Colorado’s Best Cascades

Do go chasin’ waterfalls. A summer hike to these beautiful spots is sure to give you a big dose of nature’s best TLC.

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olorado is boasting a near-record snowpack in 2019. That means the state’s creeks, rivers and waterfalls will be raging with even more force than usual this summer. Get a front row seat to the big spill show by getting out and hiking to a few of our favorite cascades.

Bear Creek Falls – Telluride

Start/End: Right in town at the Bear Creek Trailhead on the end of Telluride’s South Pine Street (8,780 feet).

The Hike: Enjoy an easy but steady 1,000-vertical-foot climb through a serene canyon surrounded by rugged rock walls to reach this mighty cataract. A favorite among locals and visitors alike, this forested, flower-filled 5.4-mile out-and-back is the perfect start to any summer day. Keep your eyes peeled for breaks in the trees and outstanding views of the rocky pinnacles on the canyon’s eastern wall. Flanked by 13,000-foot peaks that tower dramatically on either side of this narrow canyon, the 100-foot Bear Creek Falls, full of power and splash, cascades down the mountain at the top of the trail. Take care exploring the slippery terrain near the falls. As you retrace your steps back down the canyon, take in the spectacular vistas of the San Juans rising to the north of Telluride. This is a great jaunt for youngsters or as an acclimatization hike if you have just arrived to the mountains.

Ouzel Falls Trail – Rocky Mountain National Park

Start/End: Wild Basin Trailhead (8,520 feet)

The Hike: This 5.4-mile out-and-back hike through the park’s lush Wild Basin follows a brook to visit three waterfalls of varying power and size. Well-worn (and crowded on weekends), the moderate trail, which is steep, rocky and rough in spots, rewards adventurers with an immersion into the wilds of Colorado’s crown jewel. Pause along the way to appreciate the precipitous rock ledges overhead and the pretty granite boulders lining the creek, as well as the varied, dazzling wildflower displays that light up this serene forest. As you climb, the lush, boulder-lined pathway steepens. Calypso Cascades announces its existence with a thundering roar before you arrive at three small bridges that carry you across. The increasingly rocky trail climbs even more steeply from here on out, and breaks in the trees, largely due to the Ouzel Fire of 1978, offer remarkable summit vistas. After hopping rocks to cross a few small trickles, the grade steepens and you enter a more shaded canopy of pines to reach the mighty Ouzel Falls. Enjoy a well-earned rest before heading back down the trail.

Oh Be Joyful Trail – Crested Butte

Start/End: Oh Be Joyful Campground 

The Hike: Keep your sandals handy from the start—soon after leaving the car, you’ll wade the Slate River to follow an old mining road that rises above the tumbling waters of Oh Be Joyful Creek. Though it climbs steeply at first, frequent overlooks offer respite and opportunities for jaw-dropping glimpses of gnarly rapids and small falls along the way. Less than a mile in, the trail mellows and rewards your efforts with a stellar vantage point overlooking the powerful waters of Oh Be Joyful Falls. Cross into the Raggeds Wilderness and continue west up the long valley if you want to add in dramatic mountain panoramas, hillsides blanketed with wildflowers, and the chance to spot some wildlife. You won’t run out of options on this 10-plus-mile adventure. If you’re a day hiker, continue up the valley to the base of Daisy Pass or Blue Lake and return the way you came. If you want to extend the mileage or spend the night out, head to the top of Daisy Pass and descend into Pittsburg, an option that requires a shuttle to get back to the trailhead.

Willow Lake Falls – Crestone

Start/End: Willow Creek Trailhead

The Hike: Packed with switchbacks (sometimes they seem as if they will never end), world-class views, flower-filled meadows and opportunities to see bighorn sheep, marmots and pika, this delightful 10-plus-mile journey follows a lush creek and climbs steadily up a forested valley to reach Willow Lake. The huge alpine body of water is nestled in a rocky, cliff-ringed basin that boasts plenty of serene, secluded campsites with the jagged peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains rising mightily overhead. It’s well worth the extra effort to push beyond the lake’s edge to reach the exquisite cascade that plunges into its east end. Not only is the waterfall magical, but views back down valley and across to Challenger Point, Kit Carson and Obstruction Peak improve with each step.

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