It’s time to head to Hell – Hell Michigan that is! The hamlet with a curious name is situated about forty minutes northwest of Ann Arbor.
Hell Michigan has a history that dates back to the 1830s where it was once home to a grist mill, a distillery, a summer resort, and a checkered past. That all changed in the early 2000s, though, when it was converted into what it is today – a tourist stop.
Upon arriving, you can find a family-friendly place with a lot of quirks that draws over 100,000 visitors a year from all over the world, many with large tour groups.
The community wholeheartedly embraces its name, which is evident in the town attractions and events. Surrounded by 400 acres of outdoor recreation, Hell is also a gateway to biking and hiking trails, lake activities, picnic areas, and campgrounds.
Before we dig deeper into what there is to do in Hell Michigan, let’s talk about this community’s history and name.
All the Facts About Hell Michigan
Located within Putnam Township, Hell is an unincorporated community with no defined town boundaries. If you look at the palm of your right hand, the community is about where the base of your index finger and thumb meet. From Ann Arbor, it’s about a 30-minute drive northwest. From Jackson, it’s about a 45-minute drive northeast.
The History of Hell Michigan
Town Founder George Reeves moved from the Catskill Mountains in New York and settled Hell in 1838. A few years later, he purchased a sawmill on Hell Creek and 1,000 acres surrounding it. Then, he built a gristmill.
The farmers around the community were very successful growing wheat and producing grain. Next, Reeves opened a distillery to make whiskey with the excess grain. He even built a general store with a tavern inside to sell his beverage. Soon, the distillery and tavern were thriving businesses, so he built a ballroom above the tavern and a track around his millpond for horse harness racing.
After the Civil War, the U.S. government sent tax collectors to Hell to assess the whiskey operation because Reeves wasn’t sharing the profits. In response, he and his customers sank barrels full of the spirits to the bottom of the millpond. When the tax collectors left, they retrieved the barrels and celebrated.
Reeves slowed down his business ventures as he aged. He closed the distillery and witnessed the gristmill burn before his death in 1877. Much later, in 1924, the family sold the land to a group of Detroit-based investors who made the millpond bigger by raising the Hell Creek dam level. Now, the pond is known as Hiland Lake. Soon after, Hell became a resort area for anyone who likes fishing and swimming.
The Origin of Hell Michigan’s Name
On Oct. 13, 1841, the community was officially called Hell, and there are a few theories about why.
One theory is based on the hell-like conditions that early explorers experienced in the area — extensive wetlands, thick forest, and mosquitoes. It’s believed that traders muttered expletives as they dragged heavy canoes from Lake Huron to the Grand River systems.
The second theory is that many farmers’ wives would comment that their husbands went to Hell again when they were asked about the men’s whereabouts. The reason is that Reeves would pay the farmers and his workers in whiskey for the grain that he used. This drew the farmers into town to “receive their payment.”
A third theory is that a German traveler said to another, “So schön hell!” which translates to, “So beautifully bright!” The name stuck for locals who overheard. When Reeves was asked what the town name should be later, he’s rumored to have said, “You can name it Hell for all I care.”
Hell Michigan Attractions, Events, & Things to Do
Relatively untouched, Hell remains a quaint community where Reeves’ tavern and racetrack still stand. More houses have been built, and the town has been upgraded to electricity. Other than that, Hell has taken advantage of its name with themed events, restaurants, and other things to do.
The Touristy Side of Hell
Immediately after entering Hell, I was greeted by multiple “welcome-to” signs and other hell-acious and fun word plays were on display everywhere. My personal favorite, near the creek that leads to Hell Dam, was, “PLEASE do not litter or pee in the river. It’s going through HELL now.”
While you’re here you can purchase a square inch of Hell, graduate from Damnation University, or even become mayor for the day. John Colone, the one who bought Hell, serves as the unofficial mayor.
Take Photos With Cartoon Cutouts
Throughout Hell are cartoon cutouts of hellions and horned demons, creating a bit of fun with the town name. You can get some commemorative pictures with your head in the cutouts when you arrive or before you leave.
Visit Screams Souvenirs from Hell & Helloween
Screams Souvenirs from Hell & Helloween is the main shop in the community. You can buy humorous souvenirs from coffee mugs and glassware to headbands and hoodies with Hell-themed graphics. The shop sells Halloween items all year too.
Behind the shop is a mini-golf course with wickedly-themed holes. Admission is only about $20 for a family of four. On top of that, Screams Souvenirs is the home of Damnation University. This institution awards more than 100 degrees and university-themed memorabilia.
Be Hell’s Mayor for a Day
For about $100, you can be the Mayor of Hell Michigan. No matter how bad or good that you do, you’ll get impeached at the end of the day.
You get a set of devil horns to wear while you take phone calls and make decisions. Also, a range of goodies are ready for you at Screams Souvenirs to commemorate your term in office:
- Bottle of official Hell Dirt
- Coffee mug with “Office of Mayor Hell”
- Official Mayor of Hell badge and wallet card
- Official property deed for 1-square-inch of Hell
- Proclamations for being mayor and being impeached
- T-shirt with “Mayor of Hell” on the front and “Impeached” on the back
- Your name on the board of Hell Mayor for the Day participants
Own Part of Hell Michigan
If you don’t want all the responsibility of being the Mayor of Hell, you can purchase 1 square inch of the community, making you a member of the Hell Landowner’s Society. You can get lots of memorabilia at Screams Souvenirs as well.
Check Out the Hell Michigan Weather Station & Post Office
To really get in the spirit, explore the official weather station on site. Thinking about it, I do think it was a little warmer in Hell than in other parts of the area.
At the official U.S. weather observation station in Hell, you can look through a guest book to see all the celebrities who have visited. At the Post Office nearby, you can learn more about its history. It wasn’t established in the back of the general store until 1961. You can get a singed souvenir postcard, or mail it to yourself with a “Been Thru Hell” stamp. In fact, every piece of mail gets the singe and stamp treatment.
Tie the Knot in Hell
If you’re engaged, you could have your wedding at the Chapel of Love in Hell. You can plan a themed wedding with City Hall, including the chapel and grounds rental. Screams Souvenirs has Hell-themed invitations, RSVP cards, and more. And, the chef at Hell Hole Bar has years of experience with catering for parties and weddings.
Eternize Your Love on the Bridge
Whether you’re dating, engaged, or married, you can eternize the feelings that you have for your partner on the Locks of Love Bridge. Screams Souvenirs sells vintage-style medium locks that you can have personalized. After you lock it onto the bridge, throw the key into Hell Creek while making a wish. You get a Certificate of Eternal Love with your lock too.
Enjoy the Festivities
Embracing its unusual name, Hell has a lot of fun organizing and hosting themed events throughout the year. Here’s a short overview of some festivals:
- Blessed in Hell at Hell Creek Ranch Campground is the biggest bike show in Southeast Michigan with live music and delicious food, and it benefits Veterans Helping Veterans.
- Hell-O Summer Fest celebrates the heat and features Hellish and Halloweenish wares, entertainment, and awesome food.
- Family Fun in Hell is an event with activities, games, mini golf, face painting, and more for kids. Musician Creepy Clyde is a big hit.
- Friday the 13th in Hell Michigan is held on Friday 13th with the Hell or Consequences game at Screams Souvenirs. You have the chance to win discounts or prizes with dice rolls.
- Hell-O Halloween Weekends consist of family-friendly activities and entertainment throughout October, including balloon art, pumpkin carving, and music by Creepy Clyde.
For the Outdoor Lover in Hell Michigan
Hell, Michigan sits in the rolling countryside, making this time of year perfect for a color tour along the area’s dirt roads. Exiting Hell in the fall, I captured the colors of the season along Tiplady, Cedar Lake, and Darwin Roads to name a few.
If you want some more adventure, go hiking on the miles and miles of trails nearby. I recommend setting up for the day at Pinckney State Recreation Area with beautiful views of Silver Lake awaiting.
For a longer stay, head to the family-friendly Hell Creek Ranch Campground. Looking to get out on the water? Rent a canoe or kayak from Scream’s and paddle through the area’s chain of lakes.
Explore a Chain of 7 Lakes
Outside of Hell, you can discover a cluster of seven lakes and the 11,000-acre Pinckney State Recreation Area just a 10-minute drive away. This area provides an array of recreational activities — swimming from the beaches at Silver Lake and Halfmoon Lake, biking and hiking on more than 40 miles of trails, and paddleboating.
In fact, the Potawatomi Trail is the longest trail in the Pinckney Recreation Area, stretching for 17.4 miles through wetlands and marshes. If you’re interested in paddlesports, you can rent a canoe or kayak from Screams Souvenirs and paddle any of the lakes — Bruin, Crooked, Halfmoon, Hiland, North, and South Lakes. Many of the lakes have improved boat launches, while some are only accessible by carrying your paddleboat into the water. Fishing is allowed as well.
Best Places to Eat in Hell Michigan
Hell has a few great places to grab a bite. Located near Pinckney, Hell Hole Bar offers some of the best home cooking. You can indulge in sandwiches made with freshly baked bread, burgers, pizza, and more. The restaurant even serves pasties!
With live music and special events, Hell Saloon is a uniquely decorated bar and diner. It has been serving sinful food since 2016 — sandwiches, burgers, salads, and housemade pizzas. The bar is kid friendly during the day, but things start heating up in the evening.
For dessert, you have to get some Hershey’s premium ice cream from The Creamatory at Screams Souvenirs. It offers scoops in freshly made waffle cones, sundaes with a selection of toppings, and milkshakes. If you’re up to a challenge, try to eat an entire Gravedigger Sundae, for which you’ll receive a signed, sealed, and singed Death Certificate.
Hell Michigan Vacation Rentals & Camping
Since Hell is such a small town, you won’t find any vacation rentals or campgrounds within its unofficial borders. However, you can rent one of the many vacation rentals or go camping nearby.
For instance, this Sweet Little Cottage on Little Portage Lake has three bedrooms and enough beds to sleep up to eight people. The property has a grill and patio, and you can use the hot tub any time. Or, this Lily Pad Lake House has two bedrooms and can sleep up to six people. You can take advantage of the fire pit and gas grill for barbecuing. Some other nearby properties include a Small Town Dexter Retreat and Mt. Brighton Theme House.
On the other hand, you could go camping at Hell Creek Ranch Campground just a 2-minute drive from Hell Michigan. This family-oriented campground is known for having spacious campsites and a large 2,000-square-foot pool. Also, it has horse stables, a full playground, walking trails, horseshoe pits, a lighted basketball court, and other amenities.
Have you been to Hell and back again? Share your story with us in the comments!
Thanks to Aaron Cruz for contributing to this article.