Rocky Mountain National Park maintains that 80 percent of its visitors enter through the Estes Park side. But make no mistake: the western portal of Grand Lake gets busy in the summer, when second-home owners and families flock to the ideal vacation spot: Colorado’s biggest natural lake between Grand Avenue and the mountains.
Adams Falls is a must-see for its accessibility and beauty. The cascade is in the national park but not behind a pay kiosk, making it all the more appealing.
You’ll want to get to the parking lot early, as we did, finding ourselves alone initially on the East Inlet trail. Boulders and wildflowers spotted the path through the mixed forest of lodgepole pine and aspens. The creek, not visible quite yet, created a symphony. Not a half-mile in, a sign points right to the falls.
In a big snow year like the one that coincided with this visit, Adams’ whitewater is big and rowdy. We watched it roil over rock steps, so loud that we couldn’t hear the person next to us. From the overlook, Grand Lake is seen in the opposite direction, the Never Summer Mountains rising beyond. It’s worth the short scramble down to a grassy platform to watch the waterfall continue through the gorge.
And it’s worth taking the short loop back, following the still stream and proceeding right on the East Inlet trail. East Meadow is as great a destination as the falls, the verdant openness with water reflecting sky and trees, overlooked by the massive Mount Craig. You might even spot a moose here.
Trip log: 2.8 miles (out to meadow and back), 128 feet total elevation gain, 8,591 feet max
Getting there: From Grand Lake, go east on Grand Avenue until it ends, meeting Portal Road slightly to the left. Follow Portal Road to the East Inlet trailhead.
FYI: Hiking only. No pets.
SETH BOSTER, THE GAZETTE