If you don’t have the time to drive deep into the mountains to see an amazing waterfall, how about hitting the trails closer to Denver? While many of Colorado’s best waterfalls involve trekking deep into the backcountry, there are a number of fabulous waterfalls relatively near the city.
We’ve rounded up seven of the best waterfalls closest to Denver, Golden and Boulder, with something for every ability level. They lie within an hour and half drive of the city. Some are short, simple hikes, others require patience and planning. The city of Denver itself, doesn’t offer any waterfalls, so we’ll be traveling west to into the foothills and front range mountains to explore these gems.
Here are the best waterfalls near Denver, CO, in order of proximity:
1. Bridal Veil Falls & Charlie Tayler Water Wheel – Idaho Springs
Distance from Denver: Almost 40 minutes; Hike: 10 minutes
This one’s tucked away on the south side of Interstate-70 in the town of Idaho Springs. It’s quite hidden from those bustling streets of the historic district. However, it’s only a short walk south, toward I-70 from downtown and you’ll reach a paved trail. It leads under the highway an eastern and western point (it’s a loop) and takes you past this wonderful water wheel and waterfall.
The Charlie Tayler Water Wheel was built in 1893, by a local miner by the same name. Story says he lived until 94 because he never kissed girls or took baths. He generated power with the wheel to fuel his gold mill for his claim on Ute Creek. Bridal Veil Falls thunders down into Clear Creek throughout the spring, summer and fall, before freezing in the winter.
How to get to Charlie Tayler Water Wheel:
Take I-70 west from Denver to Idaho Springs. Take exit 240 in Idaho Springs. There is a big parking area behind the historic district, sandwiched between I-70 and downtown. Park here and find the paved trail that takes you under I-70 and you can’t miss the waterfall on this short loop.
2. Maxwell Falls – Evergreen
Distance from Denver: About 50 minutes
Maxwell Falls near the town of Evergreen is a popular day trip from Denver. It’s best to come here in the late spring and early summer when the tiered waterfall has the most waterflow. The falls can be reached by either a 0.8 mile, moderate difficulty trail that leads directly to the falls.
Alternatively, you can take one of two different loop trails for a hike of up to 4 miles round trip. Maxwell Falls is very popular. So, get there early if you want to enjoy the hike in peace. Be sure to keep your dog on a leash as the county leash law applies even though this is US Forest Service land. The trail signage is not in the best repair, and several unmarked trails split off from the main trail without any signage, so it can be a bit confusing. It’s helpful to ask other hikers along the trail if you are headed in the right direction.
Maxwell Falls has suffered a bit over the years from the large number of visitors that come each day. Consider cleaning up some trash along your hike and certainly bring out anything you take in with you! Since it is located on USFS land, it is possible to camp at Maxwell Falls. However, we’d suggest camping elsewhere as the area is very heavily trafficked.
How to find Maxwell Falls:
For the shortest version of the hike, begin at the Upper Trailhead and follow the trail directly to the falls. There are two other loop options if you’d like to spend more time on the trails.
For the first option, known as the Cliff Trail Loop, start at the upper trailhead lot and follow the signs toward the Cliff Trail. Make sure to stop at the rock promontory to enjoy the views of the valley below. From there, follow the sound of falling water as you descend down to the falls. After you’ve enjoyed Maxwell Falls, follow the trail back up to the upper trailhead parking lot.
The Lower Maxwell Falls Hike departs from the lower parking area. You’ll follow the trail along Maxwell Creek for approximately two miles. At the 1.7 mile mark, you should cross to the other side of the creek. You’ll start to hear the falls soon after that. Once finished, return the same way you came.
3. Elk Falls – Conifer
Distance from Denver: About 50 minutes
Even though it is less than an hour away from Denver in Conifer, this waterfall is the most difficult one to reach on our list. However, once you’ve made the 12 mile hike, you’ll see why it’s one of the best. For a long time, visitors were only able to enjoy Elk Falls from a distance at an overlook point. However, the trail system at Staunton State Park has expanded and now provides visitors access to the falls like never before.
The waterfall cascades approximately 75 feet off the side of a cliff for an impressive view. The trail is approximately 12 miles to the foot of the falls, or about 11 miles to an overlook where you can see them from a distance. It’s moderate to difficult and gains about 1500 feet of elevation. However, with a bit of time and planning you are sure to have a memorable day on the trails.
How to get to Elk Falls:
The trail to Elk Falls begins from Elk Falls Pond. You can reach the pond by several different routes which vary in difficulty and length. Park rangers and volunteers can help advise you in the best route for your ability level and experience.
Once you are at the pond, follow signs to Lion’s Back Trail. When you reach the split, take Chimney Rock Trail which descends down to the falls via a series of switchbacks. On the way back you can travel the way you came or return via Lion’s Back Trail past the Elk Falls Overlook.
4. Castlewood Canyon Waterfall – Franktown
Drive time from Denver: About 50 Minutes
This is one of the most accessible waterfall hikes near Denver as you’ll find the waterfall just about 10 minutes down a flat and easy trail. If you want a bit more of a hike, you can take the Castlewood Canyon Falls Trail instead, which is a 1.1 mile loop. Dogs are permitted provided they stay leashed. It’s a great hike for families as kids can make the trip easily.
Castlewood Canyon doesn’t have a lot of shade so you’ll want to make sure to bring sunscreen to protect yourself on the mostly exposed trails. There are numerous other hiking routes in the park and you can easily connect several trails together to make as long of a hike as you would like. There’s nice views in every direction, beautiful wildflowers, interesting rock formations and even an old dam that you can hike to.
How to get to Castlewood Canyon State Park:
The park is located in Franktown, Colorado, about 50 minutes southeast of Denver. You’ll find it right along Highway 83 (known as S. Parker Road in town). For the quickest route to the falls, park at the Waterfall Parking Lot and take the Waterfall Spur to the Creek Bottom Trail. You’ll find the waterfall just a short bit south.
5. Boulder Falls – Boulder
Drive time from Denver: About 50 minutes; Hike: 5 minutes
If you’re looking for an easy waterfall hike close to Denver, Boulder Falls might just fit the bill. The waterfall is located just 100 yards from the trailhead and is reached by a quick and easy hike. Boulder Falls is about 70 feet tall, pouring out of the tight canyon. The falls had been closed for repairs and restoration for some time but it reopened in 2018 with a wider and more stable trail making it safer and more enjoyable to visit.
Since the hike to Boulder Falls is so short, you might want to add some more hiking to your day trip by visiting Mt. Sanitas, Forsythe Canyon or Betasso Preserve.
How to get to Boulder Falls:
To reach Boulder Falls, take Canyon Blvd. west out of town. Once outside of Boulder, Canyon Blvd. becomes Highway 119. Follow signs for Nederland. The falls are located an easy and beautiful 11 mile drive out of town. There is a small parking lot on the left side and the trailhead is across the street.
6. Eldorado Falls – Boulder
Drive Time from Denver: About 1 hour; Hike: 30 minutes
Located in the historic Walker Ranch, Eldorado Falls is the unofficial name of a cascade waterfall in the Boulder area. The hike is about 1 ¼ miles and is easy to moderate in difficulty. There are several different ways to reach the trail from various trailheads in the Walker Ranch Loop.
The shortest and most accessible is the Ethel Harrold Trailhead. The trail passes through meadows and along a creek until it intersects the Walker Ranch Loop Trail. Here, you’ll want to take the trail to the right which travels downhill toward Boulder Creek and Eldorado Falls. Ignore the sign just before the Boulder Creek Bridge that says “To Eldorado Canyon.” This trail will take you to Eldorado Canyon State Park but does not lead to Eldorado Falls.
After crossing the bridge that crosses South Boulder Creek, the trail becomes a series of uneven rock stairs which lead to the top of the falls. The hike is mostly uphill but only gains about 500 feet of elevation. It’s open year round but the trail may be difficult to find in spots when there’s snow on, so spring through fall would be the best times to visit.
How to reach Eldorado Falls:
From Boulder, drive along Flagstaff Road for about 7 miles. The scenery is great. From Flagstaff, turn left on Pika Road which you’ll take for just over a mile, then turn right on Bison Road. Both of these roads are improved dirt roads. Most vehicles should be fine to reach the trailhead for much of the year but 4×4 is recommended during winter or heavy rains. Ethel Harrold Trailhead Parking is located on the right about 0.2 miles from the turn onto Bison Road. The trailhead has a pit toilet.
7. Forsythe Canyon Trail – Nederland
Drive Time From Denver: 1 hour and 15 minutes
Many people don’t realize that there’s a small waterfall tucked in Forsythe Canyon, tucked between Boulder and Nederland. In fact, it’s one of the lesser-known waterfalls around Denver. The waterfall here isn’t overly impressive, but the hike is quite nice, largely shaded and ends at the picturesque Gross Reservoir. The best time to see the waterfall is in May and the first part of June when the runoff from snowmelt is the highest.
The trail travels through a wooded canyon, passes the waterfall and ends at a pretty blue lake. It’s one of the most shaded trails near Denver, so it’s a great option for a hot day. You’ll find the waterfall approximately 1 mile into the hike and if you go another 200 yards or so you’ll reach the clear blue water of Gross Reservoir.
Fishing is permitted in the reservoir and it’s stocked with Kokanee Salmon, which are known to hang out in this area. Swimming and wading are prohibited but dogs are allowed on leash.
Most of the trail is fairly easy and family friendly but it’s a bit hard to find the way in some sections, especially the part right above the waterfall where you want to bear left and up, not down the rock face.
How to get to the waterfall on Forsythe Canyon Trail:
Use GPS to navigate to the Forsythe Canyon Trailhead. The route that takes Magnolia Road is recommended. The trailhead is easy to miss. It is located just before FR359 on Hwy 68. The trailhead has a nice gravel parking lot enclosed with a wooden fence and a restroom.
Honorable Mention: Confluence Park – Denver
If you don’t have time to devote to one of the other hikes on our list, sitting by the nice manmade falls here in downtown might just be the next best thing for waterfall lovers. Confluence Park right in Downtown Denver has a nice little area on the waterfront where you can enjoy the S. Platte River and if your imagination is good enough, you may be able to pretend you are visiting a real waterfall. The park is nice on its own, well maintained and a nice place for picnicking and people watching.
That’s a roundup of the top waterfalls in the Denver region. Hopefully, you found one to explore on your next outdoor adventure!