Falcon Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park - Day Hikes Near Denver

June 28, 2016 Comments (0) 9+ Miles, About 90 Min, Difficult, hikes near estes park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Waterfall Hikes, Waterfalls

Falcon Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park

falcon falls rocky mountain national park header

Falcon Falls is one of two waterfalls that spill from the heights above Thunder Lake in this remote part of the Wild Basin. It’s a difficult and demanding 16 mile round-trip hike that requires some land navigation and backcountry travel skills. Explore the full Falcon Falls hike profile below for trail map, driving directions, and more tips and details to help you enjoy this adventure in Rocky Mountain National Park.


Trail Snapshot: Falcon Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park

  • Hike Distance: 15.5 – 16.5 miles Round Trip
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Duration: 8-11 hr Round Trip
  • Trail Type: Out and Back
  • Starting Elevation: 8566′
  • Elevation Gain: +2530+’
  • Seasons: Spring through Fall
  • Dogs: Dogs Prohibited in RMNP
  • Hike Trail Map for Thunder Lake: Click for a Trail Map
  • Hike Trail Map for Falcon Falls: National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map–detailed topographic map
  • Denver Drive Time: 1 hr 30 min
  • Driving Directions to Wild Basin Trailhead: Click for Google Map
  • Driving Directions to Winter Recreation Parking for Wild Basin Hikes: Click for Google Map
  • Town Nearest Hike: Allenspark, Colorado
  • Beauty: Waterfall, lake, mountain views, meadows, river, wildlife: Abert’s squirrel, elk, deer, moose, bear; wildflowers.
  • Activities: Picnicking, hiking trails, snowshoeing, horseback riding, backcountry camping (with a permit), photography
  • Fee: Park Pass Required


Parking & Trailhead Information for Falcon Falls

The southeast corner of Rocky Mountain National Park boasts one of the loveliest portions in the park known as the Wild Basin. The Wild Basin Trailhead is located just 15 minutes outside of Allenspark, Colorado along Highway 115. There is a ranger station at at the Wild Basin Trailhead with toilets and drinking water available.

In the winter (October-May), Hwy 115 may not be plowed to the trailhead, and hikers will need to park their vehicles at a winter parking lot for Wild Basin hikes. Be aware that hikes from the winter parking lot add on another 3 miles of hiking (one-way). There are other small parking areas, like the Finch Lake Trailhead, that may be accessible and allow hikers to park closer to the Wild Basin Trailhead. It’s important to know that Hwy 115, though titled a “highway”, is a maintained dirt road, which means that it can be used by 2WD vehicles. However, after heavy rains and other severe weather, its quality may degrade until it is repaired. 4WD may be needed when snow is on the ground.



The Hike: Falcon Falls Trail in RMNP

The hike up to view Falcon Falls leads hikers past three sets of cascade waterfalls, around the shore of Thunder Lake, and up some rugged and steep terrain to Fan Falls, where Falcon Falls can be viewed in the near distance, just to the northwest. The hike from Fan Falls to Falcon can be navigated, but it’s difficult and should only be attempted by hikers who have experience with land navigation in the backcountry.

Beginning at the Wild Basin Trailhead, the trail passes by Copeland Falls, a set of two cascade waterfalls just 0.4 mile into the hike. For details on accessing both the lower and upper leaps of Copeland Falls, be sure to explore our full trail profile for Copeland Falls.

copeland falls rocky mountain national park header

Copeland Falls – Photo Courtesy of Ben Graham

The trail then follows North Saint Vrain Creek, until it meets with a trail junction. The trail to the right leads past a series of backcountry campsites, and is a slightly more direct route to Thunder Lake and Fan Falls. However, the left-hand trail is not much longer and takes hikers past two more waterfalls, Calypso Cascades and Ouzel Falls. The rest of this trail profile will explain this route.

Having taken the left-hand trail, it will soon cross a hefty log bridge spanning North St. Vrain Creek. Stop here to enjoy an unnamed set of cascades. Soon the trail will meet with a second trail junction at Calypso Cascades. The right-hand trail leads hikers to the cascades, over another bridge that crosses Cony Creek at 1.8 miles, then weaves up a set of switchbacks to Ouzel Falls at 2.7 miles.

calypso cascades rocky mountain national park from below

Calypso Cascades – Photo Courtesy of Jeff Kramer

After Ouzel Falls, the trail comes to a junction with the Bluebird Lake trail at 3.7 miles. However, the way to Fan falls passes by this junction and keeps going straight/northwest. In approximately 1.5 mile from the Bluebird Trail junction @ 5.2 miles into the hike, the trail makes a final split. The right leads up to the Lion Lakes and to Thunder Falls. The trail to the left leads up to Thunder Lake, and off-trail access to Fan Falls, and Falcon Falls.

At Thunder Lake, the way to Fan Falls requires some listening and attention to the landscape. Hikers should be familiar with backcountry travel and land navigation because this remaining segment requires hiking on unmarked and lesser traveled social trails. Hiking along the right/north side of the lake, a social trail leads back into the forest. When the trees open up into a clearing, the sounds of Fan Falls become apparent. Following the sound of the waterfall and the creek, hikers can pick their way through rock, brush, and deadfall until reaching the base of Fan Falls.

Here at Fan Falls, Falcon Falls can be seen approximately 1/4 of a mile to the the northwest. Falcon Falls is formed by a creek that spills out of Falcon Lake, a small alpine lake located about 600′ above Thunder Lake. The hike over to Falcon Falls requires first descending to where the landscape is not so steep and rocky, as a lateral hike would require travel through steep and difficult terrain. After descending to less steep terrain, look for the social trail that leads over to the creek flowing out of Falcon Lake. Hiking along and up the creek that flows out of Falcon Lake, through rock and thick brush, hikers will emerge at the base of Falcon Falls. This makes for an 8 to 8.25 mile one-way hike from the Wild Basin Trailhead.

explore more colorado waterfalls

Tips & Resources for Hiking to Falcon Falls in RMNP

  • TIP: A patrol cabin is located on the northeast shore of Thunder Lake. Though kept locked, the eaves can offer some limited shelter from afternoon rainstorms.
  • Camping: The Thunder Lake campsite and others along this route can be reserved through the Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness Offices. Because this is an extensive hike in rugged country, it may be wise to make this expedition a part of a multi-day trip.
  • TIP: There are food storage lockers available at the Wild Basin, Finch Lake, and Sandbeach Lake Trailheads. These are required for visitors staying overnight.
  • Get there early: Parking may be somewhat limited as with many hikes in RMNP area and can get full even early in the morning.
  • You’re in Bear Country: Black Bears live in the Wild Basin area and are active on the months of April through November. Be aware, and dispose of your food responsibly.
  • Recommended Map for Rocky Mountain National Park & Falcon Falls: The trail maps provided by Rocky Mountain National Park are usually sufficient. However, for the hike up to Fan Falls, we highly recommend purchasing a National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map.
  • Packing List: Always pack the 10 Essentials. Download our Hiking Guide to get list and dayhiking packing checklist.
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • Photo: We would like to express our gratitude to Sam Cox for sharing such an amazing photograph of this hike to Falcon Falls in RMNP.
  • After the Hike: Rock Creek Tavern & Pizzeria


Weather

Allenspark, CO
61°
partly cloudy
39% humidity
wind: 18mph SSW
H 63 • L 39
48°
Sat
52°
Sun
59°
Mon

Map & Driving Directions


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