Colorado / Hiking/Backcountry

Colorado’s scenic waterfall hikes

August 28, 2014
Sometimes the best satisfaction at the end of a tough hike, besides that “ah, I’ve made it!” moment, is being greeted with amazing views. And nothing quite adds to the views of stunning mountain valleys and peaks like a tall, cascading waterfall. Colorado is filled with beautiful mountain waterfalls that are not to be missed. From one of the state’s most visited waterfalls, Hanging Lake in Glenwood Springs, to the tallest free falling falls in Colorado, Bridal Veil Falls, here is a sampling of some local favorites that are well worth the trek. For more information, visit

Alberta Falls (Estes Park). The 1.7-mile (roundtrip) Alberta Falls hike, named for Alberta Sprague, wife of Abner Sprague who was one of the original settlers in the area, is an easy but beautiful hike for the summer and fall. The aspen groves on this hike make it a great one for viewing fall foliage. The trailhead can be accessed at Glacier Gorge Trailhead off of Bear Lake Road near Estes Park. For a longer hike, after taking in the sights of the falls, continue on to either Mills Lake or The Loch. Both of these lakes make for a hike over five miles roundtrip, but offer stunning mountain lake views at the top.

Bridal Veil Falls (Telluride). At 365 feet in length, Bridal Veil Falls are the tallest free falling falls in Colorado. To add to the scenery, the Smuggler-Union Hydroelectric Power Plants sits on top of the falls. The power plant was originally built in 1907 to power the Smuggler-Union Mine. To access the hike from Telluride, head to the east side of box canyon, and park at Valley View Area Parking. From there, the easy to moderate hike is 1.8 miles each way. Take in the stunning views next to the privately owned power plant then, continue on to Bridal Veil Basin, see the gate just before the power plant to find the trailhead.

Continental Falls/Mohawk Lake (Breckenridge). Just 2.4 miles south of Breckenridge is the Spruce Creek Tail, which leads to Upper Mohawk Lake. This 2.8-mile (roundtrip) moderate hike passes through steep switchbacks beside Continental Falls, the largest waterfall in the Breckenridge area, and cascades down three chasms on a rocky face. A good place to rest is by Mayflower Lakes, which include a set of charming old cabins and ruins from the mine that was once in the area and a distant view of the falls.

Fish Creek Falls (Steamboat Springs). Considered to be one of the best hikes in Steamboat Springs, Fish Creek Falls is a great hike for any season. Open year round, this hike to the 280-foot falls offers dramatic views in the summer and great ice climbing in the winter. The lower falls are just a fourth mile from the trailhead, but don’t stop there as upper Fish Creek Falls and Long Lake are still to come. Keep in mind that the hike to upper Fish Creek Falls is a bit more strenuous, but well worth it.

Four Mile Lake Loop (Pagosa Springs). Located in the Weminuche Wilderness, the moderate Four Mile Lake Loop hike offers 13.2 miles (roundtrip) worth of stunning views. The hike can be finished in one day, but is also good for a two day backpacking trip. Wildflowers, wildlife, lakes and waterfalls will all been seen on this hike while climbing 2,680 feet in elevation. The hike starts at around 9,000 feet so make sure to adjust to the altitude prior to this hike.

Hanging Lake (Glenwood Springs). Known as one of Colorado’s most famous hikes, Hanging Lake gains its beauty from the flourishing hanging garden plant community and crystal clear waters. The lake can be reached in one short, steep mile. Although the hike is steep, the view at the top will not disappoint. Located 10 miles east of Glenwood Springs, the hike includes dramatic views of Glenwood Canyon, smaller waterfalls and lush greenery. Once to the top, don’t forget to hike just a bit further to see Spouting Rock, a waterfall that pours through a natural hole in the cliff.

Helen Hunt Falls (Colorado Springs). From Colorado Springs, head to North Cheyenne Cañon Park to the Helen Hunt Visitor’s Center for a short walk to view Helen Hunt Falls. For those who want to hike, start at Helen Hunt Falls and hike up a fourth of a mile to see Silver Cascade Falls, which are best when seen during parts of the year when water is flowing strong. For the more adventurous, the trailhead to the 1.7-mile hike to St. Mary’s Falls is just above Helen Hunt Falls.

Oh-Be-Joyful (Crested Butte). Crested Butte has no shortage of beautiful waterfall hikes, and Oh-Be-Joyful is one of the best. Only five miles north of Crested Butte, the Oh-Be-Joyful Falls can be seen on this 5.8-mile hike along with several other cascading waterfalls, lush greenery and an excellent wildflower display throughout the trek. The easy to moderate trail passes through the scenic glacial valley next to the Ruby Range. Don’t forget to check out the small trail that veers off the main trail to the front of the waterfall before continuing on the hike up.

Vallecito Creek Trail (Durango). From Durango, take U.S. Highway 160 and head east for 18 miles to start the Vallecito Creek Trail hike. Follow the Vallecito Creek up to find many pools, which are great for fishing, and waterfalls. This hike is both a great day hike (three miles one way) or can be turned into a four to five-day (19.5 miles one way) backpacking trip. July and August are great times for this hike as the wildflowers in the alpine meadow are fully bloomed. This is also a great snowshoeing trail during the winter.

Zapata Falls (Alamosa). Zapata Falls was formed when South Zapata Creek wore a groove into the rugged rocks of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range. Today, this 30-foot waterfall has become one of the most popular hiking spots in the San Luis Valley. The hike begins at the Zapata Falls Campground entrance. The campground sits at an elevation of 9,000 feet and boasts a stunning panoramic view of the valley below. Guests can walk into the cavern to get an up close look at the falls, but are encouraged to do so with caution as the rocks are quite slippery. With views of the Great Sand Dunes from the parking lot and the waterfall just a short 1.5-mile walk up, this is a hike not to be missed.

For more information or a copy of the 2014 Colorado Official State Vacation Guide, visit or call 1-800-COLORADO.

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