Filled with numerous breathtaking landscapes, Rocky Mountain National Park, in Northern Colorado, is an exquisite attraction for adrenaline-seekers and outdoor lovers. The trails within the park offer a unique adventure through a mountainous forested landscape, aside from offering visitors the opportunity to experience some of the most beautiful waterfalls in the USA.
Although there are several spectacular falls within the park, we’ve highlighted some of the best. You can hike to every single one of these waterfalls! Here are some of our favorites, organized by skill level.
Note: Make sure to double-check COVID 19 precautions, protocols, and operating hours before you visit any of these sites.
About the Rocky Mountain National Park
The park is located in north-central Colorado, within the Rocky Mountains, which is a major mountain range in the USA and Canada. Aside from having over 350 miles of trails, the park is covered by forests and meadows between 5500 ft. and 11500 ft, high lakes, and it’s home to several types of plants, birds, and 67 species of mammals, including coyotes, beavers, and mountain lions.
With over 40 hiking trails, the park is heaven for travelers who are seeking some vacation time in the wilderness. You can wander through majestic lakes, enjoy the opportunity to see granite walls and experience some of the most amazing cascading falls in the country.
The Best Waterfall Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park
Adams Falls – Easy
The Adams Falls is located on the less-busy western portion of the park, which makes it easy to hike and sightsee at the same time. Although Adams Falls is one of the most well-known waterfalls near Denver, Colorado, it is relatively less busy than other trails, so it’s easy to make room for this hike on your itinerary.
Starting at the East Inlet by the Grand Lake and hiking approximately a third of one mile will allow you to reach the thundering falls. If you’re hiking with friends or family the Adams Falls is a great option, as it earned recognition for having a prime picnic area, which is great during the early summer. If you’re looking for a relaxing hike in the park with numerous views and a beautiful setting, definitely check out Adams Falls.
Alberta Falls – Easy
The Alberta Falls Trail features one of the most well-known waterfalls of the Park. Alberta Falls is located near the extremely popular Bear Lake Road area, and we recommend using the free park shuttle to reach the beginning of the trail during tourist season. This will avoid parking troubles.
You can start the trail at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead. After walking approximately 0.8 miles, you will reach Alberta Falls, which is a 30-foot waterfall. Along the way, make sure to take some time and enjoy the natural backdrop of the trail, which features pine forests and aspen groves. This gorgeous setting makes it a great option for a fall hike.
As this whole area offers a gorgeous view, you can find a picnic area and eat your lunch while listening to the water crash upon the rocks below. And, if you’re still not tired after this short hike, you also have the option of continuing your way up to Mills Lake or Loch Vale. Either way, you’ll get a lovely taste of what the park has to offer.
When you pass the Alberta Falls, you will cross over the Glacier Creek, and past the footbridge, you can follow a creek off-trail for about 60 feet until you arrive at the Glacier Falls, which is a 30-foot waterfall viewed from its base.
You can also consider other hikes of the Glacier Gorge Trail, as well. A good idea is to head over to the Black Lake (9.5 miles round trip), which will reward you with stunning views of McHenry’s Peak and Arrowhead.
Horsehoe Falls – Easy
The trail that leads to the Horseshoe is one of the best family hikes in Colorado. You can begin the trail at the Alluvial Fan Trailhead, near Estes Park, and the whole hike should take 1 hour (round trip). The Horseshoe Falls, which is an extensive cascade waterfall, is the best part of this quick hike, and this can even be a great spot for some resting after you have explored the other trails of the park.
Timberline Falls – Moderate
If you’re looking for more of an adventurous hike, check out the Timberline Falls trail in the Rocky Mountain National Park. Situated on a longer version of the Alberta Falls hike, this trail offers numerous views along the way to the outstandingly beautiful Loch Vale. Once you reach the Loch, you will see these falls that launch over bright, glistening black granite.
Most people find themselves at Timberline Falls during their venture to Sky Pond. However, with such spectacular views, the waterfall could be a destination all on its own. Go about 4 miles after Glacier Gorge Trailhead and you will reach the 100-feet Timberline Falls. For the more explorative visitors, this trail is well worth it as it encompasses a large amount of beauty the park has to offer
Ribbon Falls – Moderate/Hard
At roughly 10 miles roundtrip, this may be a bit more of a difficult trail to hike, but it’s certainly worth it. Ribbon Falls is the outlet of Black Lake, which is a glacial high-altitude lake that sits above Jewel Lake and Mills Lake. On your hike to the Ribbon Falls, you will come across a few small trickling waterfalls, adding lovely sightseeing gems to your hike.
At approximately 4.6 miles past Glacier Gorge Trailhead, you’ll find serene falls that are at the very top of a gorgeous wide-open meadow. Make sure to consider this medium-difficulty trail on your next trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. (Protip: If the Glacier Gorge parking lot is full, you can drive 3.3 miles to shuttle parking on Bear Lake Road, then take a free shuttle to the beginning of the trail.)
Fern Falls – Strenuous
The Fern Lake Trailhead is the perfect hike for travelers who want to enjoy scenic Lake Views, and fall aspens, and don’t mind challenging themselves. This 7.6 Miles (round trip) hike begins at the Moraine Bark and takes you through a trail that follows the Big Thompson River all the way to The Pool. The hike alternates between forest and open areas, and along the trail, you’ll be able to have a glimpse of the local vegetation, which includes lodgepole pine, ponderosa pine, cottonwoods, and willows, aside from wildflowers in the spring and summer.
When you pass the Old Forest Inn Backcountry Campsite, you’ll begin a 400 feet exhausting climb until you reach the base of Fern Falls, a jaw-dropping 60-foot waterfall. From there, you’ll continue to climb until you reach Fern Lake, which is located approximately 3.8 miles from the trailhead.
Even though this is a more challenging and longer hike, it’s totally worth it. When you arrive at the Lake, you’ll also have stunning views of the Notchtop Mountain, the Little Matterhorn, the Knobtop Mountain, and the Gable.
Granite Falls – Strenuous
It is definitely worth the adventure to see something as beautiful as the Granite Falls. Considered one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Rocky Mountain National Park, this is one you won’t want to miss. Start on the West portion of the park at Green Mountain Trailhead, you’ll hike around 5 miles through a lush conifer forest before you reach the base of the 50-foot waterfall. On the way, keep an eye out for moose and elk in the fields as you pass by the open meadows near the trail. Once you arrive at the waterfall, you must use caution when walking by as the water goes down many tiers of slippery granite. If you love nature, definitely check out what this part of the park has to offer.
Ouzel Falls – Strenuous
The Ouzel Falls can be accessed by the famous Wild Basin Trailhead, which happens to be one of the most remote trailheads in the park. The region where the hike takes place is located south of Estes Park and, even though this is a more strenuous trail, it will grant you views of waterfalls, alpine lakes, and hidden spots that most travelers do not access.
Some of the highlights of this 5.4-mile hike are the Ouzel Falls, the Copeland Falls waterfall, and the Calypso Cascades. Copeland Falls is a spectacular 40-foot waterfall, and an amazing view can be seen with just a short detour off the hiking trail. Along with Copeland Falls, the Calypso Cascades is a whitewater river formation that will amaze you with its beauty. If you’re looking for a challenging but worthwhile hike, consider the Wild Basin Trailhead.
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