The first time writer Helen Hunt Jackson came to Colorado Springs, she was not impressed.
“Small, straight, new, treeless,” she said of the young city in 1878, after coming here in search of a healthier climate than 19th-century big-city life offered.
“One might die of such a place alone,” she remarked bitterly. “Death by disease would be more natural.”
But she came to love Colorado Springs, in large part because of her frequent visits to rugged Cheyenne Cañon, beyond the jagged pinnacles of rock, to where glistening waterfalls rush down like gifts from the mountains. The falls today bear her name, and have been a popular spot since the canyon became a city park 125 years ago.
“I guess (it was) the uniqueness of water in this dry climate,” said Cathy Railton, manager of the park’s Starsmore Discovery Center. “It was a cool and shady refuge for visitors, back in the day when Colorado Springs didn’t have a lot of trees.”
The old Bruin Inn at the falls is gone, as is the trolley that once took folks from the city to the mouth of the canyon, but the magic of the waterfalls that inspired Jackson remains. Most visitors make it no farther than Helen Hunt Falls or the 0.3-mile walk to Silver Cascade Falls above, but the park is actually a launching point for several waterfall excursions.
Reservoirs and high snowy peaks, including 12,367-foot Almagre Mountain, feed the many creeks that run out of this wet corner of the Colorado Springs foothills, and the sudden elevation drop is ideal for waterfalls.
These and the handful of other falls in the region are not next to parking lots. Most can’t be reached by just a short stroll. But that’s the point.
In late spring and early summer, you can hike or cycle or ride a horse to a secluded waterfall, have it to yourself a bit, and marvel at the torrent spilling down. You can stand at the bottom and feel the cool spray on your face.
It’s more than just melted snow that hasn’t yet been captured for drinking water. It’s spring rushing down the mountain, the promise of warm days, pitching a tent in the woods, laughing around a campfire, experiencing the splendor of Colorado on a mountain hike — all the things dreamt of over the course of a long stubborn winter.
Said Railton: “With all this snowmelt after April and May, this is one of the very best times to come see the waterfalls.”
Here's a look at some area waterfalls:
HELEN HUNT FALLSThe most accessible waterfall in the region, pictured below, flows past the parking lot and visitors center near the top of Cheyenne Cañon. Expect crowds on weekends. Getting there: From Cheyenne Boulevard turn right on North Cheyenne Canyon Road. Park at the falls.
SILVER CASCADE FALLS (SPOON FALLS)From Helen Hunt Falls, the crowds thin on this 0.3-mile trail to the falls above. Getting there: Cross the bridge over Helen Hunt Falls and march up the well-traveled path.
ST. MARY’S FALLSPerhaps the prettiest waterfall in the region, it is secluded, steep and 300 feet high, and those who make the grueling hike get amazing views of the city. People have died climbing on the rocks, so use caution. Getting there: From the gravel lot at the top of Cheyenne Cañon, walk along the closed section of Gold Camp Road about a mile and look for the trail to the right, past the collapsed tunnel. Continue another 1.6 miles along the creek to the base of the falls. A steep trail to the right goes to the top of the falls.
JOSEPHINE FALLSHead north from Cheyenne Cañon to the Bear Creek Trail, and Josephine Falls cascades down one of the prettiest gorges in the area. It’s less visited than other falls in the area. Getting there: From High Drive, look for the trailhead at a bend near the bottom of the hill, where Bear Creek meets the road. Hike up 1.5 miles to the falls. Or, from Cheyenne Cañon, hike the Buckhorn Trail and turn right when it drops into the Bear Creek drainage.
SEVEN FALLSIf you’ve seen the road signs, you know these waterfalls cascade 181 feet out of the next drainage south from Cheyenne Cañon. The area is privately owned, with a fee to enter ($9.25 for adults during the day and $10.75 at night). Visit sevenfalls.com for rates and hours. Two short hiking trails wind among the falls. Getting there: On Cheyenne Boulevard, go straight past the Cheyenne Cañon entrance, and look for the Seven Falls archway.
INTEMANN FALLSThis waterfall is ephemeral — does not flow all year — but it’s close enough for an after-work stroll. Hikers can make a 2.4-mile loop past the falls on the Intemann Trail. Getting there: Take 26th Street south, drive 1.4 miles past the cemetery, up two switchbacks to a stop sign at Gold Camp Road. Turn right (west) onto Gold Camp and drive 0.6 miles to the trailhead.
RAINBOW FALLSAlso known as “graffiti falls” for the trash and paint that has long scarred it, Rainbow Falls was once a popular tourist destination. The construction of U.S. Highway 24 up Ute Pass put a bridge over it, and it has long been a party spot for bored Manitou Springs teens. Better days are ahead for the falls, which were recently bought by El Paso County to be a proper park. Visit mecacolorado.org for information on upcoming clean-ups. Getting there: On Serpentine Drive in Manitou, look for a small parking area near the bend in the road and walk a short distance to the falls. This is an urban area, so be prepared for other people.
WILLIAMS CANYONSteep and dramatic Williams Canyon, west of Colorado Springs near Cave of the Winds, hides a 20-foot waterfall that drops into a small pool, making a lovely scene. Getting there: Hikers must cross Cave of the Winds property to get there, so stop in their office and sign a waiver. Then park in Manitou and walk up Cañon Avenue to the cave’s exit road. After a mile, where the road makes a hairpin turn, leave the road on a good trail and hike into the canyon.
QUEENS CANYONThe Glen Eyrie castle near Garden of the Gods is stunning, but it’s nothing compared to the pools and waterfalls that await in Queens Canyon. The Navigators, a Christian organization, owns the access point, so hikers must register and make reservations. Those who do can enjoy a playground of smooth rock pools great for a summer dip, and charming waterfalls. Getting there: On 30th Street, turn into the Navigators entrance, then immediately veer left to head into Glen Eyrie. Hiking from Glen Eyrie is free and open to the public Mondays through Thursdays, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Hikers must reserve a time and date online at www.gleneyrie.org/hiking.
CATAMOUNT FALLS(OFF HIGHWAY 24 AT GREEN MOUNTAIN FALLS)The Ute Pass hamlet of Green Mountain Falls got its name for waterfalls, and this is the largest, tumbling down steep rock cliffs overlooking the town. Getting there: Park in the center of town. Walk up Ute Pass Avenue. Turn right on Hotel Street, left on Park Avenue and right on Boulder Street. The trailhead is at the end of Boulder at Crystal Falls, a smaller waterfall.
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