Feel the cool spray on your skin. Hear the roar. Experience the power of falling water cascading over granite, boulders and downed tree limbs. Waterfalls in Rocky Mountain National Park are spectacular, and a great hiker destination. Here are a few of our favorites.
The Park’s most popular waterfall is Alberta Falls on Glacier Creek. This gorgeous 25-foot falls is an easy mile hike on a well-maintained trail from the Glacier Gorge trailhead or the Bear Lake trail system. The trail takes the hiker through a beautiful aspen forest that opens up to sweeping views. Pioneer Abner Sprague, who for decades ran resorts in Moraine Park and Glacier Basin, named this picturesque falls for his wife. Because of the popularity of Alberta Falls, it’s best to visit the falls in early morning or late afternoon. Photographers should frame the falls with the surrounding aspen.
Copeland Falls, Calypso Cascades and Ouzel Falls
Waterfall junkies love this popular hike that takes them to three wonderful waterfalls in less than three miles. From the Wild Basin Trailhead, hike only .3 miles to modest Copeland Falls, a series of cascades that thunder over boulders. This is a great spot to meditate or bring a picnic.
The trail climbs a mile and a half through a thick forest and brings you to Calypso Cascades. Cross the bridge over Cony Creek and above you water tumbles 200 feet over boulders and downed trees. On a hot summer day the mature trees offer shade while the spray from the falls cools you down. The falls is named for the pink fairy slipper orchid that blooms near the falls in June.
The trail continues through a burned area from the 1978 Ouzel Fire. Now, almost 40 years later, healthy trees are growing out of the blackened logs and few remaining snags. In early summer the flowers are glorious. The trail climbs and soon you can hear the roar of Ouzel Falls, less than a mile from the bridge at Calypso Cascades. Water from Ouzel Creek plunges 50 feet over a granite cliff, an amazing sight, especially with heavy snowmelt. The falls is named for the water ouzel, or American Dipper, a small water bird that “dips” on its legs and dives beneath the water in search of its next meal.
The hike to Black Lake is not for the faint of heart, but if you want to see Ribbon Falls you must be up to the challenge. Out of the Glacier Gorge Trailhead, hike past Alberta Falls to Mills Lake and continue beyond, climbing through the forest until the trail opens into a meadow. Ribbon Falls spills out of Black Lake and rushes over flat slabs of rock. Take a picture of the falls with McHenrys Peak towering in the background. Wildflower enthusiasts love the meadow below the falls. Black Lake is just over the crest.
This falls is along a trail to somewhere else, but that doesn’t make it any less stunning. From the Fern Lake Trailhead, hike 1.75 miles to The Pool and then steadily climb for a mile to Fern Falls, cascading over boulders and fallen trees. There is so much water that it is hard to hear someone yelling in your ear. The falls are named for the thick ferns along Fern Creek and the Big Thompson River. Don’t stop here. Continue hiking another 1.2 miles to Fern Lake. The hike gains 1,390 feet in elevation, so carry plenty of water and a picnic to enjoy at the lake.
It’s one thing to gaze at a waterfall in wonder, it’s another to scramble up the side of one, getting drenched and slipping on wet rocks. From Glacier Gorge Trailhead hike past Alberta Falls to The Loch, a gorgeous alpine lake. Stare across the deep blue water and you can see Timberline Falls in the distance, a waterfall the size of a fingernail clipping. Hike along the side of The Loch and climb through a lush meadow to a modest boulder field at the base of the falls. Above you Timberline Falls tumbles 270 feet over boulders and broken cliffs. But the climb is worth it. Once you’ve reached the top of the falls you’ll find Lake of Glass perched on a rocky shelf. Sky Pond is less than a quarter mile beyond.
From the Endovalley picnic area hike the 1.4 miles up Fall River Road to Chasm Falls, a beautiful 25-foot waterfall next to the road. If you visit the Park after July 4 when Fall River Road is open, you can drive the winding dirt road and park next to the falls. A short but steep trek down an asphalt path to a fenced viewing area gives you a great look Chasm Falls.
These are just a few of the waterfall hikes to enjoy in the Rocky Mountain National Park this summer. Hike to a few and let us know your favorite!