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Play it Cool

at Colorado’s Waterfalls

Hanging Lake near Glenwood Springs may be one of the most beautiful spots in the state.

Hanging Lake near Glenwood Springs may be one of the most beautiful spots in the state.

Not far from Interstate 70, about 14 miles north of Rifle, there’s a stunning sight. Rifle Falls is the gem of Rifle Gap State Park, shimmering in the sunlight, sparkling with miniature rainbows. Three distinct waterfalls shoot out of the side of the cliff, merging into a lushly lined pool below.

It’s one of those places where you just sit and contemplate the unexpected loveliness of this damp oasis in northwestern Colorado.

Your first clue that there’s something special at the end of the road is broad green fields with grazing horses – a pastoral scene worth photographing. Then you might run into a flock of wild turkeys wandering around on the road, flanked by a couple of deer grazing alongside it.

Once there, visitors also can hike up and over the falls, passing rough limestone caves on the way. It’s a tiny paradise and one of the most accessible falls in Colorado. This once-hidden gem has suddenly captured the attention of visitors – both local and out-of-state – so get there early in the day if you can. 

What a great place to cool off on a hot summer’s day!

But it’s not the only place.

In Ouray, the Box Canyon Falls are hard to see, somewhat hidden behind walls of curved rock, but they’ll drench you with a fine misty spray that takes your breath away, if you get close enough. The town now charges a small fee to hike up there, but consider it money well spent. When you turn around to come down, you can spot the long silver thread of Cascade Falls across the valley.

In Telluride, the Bridal Veil Falls plunge 365 feet into a box canyon – Colorado’s tallest free-falling waterfall. You can see it from the rough road that extends slightly beyond town. Or you can hike the area and get a closer look. See the house at the top of the falls? It was built on top of the Bridal Veil Power Plant nearly a century ago, then stood vacant for some years before being restored by a private owner.

(Actually, there are several Bridal Veil Falls in Colorado – all smaller than this one. One’s in Rocky Mountain National Park, one’s near Glenwood Springs and one’s near Colorado Springs.) 

In Steamboat Springs, be sure to visit Fish Creek Falls, easily accessible and a great spot to cool off on a warm day. You’ll take a short hike from the parking lot to the falls, where a fine spray will melt away the day’s heat. Or you can take the longer trail that winds up the mountain for a great overlook. Watch out for butterflies; they’re everywhere! Not to mention the occasional moose.

In fact, wildlife of all kinds might be attracted to water – so keep a sharp lookout and your camera ready.

One of the most strenuous hikes in Colorado could be the one straight up to Hanging Lake, near Glenwood Springs. With its spouting waterfalls dropping into a lake so clear you can see fish swimming at the bottom, the lake appears to cling to the edge of a mountainside. This almost iridescent turquoise pool is surrounded by mossy rocks and a walking trail, making it possibly the single most beautiful spot in Colorado.

There are so many others, from the privately owned Seven Falls and the small but energetic Helen Hunt Falls in Colorado Springs to the secluded Zapata Falls near the Great Sand Dunes National Park (look for the sign on the way into the park). It’s worth the hike in early summer, less so as the season dries out.

Do a little exploring on your own. And whatever you find, wherever you hike, take a moment and just cool it. 

 For more information on Colorado’s waterfalls, visit https://www.colorado.com/colorado-waterfalls.