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Hit the Road with Chet Garner

Heaven Beyond Hell’s Gate

Possum Kingdom Lake offers a scenic slice of paradise

On the short list of places I never wanted to find myself, Hell’s Gate sounded like it should be near the top. And yet there I was, about to pass through its ominous opening to see what might lurk on the other side.

Ironically, I found a slice of Texas paradise—refreshing water, warm sunshine and great tunes. Did I cheat death? Am I writing this article from the great beyond? Oh no! Hell’s Gate, on the banks of Possum Kingdom Lake, is simply heavenly.

Chet and the 90-foot cliffs at Possum Kingdom Lake.

Courtesy Chet Garner

While the Hill Country west of Austin gets all the attention, there’s a hidden hill country in North Texas that encompasses the sprawling Palo Pinto Mountains. And in the middle of it all lies a meandering lake named Possum Kingdom, about an hour west of the Metroplex. Its name dates to the early 1900s, when a prominent fur trader would refer to locals as the “boys of Possum Kingdom” due to an abundance of the furry varmints.

Today the lake is best known for the towering limestone cliffs that mark its banks and the countless boaters who flock there on weekends. Many of them congregate behind the stone walls of Hell’s Gate and around Devil’s Island. It’s a narrow opening of water flanked by 90-foot cliffs.

The cliffs are so sheer they have hosted the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, which attracts hundreds of spectators who watch professional divers dance with the devil. And while brave novices may be tempted to jump, it’s extremely dangerous and illegal.

I could feel a swell of Texas courage welling up in my chest, but I wasn’t about to break the law. Luckily, my buddy knew of other cliffs within the legal limit for jumping (20 feet or less), and so we sped off and spent the afternoon jumping from much less hellish heights.