The area was first settled in 1838 by George Reeves, who owned a mill and general store. No-one is quite sure how the community got its name; one theory is that a pair of German travellers, upon disembarking in the hilly area, amused the locals by proclaiming it to be "So schön und hell", meaning so bright and beautiful. Another is that the swampy area was a good breeding ground for mosquitoes, and the traders canoeing through the area had a few choice words for their attackers. The third, and most widely believed, is that when the local officials asked what his settlement should be called, Reeves (possibly having overheard those German visitors) replied, "I don't care, you can name it Hell if you want to." Evidently, the name stuck.
Despite its small size — the "main drag" of Hell is all of three buildings — the community has become a popular tourist destination for its irreverent name alone. The local businesses are given amusingly devilish titles, painted with licking flames, and stocked with gruesome and kitschy souvenirs of the sort you usually only see around Halloween. Every so often you'll hear of a nationwide promotional contest in which the prize is "a trip to Hell". One popular photograph depicts a wintertime town sign draped in icicles ("when Hell freezes over", which is also "a cold day in Hell"), and of course the community was kept massively busy on June 6, 2006, when most items were sold for $6.66. Hell was also the inspiration for a comic book entitled Hell, Michigan — created by Tilman Goins from Morristown, Tennessee — which chronicles the fictional residents' attempts to fight the demonic evil of their town.
Aside from its fire-and-brimstone appeal, Hell is situated in the middle of the lovely Pinckney State Recreation Area. A short drive away from the village will bring you to lakes, rivers and forests for hiking, horseback riding, swimming, canoeing, kayaking and fishing.
Hell is situated on two-lane county road D-32 (Patterson Lake Road), about 5 minutes southwest of Pinckney; despite the saying, the road is paved with asphalt. The nearest major road is US-23 between Flint and Ann Arbor; from US-23, take MI-36 west to Pinckney, make a left on Dexter-Pinckney Rd., and then a right on Patterson Lake Road.
The children's play area outside Screams Ice Cream Parlor features the Gates of Hell, and painted plywood cutouts for you to stick your head through and get your photo taken.
The non-denominational wedding chapel enables couples to have "a marriage made in Hell". ($100 as of 2014. Clergy not included; BYO or arrangements can be made with a local pastor.) Popular times of year for Hell weddings are April Fool's Day and Halloween. Many couples opt for a cold day in Hell to finally make their vows.
The surrounding Pinckney State Recreation Area (8555 Silver Hill Road, 734-426-4913, ) contains dozens of lakes — Silver Lake and Bruin Lake being two of the largest — as well as hunting, swimming, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, snowmobiling, cross country skiing, metal detecting, wildlife watching, and camping.
Hell Canoe and Kayak Rental, 4045 Patterson Lake Road, 734-878-2233. Open May through October. Rental for canoes, kayaks and fishing boats, which can be used in the surrounding Pinckney Recreation Area. Tours available.
Motorcycle runs and car cruises are popular in Hell during the warm months; late September features the Last Rides Reunion, in which over 40 hearses drive through town.
Vista Cruise to Hell and Back, held every Father's Day weekend by the GM Skywagon Club. Hell Creek Ranch, 10866 Cedar Lake Rd.
Run Thru Hell, Hell Creek Ranch, 734-878-3632. Held in mid-August. 5- and 10-mile races sponsored by the Pinckney Running Club; participants receive a free T-shirt that says "I Ran Thru Hell".
If you're in the area during October, check out the Terrorfied Forest & Manor (7365 Pinckney Road, 734-878-0018 or 734-878-3737), , on D-19 three miles north of Pinckney. Open from dark (around 8 pm) to midnight Friday and Saturday, and dark to 11 pm otherwise, when open. Recommended only for those over 12 years of age. Admission $15 (forest), $7 (manor), $20 (combo).
Screams Ice Cream Parlor, 4045 Patterson Lake, 734-878-1099. T-shirts, souvenirs (of the mundane and frightening varieties), Department 56, motorcycle paraphernalia, and copies of the Hell, Michigan comic books. You can also purchase both bats (to take out of Hell) and confectionary snowballs (which don't stand a chance). The ice-cream parlor offers cones, shakes, malts, floats and sundaes, with a coffin buffet laden with oddly-named ice-cream toppings like ghost poop (actually marshmallows), toenail clippings (shredded coconut), bat droppings (chocolate chips), dark ooze (hot fudge), and many more.
Hell Country Store & Spirits, 4025 Patterson Lake Road, 734-878-3129. A convenience store with groceries, sundry supplies, and the local post office, if you want to send your friends and relatives a postcard from Hell. They do a lot of business forwarding tax returns on April 15th (really!).
Dam Site Inn, 4095 Patterson Lake Road, 734-878-9300, . Located by the dam on Hell Creek, of course. Country tavern featuring pub food, weekend entertainment and a pool table in the back. Soups, salads, appetizers, burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, subs, and pizzas; dinner also features steak, pork, chicken, seafood, and frog's legs. Bar specialties include beer-in-a-can (a holdover from the rowdy earlier days of bar brawls) and cocktails including the Bloody Devil. Lunch $3-$8, dinner $8-$16.
Hell Creek Ranch and Campground, 10866 Cedar Lake Road, 734-878-3632, . 100 primitive and electrical sites. Horseback riding, fishing, kayaking and canoeing available. Horseback riding is $22 (1 hour) or $40 (2 hours); canoe rental is $30 (3-4 hours). Nightly camping rate is $7 (rustic) or $16 (RV).