On a hot summer day, a beach sounds like the perfect spot to hang out right? Well in Colorado, we have something better than beaches. Waterfalls. Colorado is home to some of the most beautiful landscapes in the country and the waterfalls are no exception. Some of the best falls in Colorado require only a couple hour cruise from Denver and those mentioned below can all be seen in one day. Nothing says summer in Colorado, like a good waterfall hike!
Rifle Falls State Park
Rifle Falls State Park is a waterfall lover's paradise. Although it’s a state park, Rifle Falls is a hidden gem. The three-hour drive from Denver is well worth it when you are greeted by a triple waterfall. The parking lot is very close to the falls themselves so very little hiking is required. All three waterfalls are approximately 70 feet in height and various trails allow hikers to view the falls from multiple different angles. Below the falls is a lush green sanctuary of vegetation kept moist by the misty environment the falls provide. But waterfalls aren't the only thing you can experience at Rifle Falls State Park... there's also caves. The limestone cliffs have deep caves that can be accessed by the trails around the falls. If you are planning on exploring the caves, bringing a headlamp will save you from having to use your phone flashlight. The caves go pretty far back and are definitely worth exploring. The state park also has a campground that accommodates RV's and tent campers. There are a total of 20 campsites, 13 being drive in sites and 7 being walk in sites. The tent campsites are located along the river right when you pull into the park and the RV sites are closer to the falls. Summer months at Rifle Falls are the busiest, so if the parking lot is full when you arrive there is a possibility you will be turned away. These falls have a Pacific Northwest vibe that is unlike any other waterfall location in Colorado. Definitely put checking out these falls on your summer to do list!
One of the most iconic spots in Colorado, Hanging Lake is a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Denver. Getting to the trail head can be confusing for first timers since some phone navigation systems can be thrown off. You have have to drive a couple miles past Hanging Lake and then backtrack to get actually get to the parking lot, which is simply a rest stop off the side of i70. The lake is one of the most visited tourist destinations in Colorado, but for a good reason. The turquoise blue waters of Hanging Lake are fed by two waterfalls which are fed by one singular waterfall also known as Sprouting Rock. Hanging Lake is a colorful oasis that exhibits a natural beauty and sits high above Glenwood Canyon. These are only some of the features that make this place a must-see location. The hike up to the lake is about 1.5 miles with a quick elevation gain and a rocky trail. Bring lots of water during hot summer months because you will definitely want it! On the hike up you'll cross be accompanied by the sound of the running river, smaller waterfalls, and beautiful views of the canyon. The viewing location at Hanging Lake has some benches to for hikers to sit and relax while watching the falls. The lake has a very fragile ecosystem so please respect all signage and don't walk on the log and be sure to pack out all trash.
When visiting Hanging Lake you will also want to check out Sprouting Rock which is off of the Hanging Lake trail. When you reach the top of the Hanging Lake trail you will be greeted with a junction that shows Sprouting Rock to the left and Hanging Lake to the right. Follow the trail to the left up a few hundred yards to the base of Sprouting Rock. This waterfalls shoots directly out the side of a cliff wall and produces ice cold water year round. Overtime the backsplash from Sprouting Rock has created caves behind the falls. The small river that Sprouting Rock creates is responsible for feeding Hanging Lake.
If you plan well and leave early enough, you can hit Hanging Lake and Rifle Falls all in one day and see a total of 6 waterfalls! If you are in Denver and looking for a good day trip, look no further! It isn't a day that will fully exhaust you but it's a great adventure to be had and will leave you very happy with your decision!
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