Day Trippin’ – Colorado Waterfalls
According to the United States Geological Survey, there are 81 waterfalls in Colorado that have names, along with numerous unnamed others throughout the state. Many of the falls are fed by high mountain snow melt, so spring and early summer are the best time to witness these gems. A few are highlighted below:
Agnes Vaille Falls – Buena Vista. The trail to Agnes Vaille Falls starts at 9,000 feet and is a great chance to see bighorn sheep and mountain goats, Mount Princeton, and the Chalk Cliffs. The falls can be viewed from Cascade Creek Trail’s one-mile loop, which is rated “easy-to-moderate” with about a 500-foot elevation gain. It’s advised to stay alert – the surrounding Chalk Cliffs are known to be unstable. The falls were named after a pioneering female mountain enthusiast following her death in 1925 on Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. Before her untimely death at age 35, Vaille, a Denver native, had scaled all but 16 of the nations 14ers.
Bridal Veil Falls – Telluride. At 365 feet, Bridal Veil Falls is the tallest, free-falling waterfall in Colorado. This magnificent waterfall is situated at the end of a box canyon in the town of Telluride. Hiking and biking are allowed on the road to reach the top of the falls. The out-and-back trail is 1.8 miles and is rated “moderate,” with a 1,650-foot elevation gain. A historic, privately-owned power plant is perched at the top of a cliff adjacent to the falls. It once powered the Smuggler-Union gold mine, and today it generates about one quarter of the power for Telluride.
The Broadmoor, Seven Falls – Colorado Springs. Listed in National Geographic as one of the international wonders, Seven Falls sits in a box canyon. Visitors can view all seven falls together from the bottom, climb 224 steps to the top, or by an elevator up 14 flights to the Eagle’s Nest for a view from across the canyon. The falls are lit at night and during the holidays and each waterfall is lit with a different color. Other amenities include a gift shop, restaurant, and a zip line. There is a fee (less than $20, depending upon age) to enter the attraction park, including the falls.
Brown Creek Falls – Buena Vista. Situated between Mount White and Jones Peak, this waterfall is a “must see,” 3-mile out-and-back hike. The first half of the hike is more challenging, and then it is an easier stroll to the high-volume, two-stage, cascade falls. The trail includes two log bridges that cross Brown’s Creek.
Fish Creek Falls – Steamboat Springs. The 283-foot falls are popular with summer tourists. A quarter-mile gravel path leads to the lower falls. The upper falls trail is five miles out and back, and it is recommended for the more experienced hiker. Leashed dogs are allowed and a $5-per-day vehicle pass is required.
Helen Hunt Falls – Colorado Springs. The 35-foot falls can be seen from the parking lot or by a hike up to the bridge spanning the top of the falls. A short hike from the top of Helen Hunt Falls leads to Silver Cascade Falls if you’re looking for more. Or visit the Cub, a visitor center spared by fire when its larger neighboring building, the Bruin Inn, was destroyed. The Cub was rebuilt in 2012, but with the historical integrity of the original building. The falls are named after author, poet, and First Nations activist Helen Maria Hunt Jackson.
Rifle Falls State Park – Rifle. This triple waterfall is the centerpiece of the Rifle Falls State Park. Hiking up and around the falls on the 1.5-mile Coyote Trail offers excellent views from above and below the falls. Lush vegetation from the constant water spray is present around the three cascading falls. Several small caves are fun to explore as well. This hike is very busy in the summer months and park fees apply to anyone without a pass.
St. Mary’s Falls – Colorado Springs. The hike to St. Mary’s Falls is a 3-mile, moderate out-and-back hike with 1,400-foot elevation gain. The trailhead begins past Helen Hunt Falls and the trail is open to hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking. Dogs are allowed but must be leashed. Parking for Helen Hunt and St. Mary’s falls can fill up quickly, so go early or later in the day.
Treasure Falls – Pagosa Springs. Treasure Falls’ half-mile loop is a very popular trail. The 105-foot plunge falls can be viewed from the parking lot, but the spray is only felt after the short hike to the base. Named after the Treasure Mountain legend of buried French gold, the falls are the only treasure that’s known to be found on Treasure Mountain.
Zapata Falls – Alamosa. This little treasure is only two-and-a-half stories high and is sheltered by a rocky crevasse. The half-mile hike from the parking lot includes some adventure and a log bridge. Only three miles from the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Zapata Falls are a respite from the heat. Stunning views of the San Juan Mountains and the San Luis Valley are available from the parking lot. Black swift birds nest near the falls in one of the only known nesting locations in Colorado.
For more information, visit colorado.com/trip-ideas/waterfalls.
Article and photo by Celeste McNeil