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Chase these 10 Colorado waterfalls and discover more adventure around them

August 7, 2017 Updated: August 8, 2017 at 9:33 am
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Don't let the summer end before getting your refreshing fill of Colorado's waterfalls. Sure, you can keep it local with Helen Hunt Falls or Seven Falls, the equally beloved tourist attraction. Or you can trek 6 miles through North Cheyenne Cañon to behold St. Mary's Falls.

But if you fuel up and hit the road, these great cascades inspire greater adventure. Allow us to point you their way:


Willow Lake

The waterfall at Willow Lake shown on Saturday, July 29, 2017. (Photo by Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette). 

Near: Crestone

You'll have to work for this one, gaining almost 2,900 feet in elevation on a switchback-laden, 5½-mile trek through the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness. Along the well-marked way, you'll find awe-inspiring spots for a breather - lush, wildflower-bursting meadows and talus fields where white-capped peaks can be seen over the San Luis Valley. Arrive at an emerald lake, where a 100-foot waterfall spills between rock walls. Getting there: Take U.S. 24 west to U.S. 285 south. After about 27 miles, turn left onto Colorado 17. Continue 13 miles and turn left onto Road T into Crestone. At second stop sign, turn right onto Galena, following dirt road to the trailhead parking lot.

While there: How about summiting 14,170-foot Kit Carson Peak? From the Willow Lake basin - where camping is allowed - the mountaintop is a challenging 2 miles away.


Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls - Terry Foote - OutThere Colorado
Bridal Veil Falls, Telluride, Colorado. Photo Credit: Terry Foote. 

Near: Telluride

Southwest Colorado boasts an impressive sight-seeing portfolio, with one highlight being the state's tallest waterfall at 365 feet. A pair crash to the floor of an imposing box canyon, the roof of which can be reached on foot via a road that stretches almost 2 miles and gains 1,200 feet of elevation. A historic power plant can be viewed from the top, as can the classic San Juan Mountains sprawling far and wide. More information:

While there: Consider paying a visit to Blue Lake, nestled at 12,200 feet in the scenic wilderness beyond the top of the falls. You'll want to commit a day. It'll be a 10-mile round trip to the lake if you hike the road from where you parked at the Pandora Mill site.


Jeff Poundstone of Denver explores Zapata Falls Saturday, Aug. 30, 2015, near Great Sand Dunes National Park outside of Alamosa, Colo. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock) 

Zapata Falls

Near: Alamosa

Wonder fills the desertous San Luis Valley, where this 30-foot waterfall can be heard from a distance, roaring in its hidden, cavernous place. The sound entices explorers who must wade through a cold creek and maneuver on slippery rocks or logs. The kids will appreciate the short journey that offers a cool-down from the area's thick heat. More information:

While there: The choice is easy. Just to the north is the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.


The 283-foot Fish Creek Falls, about three miles north of Steamboat Springs, inspired the label on the 1937 Coors beer can. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock) 

Fish Creek Falls

Near: Steamboat Springs

Another of the state's behemoth flows is easy to reach at the end of a paved road that meets a parking lot with a $5 vehicle fee. A viewing platform is at the end of a short stroll along a path that is wheelchair accessible. The tourist-friendly infrastructure is understandable: The 284-foot gush between forested rock walls has drawn the masses. For a more wild experience from the parking lot, opt for the moderate, 5-mile-long trail leading to Long Lake. More information:

While there: Explore Emerald Mountain, which Steamboat Springs hails as its "shining gem of outdoor recreation." Hiking and mountain biking possibilities abound across 4,000 acres.


Oh Be Joyful Falls

A kayaker takes the plunge over a 20-foot waterfall while competing in the Oh Be Joyful Kayak Race Sunday, June 27, 2010, on Oh Be Joyful Creek in the Slate River drainage near Crested Butte, Colo. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock) 

Near: Crested Butte

They'll be less dramatic than the others on this list. But perhaps you'll appreciate these waterfalls for their more primitive location and the way they enhance a 10-mile day in the woods. They whoosh along the creek that parallels the Oh Be Joyful trail outside the town known as Colorado's wildflower capital. Among daring kayakers, the falls go by names such as Ankle Breaker, Heart Attack and Avalanche Falls and are said to be as high as 25 feet.

Getting there: From Crested Butte, head north on Gothic Road, taking a left onto Slate River Road. Turn off for the Oh Be Joyful Campground, where the trail begins. To get to the trailhead, you'll have to cross drainage, which can be done in high-clearance vehicles at low flows.

While there: Head over to the Hartman Rocks Recreation Area near Gunnison, about a 45-minute drive. It's a rocky playground especially beloved by mountain bikers with 40 miles of singletrack to try.


Rifle Falls State Park

Cascading triple waterfall Rifle Falls Colorado (iStock Photo) 

Near: Rifle

A three-pronged waterfall sprays 70 feet down moss-choked limestone, creating a sublime scene that is a photographer's dream. The show attracts people from afar to this state park on the Western Slope. Trails span the lush surroundings, meandering to the top of the falls and to mysterious caves below. More information:

While there: Venture into the Flat Tops Wilderness Area, storing the rugged natural beauty that inspired the federal protection of lands as defined by the Wilderness Act of 1964. Trappers Lake is a particular treat. High-clearance vehicle recommended.


North Clear Creek Falls between Creede and Lake City. Photo by Nathan Van Dyne, The Gazette 

North Clear Creek Falls

Near: Lake City

The breathtaking view would be worth some effort, but none is required. Arrive to a high lookout place by simply pulling off the Silver Thread Scenic Byway and behold the great white rush launching over a canyon ledge. In sight is the rolling green landscape from which the water spans before the tumble into a rocky basin. Your imagination will be held throughout your picnic.

Getting there: Take Interstate 25 south to catch U.S. 160. Follow west to Colorado 149, which becomes the scenic byway. Go north to Forest Road 510. Follow signs to the overlook.

While there: Cruise the Alpine Loop - so long as you're in a four-wheel drive. The dirt road totaling 63 miles through the glory of the San Juan Mountains must be taken advantage of this time of year, during its short seasonal opening.


CORRECTION Travel-Trip-Rocky Mountains
This July 19, 2014 photo shows Alberta Falls in the Bear Lake Corridor Trails area in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. The corridor offers good day hikes in the eastern side of the park, using the town of Estes Park as a gateway. (AP Photo/Lindsey Tanner) 

Rocky Mountain National Park

Near: Estes Park

Multiple cascades can be chased in the park's vastness. We recommend three that an early riser and average hiker can cover in a day. The first is Alberta Falls, a 30-footer less than a mile from the Glacier Gorge trailhead. The second is Timberline Falls, about 3 miles ahead. It plummets 100 feet in a place offering spectacular views of the valley and the alpine lake called The Loch. And the third is Chasm Falls, the silvery splash down rocks on the side of Old Fall River Road. The scenic one-way stretches to the tundra, connecting with Trail Ridge Road looping back down to Estes Park. More information:

While there: Enjoy another day-long excursion that will bag you two 13,000-foot peaks in an 8-mile round trip. Close to the 7-mile marker of Old Fall River Road is the Chapin Creek trailhead, leading to 12,454-foot Mount Chapin and linking to 13,069-foot Mount Chiquita and 13,514-foot Ypsilon Mountain.


Contact Seth Boster: 636-0332

Twitter: @SethBoster­­

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