5 Incredible Waterfall Hikes in Colorado
5 Incredible Waterfall Hikes in Colorado
(Guest Post by Feral Escape – see end of post)
Colorado is stunning. Most who have lived there or visited will tell you just how magical and unforgettable it is. If you’re from the east coast, you might think of it as nothing more than a pile of dry red dust with some scratchy, raggedy mountains, or a series of freak spring and summer snowstorms.
It is neither of those. Sure, you get plenty of red earth, and yes the occasional snowstorm, but as its name suggests, Colorado is filled with so much more. The deep green of spruce-covered mountain sides, bright green of aspen groves, maroon mountains, endless gemstone blue sky dotted with pristine clouds, glistening turquoise glacial lakes, rushing crystalline creeks and fields strewn with all manner of wildflowers, blue, red, violet, sunshine yellow and rosy pink. In autumn, the forests flare into brilliance, and even in winter, the swathes of white that blanket the mountains and conifers draw back the native Coloradans time and again. The beauty of this American state is breathtaking and highly varied. Mountains, forests and water features abound.
During our recent visit, we were fortunate enough to fit in some of the most incredible waterfall hikes the state has to offer, which showcased a wide variety of Colorado’s stunning scenery. If you’re around for a few days, here are some of the best waterfall hikes in Colorado.
This was one of the most spectacular waterfall hikes we’ve ever done. While many parts of the trail are shaded, there are a few stretches in pure sun, so take plenty of water and sunscreen. The hike to Hanging Lake falls is only 1.2 miles, but it’s a steep climb with an elevation gain of nearly 900’. There are plenty of beautiful spots to take a rest though, and we saw many families on the hike. Hanging Lake itself is gorgeous, with blue water and lush greenery draped around the falls. Just a short distance above Hanging Lake, you’ll come to Spouting Rock Falls, which is particularly fun as there’s ample room to go behind the waterfall and cool off in the spray. This is one of the most popular waterfalls in all of Colorado, so be prepared to have to wait for parking. Best to go in the very early morning! Glenwood Springs is the closest town, and there are lots of other great hikes in the area.
Rifle Falls State Park
In the dry scapes of western Colorado, Rifle Falls is an oasis of rainbowed greens and limestone caves. The 70-foot triple waterfall is accessible with just a short 0.1 mile walk from the parking area, but Coyote Trail is a short 1.5-mile circular hike that will take you up behind the falls and down into the shaded, shallow caves just beyond it. We stopped here on our road trip up to Yellowstone, and it was perfect for our last stop in Colorado on the trip. We do recommend arriving in the early morning, as the falls are quite popular in summer due to being so accessible, but we enjoyed it even later in the day during the beginning of the summer season. Bring along a flashlight to explore the caves properly!
Catamount Falls Hike
This moderate 3-mile hike near Colorado Springs showcases three waterfalls and two creeks cascading down from Pikes Peak. It is a well-marked segment of the Thomas Trail and begins in Green Mountain Springs. Although the falls aren’t particularly large, the hike itself is lovely. The hike begins at a 7720’ elevation and has a 560’ elevation gain. It’s an excellent day trip not too far from Denver (only about a 1.5 hour drive) if you’re based closer to the city. The scenery is varied, with creeks, the waterfalls, mountain views and wildflowers in season. Catamount is another name for a cougar, so if you’re lucky you may see one of these elusive natives of Colorado!
This is only one of many gorgeous waterfall hikes in the Wild Basin of Rocky Mountain National Park. We chose it because of its namesake, the lovely calypso orchids (also called Pink Fairy Slippers!) which bloom in late spring and early summer, and, like others on this list, you pass by several other beautiful falls on this 3.6 mile roundtrip hike. In fact, you can also tack on Ouzel Falls if you add on 2 miles (1 mile each way) to the junction with Finch Lake trail. The trail starts at 8566′ elevation and has a 700’ gain. Be sure to bring along bear spray, as black bears are highly active in the Wild Basin. There are several excellent backcountry camping sites in the area as well, but be sure to have a permit.
Black Lake Falls and Ribbon Falls
This hike along the Glacier Gorge Trail system in Estes Park is 10 miles out and back with a 1400’ elevation gain, beginning at around 9400’ elevation. It’s classified as difficult and will take around 6 hours, maybe longer. You can begin either from the beautiful and popular Bear Lake or from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead itself, but parking at the latter may be difficult as there is less of it.
During the nearly 5 mile hike to Ribbon Falls, you’ll encounter several other stunning sliding waterfalls as well as fields of wildflowers in summer, aspen groves, bogs, several lakes and conifers. Ribbon Falls itself is a slide waterfall sourced from Black Lake, and glides over pink and orange granite. Just a little further on, and after just a bit of bouldering, you’ll come to Black Lake and Black Lake falls. In summer, Frozen Falls will also sometimes be in flow from Frozen Lake just a bit further onwards.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our whistlestop tour of some of the greatest waterfall hikes in Colorado! Feel free to share your own favorites in the comments, and stop by our blog at Feral Escape to check out more of what we’ve done!
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