From epic snowfall comes impressive waterfalls, and this year will be a stunner in Rocky Mountain National Park. Snow will be melting throughout the summer and cascading over rocks and down mountains, providing hikers with naturally air-conditioned spots along the trails. While each of these hikes has a single waterfall as the final end point for the trek, most also have other waterfalls and cascades to see along the way.
As you hike, be mindful of the power of Mother Nature and stay clear of the rapidly moving water. Nearby rocks can be slippery and loose, so be sure to respect signage and any barriers near lakes, streams and waterfalls. Always supervise children around water.
It’s time to hit the trails in search of these beautiful waterfalls:
(Note: Distances according to Rocky Mountain National Park officials.)
Ouzel Falls (includes Copeland Falls and Calypso Cascades)
Where: Wild Basin trailhead near Allenspark
Hike length: 5.4 miles out-and-back
If you really, really like waterfalls, be sure to put the Ouzel Falls hike on your list. Almost as soon as you begin hiking, there is a slight detour to Copeland Falls (both upper and lower). It’s just a half-mile roundtrip to check out these waterfalls and then head back to the main trail for the bigger falls. For much of the hike, the creek will be on your left. After hiking for more than a mile, you will cross a bridge that transfers you to the left side of the creek, where the trail is a series of man-made log steps with the water roaring as you ascend.
When you reach the Calypso Cascades, you again cross the creek, then hike away from the stream until you reach Ouzel Falls. The 2013 floods took out the bridge, according to park officials, but there’s a new one that allows you to get a peek at the 40-foot Ouzel Falls. There is a social path to get close to the falls to the left of the bridge, but signs warn hikers that this area of large rocks and fallen trees is treacherous. There is a small parking lot at the trailhead, but access to this is closed in late fall through sometime in spring. While you can park in a larger parking area during this seasonal closure, it will add 2 miles roundtrip to your hike.
Where: Bear Lake trailhead
Hike length: 3.5 miles out-and-back
The Bear Lake Road corridor, and the Bear Lake parking area in general, is the most popular place in Rocky Mountain National Park, according to park officials. There are several popular trails leading from that area so go early in the day for this hike to get a parking spot and beat the crowds. The waterfall is remarkable glacier runoff that gives a little more thrill to reaching the lake. You will pass Bear Lake, Nymph Lake and Dream Lake, and cross over streams as you gain more than 600 feet in elevation, ending up at more than 10,000 feet above sea level in just over a mile of hiking.
When you reach Emerald Lake, the trail seems to end with peaks surrounding the water. Hallett Peak in front of you is more than 12,000 feet high. As you gaze across this subalpine lake, you will see the waterfall, which is runoff from the Tyndall Glacier. Only serious and properly equipped climbers should attempt to go beyond Emerald Lake at this point. As you hike back down, you have a better sense of how the water is trickling from the snow waaaay up there, down to each lake you pass.
Timberline Falls (includes Alberta Falls)
Where: Glacier Gorge trailhead
Hike length: 8.6 miles out-and-back
Explore deeper into Rocky Mountain National Park to see Timberline Falls in the Glacier Gorge. Plus, there’s a bonus — and popular — waterfall hike within this longer hike. At less than a mile, you will reach Alberta Falls, which you might hear before you see as it roars down 30 feet in this section of Glacier Creek. This portion of the hike is rated easy and might be plenty for those adjusting to altitude or with other challenges.
For those heartier hikers, know that you have more than 1,000 of elevation gain ahead to reach Timberline Falls. Follow signs to the Loch Vale Trail. Along the way, you will be passing other cascades of water as you make your way to “The Loch,” which you can look down on later when you reach Timberline Falls. Rather than a single waterfall, there is water spilling over the rocks like someone spilled a glass of water. Some hikers may want to continue on to Sky Pond, which requires a significant scramble up the side of the waterfall.
Where: Endovalley Picnic Area
Hike length: 2.8 miles out-and-back
Seasonal road closures mean that seeing Chasm Falls is a summer activity only. It is possible to see the falls after a brief hike of 100 yards from Old Fall River Road, but that’s not as much fun as hiking in. Plan to start at the Endovalley Picnic Area for this hike (if you park at West Alluvial Fan, the hike will be a total of 2 miles longer). Check the park’s website for road conditions as Old Fall River Road is a dirt road (as of mid-April, the road was scheduled to be closed until July). As with many trails in the park, it is recommended that visitors arrive early for parking spots. What makes this hike worth it is how different the waterfall is from others; Chasm Falls pinches through a narrow gap in the granite. There is an elevation gain nearly 600 feet to reach the falls in just more than a mile, so it is steep.
Where: East Inlet trailhead
Hike length: 0.6 miles out-and-back
It can be easy to forget that Rocky Mountain National Park has a whole other side with the small town of Grand Lake and hiking opportunities to the west. You’ll start this mini-hike at the East Inlet trailhead and go 0.3 miles on a well-worn dirt path that takes you through the forest and up a few stone steps. This isn’t just a single waterfall, but multiple threads of water rushing down and around the rocks with varying ferocity depending on the season.
Given the minimal elevation gain (you’ll top out at just more than 8,500 feet above sea level and gain only about 100 feet while hiking), this is an ideal hike for people new to hiking and altitude. There’s a good possibility of seeing elk or moose in this area. You can extend the hike to even more water ahead by hiking to Lone Pine Lake, Lake Verna and Spirit Lake, if you have the time and resources for traveling on foot for several miles roundtrip. The hike to Lone Pine Lake (approximately 11 miles roundtrip) includes many small waterfalls too.
Although many pets love the water too, keep in mind that no dogs are allowed inside of Rocky Mountain National Park or on the park’s trails — even leashed dogs — because of the abundant wildlife living here.
More info on all of the trails: Rocky Mountain National Park, nps.gov/romo/index.htm, or call 970-586-1206.
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