'Wilderness' is often seen as a (biophysical) ideal state in contemporary debates on ecological restoration. We ask what is left of relationships with 'wilderness' in present-day Western societies by drawing on a case study of the Hoge Veluwe National Park, the Netherlands. A brief history of wilderness interpretations is constructed as a backdrop to the analysis of the Veluwean land use history. Herein, wilderness aspects are conceptualised as 'paradise-like' or 'hell-like', thus providing insight into the origins, limits and dynamics of contemporary wilderness concepts. We conclude that the concept of wilderness is inherently paradoxical, and argue that wilderness paradoxes should be not be ignored, but acknowledged and valued in conservation practices.