past Monarch Lake and then up Hell Canyon. Camped the first night in Hell Canyon. Second day went all the way to Cat’s Lair up the East Intel trail. It was fall and got some light snow and had to climb over some pretty large trees descending down out of Paradise Park. It was a long day and ended hiking by flash light. A friend had planned to meet me at Cat’s Lair, but he did not show. Paradise Park is a really spectacular area.