Estes Park, with its proximity to Rocky Mountain National Park is an area with many beautiful waterfalls. Many of the waterfalls can be reached easily, but some require more advanced abilities and more difficult treks.
All of the following but the last one are waterfalls found within Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). This means you’ll pay admission to visit the park and dogs are not permitted on the trails. If you’re looking for a dog friendly waterfall hike near Estes Park, we recommend the longer hike listed last out to Isabelle Glacier.
Also, check these day hikes near Estes Park, rated easy, moderate and difficult, so there’s something for everybody. Many of them explore some of RMNP’s other great sights, such as its hidden alpine lakes. If you’re visiting in autumn and looking for additional hikes or drives, check out these top trails and roads for fall colors.
Here are the best waterfalls near RMNP and Estes Park, CO, in no particular order:
Alberta Falls is reached by a short, 0.8 mile hike on a gentle, easy trail in Rocky Mountain National Park. This spectacular waterfall on Glacier Creek is one of the most popular hiking spots in the park. The hike is easy and very family friendly. Most visitors should be able to complete this gentle hike.
The trail is alternately lined with aspens and pine trees, making it quite nice in fall. Once you reach your destination, you’ll be rewarded with scenic views of a 30-foot waterfall thundering down the gorge. It’s a nice place to enjoy a picnic. If this short hike isn’t enough for you, you can easily extend your trip by hiking up to The Loch or Mills Lake. Both of these hikes are a bit more strenuous than the hike to Alberta Falls.
How to get to Alberta Falls:
The easiest way to reach the falls is by taking the free shuttle bus that the park offers as the road to drive there and the parking area may be very busy. The waterfall can be reached by hiking up Bear Lake Trailhead or taking the Loch Vale Trail from the Glacier Gorge Junction Trailhead.
Horseshoe Falls is another easy-to-reach waterfall near Estes Park in RMNP. It’s located about 0.4 miles from the Alluvial Fan Trailhead along a short, family friendly trail. The waterfall flows in a horseshoe-like shape, which is how it got its name.
Signs along the trail provide information about the Lawn Lake flood of 1982, which swept massive amounts of rock down the river and created Horseshoe Falls and the Alluvial Fan. Another flood in 2013 caused significant damage to the trail, but it’s still not difficult to reach the falls. The water is shallow and you can walk through or rock hop across the water in different places which can be fun for kids, or those who are still kids at heart.
How to get to Horseshoe Falls:
The East Alluvial Fan Trailhead is located about 0.5 miles up Endovalley Road and the West Alluvial Fan Trailhead is just 0.25 miles further. If the parking areas at the trailheads fill up, which it often does, overflow parking is available. The falls are located a short, less than 10 minute walk from either trailhead.
Chasm Falls is a 25 foot tall waterfall, thought by some to be one of the most beautiful in Rocky Mountain National Park. Visiting the falls involves either hiking or driving 2.7 miles along Old Fall River Road. Old Fall River Road is a one-way road that is just open to vehicles for a short period of time each year. During this time you can drive directly up to the Chasm Falls Trailhead, but doing so will commit you to traveling the entire distance of the steep, 11 mile, one-way, gravel road that terminates at the Alpine Visitor Center on Trail Ridge Road.
The drive is very scenic but is not for the faint of heart. However you choose to reach the trailhead, Chasm Falls is just a short distance away down a paved path. Wildlife sightings are common. This can be a nice snowshoe trip in the wintertime but usually involves starting from the West Alluvial Fan parking lot and hiking in.
How to get to Chasm Falls:
Most visitors start their trip from the Endovalley Picnic Area in Rocky Mountain National Park. Drive 2.1 miles on Highway 34 from the Fall River Entrance Station. Make a right turn onto Endovalley Road and the picnic area is just under 2 miles down the road. From the picnic area, walk or drive up Old Fall River Road to the Chasm Falls Trailhead. Parking at both the trailhead and the picnic area can fill up fast.
Wild Basin Waterfalls: Copeland Falls, Calypso Cascades, Ouzel Falls
These three waterfalls are all along the same trail, making them easy to combine into one day trip. You can choose the distance and difficulty level that you are up for as you can stop and turn around whenever you’d like along this out and back trail. The waterfalls are located in the southeast corner of Rocky Mountain National Park in a lovely area known as Wild Basin.
The trailhead has a ranger station with drinking water and restrooms. Copeland Falls is located 0.3 miles from the trailhead, Calypso Cascades at the 1.8 mile mark and Ouzel Falls is reached by hiking 2.7 miles (one way). If you continue further along the trail, there are a number of mountain lakes you can visit.
Copeland Falls is the first waterfall that you will come to. It’s just a short, easy walk from the Wild Basin Trailhead. Both the upper and lower section of the falls are accessible via side trails. After viewing Copeland Falls, you can return the way you came or continue along these side trails to connect to the main Wild Basin Trail to see more waterfalls.
Calypso Cascades is a bit further along the trail, but the difficulty of the hike remains easy. If you visit early in the year, you can enjoy the blooming Calypso Orchids along the creek, which is where the falls get their name.
From there, you can continue on the Finch Lake Trail for about a mile to see Ouzel Falls. This beautiful, 40-foot waterfall cascading down the rocks makes for a beautiful sight. The hike from Calypso Cascades to Ouzel Falls is a bit more difficult than the hike to reach the other two falls, as you are ascending via a series of switchbacks.
How to get to Wild Basin Waterfalls:
The trailhead is located in the southeast corner of the park near the town of Allenspark. Take highway 7 out of Estes Park until you reach County Road 84. Turn right here and then take another right hand turn at Hwy 115 after about a half mile. During winter this road isn’t always maintained, meaning you’ll have to park at a winter parking lot and hike in. In good weather, the road is passable by regular 2WD vehicles.
Fern Falls is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s accessed by a moderate hike from the Fern Lake Trailhead. The dramatic, 60-foot waterfall is a nice destination in its own right, and is a good place to take a break if you are hiking to some of the lakes further along the trail. The hike to reach the falls is enjoyable and scenic as it traces the route of the Big Thompson River. It winds through a section of interesting large boulders and offers access to another hidden waterfall, the Windy Gulch cascades along a short spur trail.
After you’ve enjoyed the falls, you might as well hike a bit further to see Fern Lake. If you’ve got plenty of energy, the trail continues to make a long loop (more than 15 miles) and passes several beautiful lakes. Snow remains on higher sections of this trail until late Spring and early summer depending on the year, so traction devices may be helpful.
Author note: My husband and I got engaged on this trail 7.5 years ago at Lake Odessa! (second lake, above Fern Falls) :D
How to get to Fern Falls:
The trail begins at the Fern Lake Trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park. Parking is limited. If parking at the trailhead is full, you can park at the Park & Ride and take the park shuttle to the Fern Lake Bus Stop and hike to the trail (just under one mile). Do not park along Fern Lake Road as cars are frequently ticketed.
Timberline Falls is a beautiful, 100 foot waterfall that cascades into a gorgeous valley in Rocky Mountain National Park. The falls are reached by a challenging 4 mile hike (one way) through the beautiful Glacier Gorge area of Rocky Mountain National Park.
Just before the 1-mile mark, you’ll pass Alberta Falls (see above). This section of the trail is easy. From there, you’ll travel up through the gorgeous Loch Vale area. A moderately challenging series of switchbacks will take you up to The Loch, where the ground levels out for a bit.
Once you pass through the Loch, the trail up to Timberline Falls gets much more difficult as you work your way up through higher levels of the forest. Soon after this point, you’ll see the falls in the distance. A set of fairly steep stone steps climb about 200 feet in 0.15 miles to the base of the falls, so you can expect to be out of breath at this point.
There are two spectacular lakes located above the falls, Lake of Glass and Sky Pond. Reaching the lakes requires a somewhat technical climb up a very steep, often slick trail on the right side of the waterfall. Some portions of the climb may have water flowing over the rocks and you’ll have to use all four limbs to climb. It shouldn’t be attempted by those who aren’t prepared to do so, or in bad weather.
How to get to Timberline Falls:
Timberline Falls is reached by hiking from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead. The trailhead is located along Bear Lake Road, about 8 miles from the intersection with 36. This road is quite popular, so utilizing the park shuttle may be a good idea.
Ribbon Falls is created by water flowing over the edge of Black Lake into Glacier Creek. The waterfall isn’t huge but it’s unique in its beauty, and located in a fairly isolated section of the park where you aren’t likely to see many other hikers. The trail is somewhat difficult. You’ll have to take on a few sections that are barely maintained as you hike nearly 5 miles each way to reach the falls. However, the waterfall itself is beautiful, the surrounding scenery is rewarding and there’s a chance to see several other unnamed waterfalls along the route, depending on the water flow conditions.
The hike to Ribbon Falls will pass several other exciting attractions including Alberta Falls (see above), and both Mills and Jewel Lakes. The trail becomes more difficult and much less maintained after Black Lake but there are other lakes and waterfalls even higher along the trail if you have the energy and skill to continue on.
How to get to Ribbon Falls:
You can reach Ribbon Falls from either Glacier Gorge Trailhead or Bear Lake Trailhead. Bear Lake has more parking, but if both trailhead parking lots are full, you can park at the Park & Ride and take the park shuttle to the trailhead.
Isabelle Glacier Falls
This waterfall isn’t the closest to Estes Park, as it’s located about 50 minutes away in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. However, it’s a nice area and since the waterfall isn’t in the national park like the others on our list, dogs are allowed. The trail winds through the Indian Peaks Wilderness for most of its 4+ (one-way) miles, passing beautiful lakes, meadows and one of Colorado’s 14 named, glaciers, Isabelle Glacier.
If you hike the whole route, awe-inspiring views of Lake Isabelle, the Isabelle Glacier and surrounding peaks of the Niwot Range will be your reward. The trail is easy to follow and moderate in difficulty. The waterfall is located right on the main trail between Lake Isabelle and the Isabelle Glacier. The trail has snowpack from September-June, so it’s best to visit in late summer when the route is lined with an abundance of wildflowers.
How to get to Isabelle Glacier Falls:
Even though most of the 8.1 mile trail is in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, the hike begins in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area at the Long Lake Trailhead. From Long Lake, follow Pawnee Pass Trail for two miles through the forest. Once you reach Lake Isabelle, follow along the Isabelle Glacier Trail. The trail will pass the waterfall and then end just beside the glacier. If conditions are good you can go out on the glacier.
Hopefully, you’ve found a great waterfall hike to go on near Estes Park, Colorado. Remember if you visit Rocky Mountain National Park, your four-legged companion(s) won’t be able to join you on the trail. There’s always other waterfalls in Colorado to check out.
Read about some other things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park.