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Family travel: 10 of Colorado’s most scenic waterfall hikes

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.  

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

Bridal Veil Falls

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

Hanging Lake

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

Zapata Falls

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, visit http://www.colorado.com/articles/colorado-waterfalls.
-Carly Holbrook

Family-friendly Colorado: Top places to take the kids around the state

When I moved to the Colorado Rockies from New York City 19 years ago, I couldn’t get enough of the new-to-me outdoor lifestyle here. I bought a bunch of secondhand Patagonia clothing, rode my first mountain bike and visited my first national park.

Six years later, when I became a mom, I had no intention of ending outdoor explorations of my adopted state. Sure enough, my daughter camped for the first time when she was 2 months old, in a tent in the woods near Leadville. My sturdy son climbed the log ladders to reach Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde National Park when he was just a toddler.

I want my kids to grow up appreciating all of the treasures in their backyard — from our high-mountain peaks to our powerful whitewater rivers to our cowboy heritage. Not one to eschew man-made thrills, I love that they like riding the roller coasters at our state’s amusement parks even more than I do.

Here are just a few family-friendly Colorado experiences I’ve enjoyed with my children — now 11 and 13 — over the years. With less than two months of summer left before the school year begins, I’m hoping that this list will inspire you to get out and explore with your kiddos somewhere in our great state in the coming weeks.

Why “Up” Should Be On Every Colorado Mom’s Must-read List

You need to read the new book, Up–A Mother and Daughter’s Peakbagging Adventure by Patricia Ellis Herr if you:

  • Love the outdoors
  • Have a girl you want to empower
  • Have a boy you want to empower
  • Basically, this should cover pretty much every Colorado mom.

    Though I enjoy reading, I don’t have a lot of time to do it but my interest was immediately piqued when I heard about Up because I am passionate about instilling a love of the outdoors in my children. Author Trish Herr felt the same way. Her 5-year-old daughter Alex’s over-the-top energy levels led Trish to propose they try to tackle forty-eight of New Hampshire’s highest mountains. Trish had no expectations or time limit but it very soon became apparent Alex was capable of big things.

    Win a Membership to Colorado’s Premier Hiking Group for Moms and kids ages newborn to 11!

    **CONTEST CLOSED. CONGRATULATIONS TO MERRY REASONS GARZA!**

    After childbirth, new mothers deal with their catapult into parenthood in many different ways. Some ease into it without a problem (a recent study showed there were three women worldwide who fit this profile). For the rest of us, our coping mechanisms may include denial, bewilderment, tears or Prozac.

    For me, it was Colorado Mountain Mamas.

    When my colicky firstborn was six weeks old, I discovered this hiking group for moms. Before long, I was hitting the trail with everyone from the gal who had never hiked before to the triathlete. I formed lasting friendships, got into shape and shared my great love of the outdoors with my daughter.

    Colorado Mountain Mamas was founded by Joy Opp (and her daughter Amanda) in the spring of 2003 when Amanda was about 4 months old. Joy is a native of Colorado and naturally thought that hiking with her new baby would be easy but it wasn’t – it was lonely and intimidating! So Joy quickly gathered as many moms as she could for some hikes and the idea was formulated. Nine years later, CMM has had over 2,400 members trekking the trails with their seven hike leaders.

    CMM offers hikes for moms with babies newborn to 2 years in a pack (with three different levels of difficulty), hikes for toddlers ages 2 to 6 and recently introduced hikes for school-aged kids (ages 7-11) that start in June. They also have stroller walks or runs, and casual bike rides with the baby trailer. So, grab your baby or toddler, hiking sticks and trekking poles, and you’re good to go!

    Contest

    We are thrilled to offer one lucky mama and her kids a one-year membership to Colorado Mountain Mamas. Simply go here to enter. Contest deadline is June 16, 2012.

    Denver’s Best Hikes for Kids!

    Updated March 2021.

    Hiking with your little ones is a great way to spend the day close to home while enjoying the special outdoor spaces unique to the Front Range. Here are the favorite hikes of the Colorado Mountain Mamas, a hiking club for moms with babies newborn to 5 years. Do you want to trail 

    Best for Moms with new babies:

    South Valley Park, Coyote Song Trail

    Although it’s close to the metro area, this area is quiet and wildlife abounds. This hike is about 2 miles and is mostly flat – great for first-time hikers and anyone interested in a gentle hike.

    Mount Falcon, Castle Trail to Meadow Trail

    This is a high-elevation, 2-mile hike and the views are spectacular! The terrain is pretty flat and should not be too strenuous.

    Red Rocks Amphitheatre Loop

    This terrific hike is perfect for moms getting acquainted with the techniques of hiking with baby or anyone interested in checking out the rock formations around Red Rocks. It’s about 1.2 miles with fairly gradual inclines – steeper at the end with a stair climb back to the parking area.

    Best for Moms who are in shape and carrying the baby:

    Theatre-Hikes Colorado: Into the woods with Hansel and Gretel

    Once upon a time, a mother and her children set out for an adventure. They got into their magic carriage and headed to the enchanted land of Chautauqua in the kingdom of Boulder.

    The trio met a passel of other families with kids ages 2 to 12. It was the custom to wear hats with brims and to squirt onto themselves a special potion that would protect their skin from burns, as well as to carry their water in curiously transparent waterskins.

    Some nice thespians at a picnic area offered them blankets to carry with them on the rest of their journey. The group set out on its quest for nature, beauty, entertainment and mild exertion in the Chautauquan wilderness.

    Before long, a PLAY broke out, one with actors and a minstrel!

    Hikers young and old were captivated by the tale of Hansel and Gretel. They laid down their blankets and watched the story unfold. The woodcutter’s family was so hungry! The wife was beside herself for sending her children into the woods to pick berries! The father came home with horrible tales from the village of a witch that inhabited the woods — alas!

    The group picked up their blankets and walked the trails to help the woodcutter and his wife find their children. Lo and behold, the adventurers encountered this.

    And this.

    But no matter the beauty around the hikers, there remained two children to save — from a horrible witch!

    Fortunately,  Hansel and Gretel were clever enough to ask for help from their audience, and soon the woodcutter’s family was reunited.

    Two hours after they began, the mother and her children finished the 2 mile loop and found a nearby inn that provided nourishment for the hungry adventurers.

    And they all lived happily ever after. At least until the next chore time.

    ~~~~~

    Want to get your Theatre-Hike on? There are three more chances to see Hansel and Gretel at Chautauqua:

    • Sat., Jun 25, 2 p.m.
    • Sat., Jul 2, 11 a.m.
    • Sun., Jul 3, 11 a.m.

    Tickets are $19/adults, $15 children 10 and under, plus a service charge. Discounts are available for Chautauqua and Colorado Mountain Club members. See Chautauqua.com for tickets and information on this and other family events.

    See also CO.Theatre-Hikes.org for Hansel and Gretel in Greeley and Sedalia, as well as information on the autumn play-hike in October, Frankenstein. The author’s children have already told her that they are most definitely going to attend.

    Crested Butte Family Travel Report: Musical Mayhem in the Mountains

    We all have our happy places and Crested Butte is mine. With this week’s staggering triple-digit-temperatures, Crested Butte’s crisp mountain air has never sounded so good.

    A world-class music festival and a bounteous recreational playground don’t sound too bad, either.

    A few highlights of my family’s recent trip to this gorgeous mountain hamlet included:

    Crested Butte Music Festival

    My kids are not musical aficionados but the CMMF’s Divine Family Young People’s Concerts may just make a convert out of them. Designed for kids ages 4-12, these free concerts are held every Saturday at 11 a.m. during the festival. My kids raced around the lawn at the base of Mt. Crested Butte dancing and singing to the Barefoot Bluegrass Band’s foot-stomping tunes. But it didn’t stop there. The new Trailhead Children’s Museum (a definite must-visit) also offered free face painting, art projects, bubbles and more.

    The Crested Butte Music Festival’s impressive line-up of world-class musicians will be performing in paradise until August 5, 2010.

    Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory

    I am in love with one of the nation’s most renowned high-altitude field stations in Gothic, just 4 miles from Crested Butte. My kids spent a morning in RMBL’s sold-out

    How the blind led the blonde on the Braille Trail (and a guide to Denver’s Mountain Parks)

    Snow in May?!!

    Let’s face it: very few people welcomed our winter blast last week with the exception of a few hearty souls like me. I am admittedly dysfunctional in that when it snows, all I want to do is ski, hike or run in it.

    Either that or I’m just Canadian.

    After I bundled up my kids and sent them to school, I headed to the hills on Wednesday. Destination: The Braille Trail. Located in Genesse, this hike is a small cut of paradise in Denver’s largest mountain park. My kids and I have hiked most of the trails along Denver’s front range with the exception of this one. I figured the 1-mile loop through a wooded grove would be perfect for a snowy day.

    The Braille Trail’s access is off the Chief Hosa Exit 153 on I-70. My directions then told me to turn right on Stapleton Drive and follow it 1 mile until I found the trailhead for the Braille Trail and Beaver Brook.

    I exited, I followed and I found nothing. The road dead-ended at a gate so I looped back around on the slick road and retraced my route several times. Still nothing. After several minutes, I concluded the trailhead just wasn’t there because I’m pretty darn good at reading signs.

    Map interpretation? An entirely different matter.

    Not to be dissuaded