The secret’s out! There are some surprisingly spectacular waterfalls hidden in the nooks and crannies of Colorado’s state and national parks, just outside our Mile High City. Most require a little extra effort and curiosity to reach, but it is well worth the final reward. Many of the hikes also afford the opportunity to explore beyond the falls to pristine lakes, wildflower-filled meadows, creeks and cascades, alpine forests, and surrounding mountain peaks. These 9 hidden waterfalls near Denver will take your breath away!
During these uncertain times, please keep safety in mind and consider adding destinations to your bucket list to visit at a later date.
1. Ouzel Falls
Ouzel Falls, which drops 40 feet down a narrow chute into Ouzel Creek, can be reached by a fairly easy yet stunning trail, which showcases the rugged beauty of the remote Wild Basin Area of Rocky Mountain National Park. This 2.7 mile trek (out and back) is really a 3-in-1 waterfall hike with access to Upper and Lower Copeland Falls and Calypso Falls along the way. If you're feeling ambitious (and you got an early start), continue on past the falls to Ouzel Lake and Bluebird Lake for a little solitude, serenity, and perhaps a picnic at almost 11,000'.
2. Alberta Falls
The short 2.5 mile hike to Alberta Falls, tucked away in the Glacier Gorge Area of Rocky Mountain National Park, makes for the perfect family outing. But why stop there? If you continue on Glacier Gorge Trail to the Loch Vail Trail, you can experience much, much more, including The Loch, Timberline Falls, Lake of Glass, and the lesser known Lake of Glass Falls, and finally Sky Pond. This difficult 8.4 mile journey is worth the effort, but stick to the shorter option if you're just looking for a brief day hike.
3. Continental Falls
The White River National Forest near Breckenridge is home to numerous mind-blowing hikes, including this one to Cascade Falls and Mohawk Lakes. The trail winds through forests and meadows before ascending along Continental Falls, which drops over 500 feet in a series of powerful cascades. Continue on to Lower and Upper Mohawk Lakes, which rest in the rocky tundra at over 12,000' and are surrounded by awe-inspiring views and mountain peaks. (And I'll let you in on a little secret...if you push onward past Upper Mohawk Lake, there are three more unnamed alpine lakes nestled between Pacific and Crystal Peaks). Now that's hidden!
4. Elk Falls
Elk Falls resides in Staunton State Park, near Pine and Conifer about an hour from Denver, and is Colorado's newest addition to its phenomenal state park system. On the trail to the falls, enjoy rolling meadows, wildlife, alpine forests, and granite cliffs. Once you reach your destination, be sure to check out Elk Falls Overlook and Staunton Rocks for incredible vistas! (This almost 4,000 acre park is also a haven for climbers, so don't forget your shoes and harness.)
5. Cascade Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park
This multi-tiered cascade near Grand Lake, drops about 50 feet through a narrow granite shoot into North Inlet Creek in the Rocky Mountain National Forest. It's a 6.8 mile roundtrip hike that allows for plenty of exploration around the falls and beyond, with the opportunity to continue on to The Big Pool, Ptarmigan Creek, Wardance Falls, and Bench Lake. This is an ideal setting for some much needed adventure and alone time.
6. Booth Falls
The Booth Lake trailhead is a bit deceiving, as it starts right off I-70 near Vail, with cars whizzing along the interstate behind you. But as you enter the edge of the Eagle Nest Wilderness, you'll find gorgeous vistas and valley views, expansive aspen meadows, and the magnificent 60-foot Booth Falls. Take it all in, then continue on the trail to Booth Lake, which fills the basin of a steep walled valley at 11,434'. (Note: The hike to the falls is about 4 miles round-trip, with 1,200 feet of elevation gain, while the lake is a total of 9 miles round-trip, with 3,200 feet of elevation gain.) That's about 20,000 steps!
7. Bridal Veil Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park
Rise early in the morning on a brisk autumn day and hit the trail to Bridal Veil Falls, and you just may share the forests and meadows with elk, deer, turkeys, foxes, and coyotes. This is a perfectly leisurely 6 mile destination hike that ends at a lovely 20 foot cascading waterfall. An ideal day hike from Denver!
8. Cascade Falls in Indian Peaks Wilderness
The 9.2 mile trail to (South) Cascade Falls begins at Monarch Lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness near Granby. Experience three waterfalls in one, with each being higher and farther than the first. Take a picnic and spread a blanket by the glacier lilies that emerge during the spring...and always keep an eye out for moose!
9. Hanging Lake and Spouting Rock Falls
The FernGully feel of this hike makes it well worth the nearly three hour drive from Denver to Glenwood Canyon. Spouting Rock Falls and Hanging Lake is one of Colorado's most breathtaking waterfall/lake combinations and is not to be missed! The trailhead begins along the Colorado River and winds through Dead Horse Creek Canyon before ending at what looks like a tropical rainforest. (But without the humidity)! You can freely explore behind and around the lake and falls but please be aware that this is a highly trafficked area, and the ecosystem is quite fragile. Stay out of the water and leave no trace!
There are tons of waterfalls hiding in the mountains and valleys just outside of Denver! Share some of your favorite hidden waterfalls near Denver in the comments.