September 29  |  Our Communities

Colorado’s 8 Best Waterfall Hikes to Try This Fall

NOTE: This post was updated October 2020 with the latest information. Before you go out, check the air quality from the Cameron Peak Fire and ensure you are practicing social distancing and following all CDC guidelines while on the trail.

This year, we’re putting the fall in waterfall with eight of our state’s most beautiful hikes — complete with autumn colors and raging waters.

Because many of the summer hikers will be back in school (or even picking pumpkins!), late season adventurers can enjoy more private treks and less crowded trails. And with a stunning waterfall as a reward, you have even more reason to hit the trail!

Our guide has details, directions and what to expect, so your outing — whether you bring yourself, your family or your pup — can be a success. Enjoy!


Ouzel Falls | Rocky Mountain National Park

Roundtrip 5.4 miles | No dogs allowed | Get directions

If you’ve taken the opportunity to explore Rocky Mountain National Park, you won’t be surprised to hear about the plentiful waterfall hikes inside. You could run into a watery cascade on pretty much any trail you walk. One of the most beautiful and satisfying, the trek to Ouzel Falls is a must.

To get there, enter through the Wild Basin Entrance on the southeastern side and head to the Wild Basin Trailhead. Starting out, the trail could be busy because many families will be making the short trip to Copeland Falls. After you leave the crowds behind at this smaller attraction, you’ll continue for 1.5 miles up a moderate grade to reach Calypso Cascades. Then embark on the last leg of the adventure, up a steep grade, until you hit the roaring, 40-foot Ouzel Falls. Look for the faint trail on the left side of the creek which will take you to the base of the falls and even above them so you can look down at the cascading waters!

If you’re looking for even more after Ouzel, continue past for 2.2 miles and 600 vertical feet to reach Ouzel Lake. The views will not disappoint!


Four Lakes Loop | Rocky Mountain National Park

Roundtrip 5.6 miles | No dogs allowed | Get directions

Fall waterfall hiks Colorado

Beginning at the Bear Lake Trailhead, this loop takes you past Bear Lake, Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, Lake Haiyaha and Alberta Falls. Because of the hike’s popularity, it’s a great one to save for fall when the summer crowds have dispersed.

To start out, head off the to the right just past the trailhead and follow signs for Bear Lake Loop. Going this way, you’ll reach Bear Lake quickly; then continue past and up a steady grade to reach Nymph Lake with views of Longs Peak through the trees. At roughly 1.1 miles, you’ll reach a junction; a right turn and a brisk walk of 100 yards will bring you to Dream Lake with breathtaking views of the giants Hallett Peak and Flattop Mountain. To continue on the loop, return to the junction and head south up a steep grade until you reach the final lake, Lake Haiyaha.

Then, to finish out the loop and get back to the trailhead, retrace your steps to the junction, turn right and follow signs toward Mills Junction. Turn left here and keep going strong until you encounter Alberta Falls at mile 4.6. The 30-foot falls roar down a picturesque gorge on Glacier Creek. When you’ve taken all your snapshots, continue down to the Glacier Creek Trail junction, turn left and head back to Bear Lake.

The hike is sprinkled with several steep grades and a couple rock-strewn segments around the lakes. Be cautious and make sure you’re prepared for what can be a strenuous climb.


Forsythe Falls + Gross Reservoir | Boulder

Roundtrip 2.2 miles | Dogs allowed | Get directions

Forsythe Canyon is always a popular place to view fall colors. And because it’s just outside of Boulder, it’s easy to get to. With a gradual grade and plenty of shade, beginners, adventurers, families and even leashed dogs will have a great time on this easy trail!

With signs and a clear trail the whole way, it would be hard to lose your way on this shady stroll. Whether you’re running, walking or wandering through the wildflowers, a quick trip along the stream will bring you to Forsythe Falls, a 15-foot-high waterfall. You can turn around here for a one-mile hike or follow the trail uphill and to the left to reach Gross Reservoir.

Forsythe Falls may be small, but it’s always a pleasant sight amongst the fall leaves. Bring the kids and get the whole family outside before the snow arrives!


Bridal Veil Falls | Telluride

Roundtrip 3.1 miles | Dogs allowed | Get directions

Bridal Veil Falls Telluride Hike Fall autumn waterfall

Photo courtesy of Telluride Tourism Board

Telluride is a must-see during the fall, winter, spring and summer. And if you’re looking for the perfect waterfall hike and stunning views while you’re visiting, venture to Bridal Veil Falls at the end of the gorge. Standing at 365 feet, it is the tallest free falling cascade in Colorado and bursts from the cliff surrounded by 13,000- and 14,000-foot peaks. The charming and operational hydroelectric power station perched at the top, makes this one of the most picturesque spots in the lower 48.

Anyone with a four-wheel vehicle could drive all the way to the base and the top of the falls, but hiking is encouraged. If you park at the end of 636 Road, you’ll make a brief and steep trip to the base of the waterfall at 1.5 miles. With plenty of hairpin turns and breathtaking views of the western landscape and the town of Telluride, we suggest pausing to smell the pine needles. You’ll also find an unused mine immersed in history near the base. From there, you can continue up to the powerhouse and the top of the cliff to add on 0.6 more miles.

For more fun hikes and things to do, check out!


Judd Falls | Crested Butte

Roundtrip 1 mile | Dogs allowed | Get directions

This easy, rocky trail is famed for its Aspen groves and the stunning, tiered falls — both of which will be colorful and impressive come autumn.

To start out, most hikers will begin from the upper parking lot, but if you want to add an extra mile roundtrip, park in the lower lot and head out from there. Wherever your starting point, after you pass the upper lot, following the signs is fairly easy and you’ll begin your hike on a wide dirt road that winds through the groves. As you get closer to the falls, the trail will narrow and get a bit rockier, but it’s still fairly easy to navigate and you’ll reach the waterfall viewing spot in no time! To make your hike an adventure, head past the falls toward Copper Creek and Copper Lake for a 9.6-mile roundtrip venture. 

Both the Judd Falls hike and the Copper Lake hike are out and back trails, so simply turn around and head back the way you came to get back home or spend some time visiting Crested Butte, number eight on our list of the best mountain towns to visit during winter!


Hanging Lake | Glenwood Springs

Roundtrip 5.6 miles | No dogs allowed | Get directions

Hanging Lake hike Colorado fall autumn

One of the most talked about hikes in Colorado can be found just east of Glenwood Springs. Because it’s a quick trail and offers a one-of-a-kind stunning sight, the hike to Hanging Lake can be well-traveled in the summer. As of 2011, the lake is also designated a National Natural Landmark, but as fall settles in the crowds will thin out.

Following Dead Horse Creek, the trail to Hanging Lake will take you over several footbridges along the way and you’ll cover fairly steep, rocky terrain the whole way. Because this Colorado favorite has become so popular, you’ll find handrails to help you through the steepest portion and eventually to the viewing boardwalk. As soon as you set eyes on the turquoise waters and the cascading falls, you’ll understand the hype. If you don’t believe us, just search for Hanging Lake on Instagram.


Elk Falls | Conifer   

Roundtrip 12 miles | Dogs allowed | Get directions

Since Staunton State Park opened in 2013, visitors have been able to admire Elk Falls, cascading down 75 feet, from a distance. But recent trail construction has created 1.9 miles of new trail and one of these new routes brings you right to the base of the stunning falls!

Beginning near Elk Falls Pond, you’ll reach these waters at approximately 4.4 miles where you can watch marmots and take a breather. Then, head toward Lion’s Back Trail and start out again along Chimney Rock Trail. About 0.65 miles ahead, Elk Falls Trail appears to the left while Chimney Rock Trail continues forward. As you wind down the Elk Falls switchbacks, you’ll begin to hear the roaring waters of the falls.

Head back the way you came to get home, or head up Chimney Rock Trail to find Lion’s Back Trail and the Elk Falls Overlook where you can view the falls from a different perspective!


Zapata Falls | Alamosa

Roundtrip less than 1 mile | Dogs allowed | Get directions

Zapata Falls hike Colorado fall autumn waterfall

Along the journey of The Rio Grande through the San Luis Valley, Zapata Falls cascades 30 feet down a sheltered, rocky crevasse. However, you’ll be awed before you even reach the water, because you can see stunning views of the Great Sand Dunes from the parking lot!

Located just half a mile from this lot along a trail, you’ll have to maneuver over wet rocks to take in the full view of Zapata’s hidden falls. But it’s worth it! Formed from the South Zapata Creek through the crystalline rocks of the Sangre de Cristos, the water tumbles down during the summer and completely freezes into an ice wall during the winter.

Make the trip even more memorable with a trip to Great Sand Dunes National Park and camp overnight at the Zapata Falls Campground!


Happy Trails

If you still want more breathtaking vistas after these waterfall hikes, check out The Best Places to View Colorado’s Fall Colors. You’ll find a list of drives and trips complete with all the golds, yellows, reds and oranges for which our colorful state has become famous.

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