Photo of McCullough-Gulch

Five must-see frozen waterfalls close to Denver

March 21, 2019

If you feel like you just need to get outside for a bit, these hikes are the perfect excuse to head to the mountains. We partnered with CU Denver’s outdoor adventures expert, Austin Dyer, to make a list of the best hikes near Denver that lead to breathtaking waterfalls. Whether the falls are roaring or frozen, the views are equally spectacular. What are you waiting for? Read the list and get out there!

Flowing waterfall along the Booth Creek Falls Trail. Photo credit: Toni Kamensky

Booth Creek Falls

  • Distance from downtown: 1 hour 35 minutes
  • Hike length: 3.8 miles
  • Difficulty level: Moderate to hard

Booth Creek Trail is a steep, moderately trafficked trail. You’ll enjoy sites like Vail Valley, Gore Range and a lush assortment of trees – talk about photo ops! You’ll reach the falls after roughly 2 miles, where you can take in the views from several vantage points. Caution that some of the lookouts are slick and dangerous.

Once you’ve spent enough time at the falls, take the same path you took to return to the trail head. This point of view gives you expansive views of your trek and the larger Vail Valley. Your pup can join, but must be leashed. There is minimal parking at the trail head and you may need to park at the bottom of the road.

“If I’m ever feeling lost or want to double-check my route on a trail, I use always apps like Hiking Project to make sure I’m on track.”


AUSTIN DYER, OUTDOOR ADVENTURE COORDINATOR, WELLNESS & RECREATION SERVICES

Bridal Veil Falls plummeting to below rocks. Photo credit: Outdoor Project

Bridal Veil Falls

  • Distance from downtown: 1 hour 34 minutes
  • Hike length: 6.1 miles
  • Difficulty level: Moderate

The Cow Creek Trail climbs from McGraw Ranch Road all the way to the beautiful Bridal Veil Falls. Cow Creek Trail also provides connectivity between Gem Lake Trail and Black Canyon Trail. This secluded trail offers spectacular views, with less foot traffic than Gem Lake or Black Canyon. The train runs parallel to Cow Creek, where the first part is through open fields – sightings of elk are not uncommon! Eventually, the trail heads into the woods and climbs in elevation. You’ll soon see the falls. For a two-for-one view at the falls, tackle the light scramble on the left side of the falls for an impressive view of the valley behind you. You can also opt for a horseback ride.

“This hike is easy enough for anyone chasing some waterfalls, but not committed to a long or strenuous day.”

McCullough Gulch Waterfall cascading down rocks. Photo credit: gobreck.com

McCullough Gulch Waterfall

  • Distance from downtown: 1 hour 53 minutes
  • Hike length: 2.3 miles
  • Difficulty level: Moderate
  • Features: river/creek, views, waterfall

Almost immediately after starting the trail, you’ll cross a bridge with a rushing waterfall below. While the hike has a steady ascent and climbing on bigger rocks and boulders is required, it’s worth the climb. There are consistent and beautiful mountain views throughout this hike and then a gorgeous waterfall is your reward at the end!

The trail head and trail itself can get very crowded, and parking can be challenging along the narrow road. After parking, pass the gate and continue for .3-.5 miles until you reach the well-marked trail head. Your dog can enjoy the view, too!

“Since moving to Colorado roughly a year ago, this probably takes the cake as my favorite waterfall hike here so far.”

Sign on Glacier Gorge Junction pointing to Alberta Falls. Photo credit: John and Belinda Bosley

Alberta Falls

  • Distance from downtown: 1 hour 54 minutes
  • Hike length: 1.6 miles
  • Difficulty level: Easy
  • Features: horeseback riding, snowshoeing, train running, bird watching, forest, river, wildflowers, waterfall

This family-friendly hike starts at the Glacier Gorge Junction trail head in Rocky Mountain National Park. Shortly after, the trail intersects with two others. Turn left at Bear Lake Trail and keep your eyes peeled for a rock ledge offering an overlook of Glacier Gorge. The trail parallels Glacier Creek for the remainder of the hike until you find yourself at Alberta Falls, roaring through a granite chute. The rock slabs surrounding the falls are prime picnic spots. If you’re up for it, you can take the trail further to several beautiful lakes in the park, including The Loch (aka Loch Vale), Mills Lake, Lake Haiyaha and Black Lake.

The short and easy hike is arguably one of the most scenic hikes in the park, offering beautiful falls and views of surrounding peaks. Because it’s in the national park, no dogs allowed.

“Being that it is suited for all skill levels, it’s one of the more popular hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park and can get quite busy. I always try to hit the heavily trafficked hikes really early to beat the crowds.”

Timberline Falls cascading down different routes. Photo credit: Austin Lentz

Timberline Falls

  • Distance from downtown: 1 hour 57 minutes
  • Hike length: 9.3 miles
  • Difficulty level: Hard

If seeing the Alberta Falls wasn’t enough for you, continue your trek along Glacier Gorge trail in Rocky Mountain National Park. After Alberta Falls, the trail contains a series of switchbacks and lush forest. The hike can start to feel long, but just remember to follow Glacier Gorge/Loch Vale signs until you see Timberline Falls ones. The trail follows the path of Icy Brook, which can be heard gushing and pouring over the rocks below, before opening up to more level ground at the Loch Lake. Finally, a series of stone stairs takes you to the base of the much-anticipated waterfall.

Enjoy the views, friends. You deserved it. Just like Alberta Falls, no dogs allowed.

“Technical climbers are known to visit the Loch to try the challenging routes on the Cathedral Wall. … For long hikes like this, make sure to bring plenty of water, snacks and layers! Preparation is the key to success.”