Windy Gulch Cascades in Rocky Mountain National Park

May 28, 2016 Comments (0) 1-2 Miles, Creek or Brooks, hikes near estes park, Medium, More than 90 Min, Rocky Mountain National Park, Waterfall Hikes, Waterfalls, Wildflowers

Windy Gulch Cascades in Rocky Mountain National Park

The Windy Gulch Cascades is a hidden cascade waterfall less than half a mile into Fern Lake Trail system in Rocky Mountain National Park. Though a short hike, the final 1/10th of a mile segment is off the main trail and in steep terrain. For that reason, we’ve noted this as a moderate difficulty hike. Explore the full Windy Gulch Cascades hike profile below for trail map, driving directions, and more of the details and tips to enjoy this adventure in Rocky Mountain National Park.


Trail Snapshot: Windy Gulch Cascades in Rocky Mountain National Park

  • Hike Distance: 1 miles Round Trip (from Fern Lake TH)
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Duration: Approx 45 min
  • Trail Type: Out and Back
  • Starting Elevation: 8155′
  • Elevation Gain: +400′
  • Seasons: Spring through Fall
  • Dogs: Dogs Prohibited in RMNP
  • Hike Trail Map: Click for a Map of Fern Lake Trail in RMNP
  • Recommended Trail Map: National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map
  • Denver Drive Time: 1 hr 40 min
  • Driving Directions to Fern Lake Trailhead: Click for Google Map
  • Driving Directions to Fern Lake Bus Stop Parking: Click for Google Map
  • Driving Directions to Park & Ride Trailhead: Click for Google Map
  • Town Nearest Hike: Estes Park, Colorado
  • Beauty: Sub-alpine lakes, mountain views, river, wildflowers, aspen trees, ponderosa pine, wildlife: Abert’s squirrel, elk, deer, moose, duck
  • Activities: Picnicking, hiking trails, snowshoeing
  • Fee: Park Pass Required


Parking & Trailhead Information for Windy Gulch Cascades in RMNP

Parking is more limited in this area of Rocky Mountain National Park, and you’ll likely have to park at the Park & Ride then take the shuttle to the Fern Lake Trailhead. You’ll find driving directions above to The Fern Lake Trailhead (closest to this hike), the Fern Lake Bus Stop Parking area (very limited parking), and for the Park & Ride lot. See the RMNP Shuttle page for dates and times of service. Avoid parking along Fern Lake road as this damages the roadside, and vehicles will be ticketed. If you park or are dropped off at the Fern Lake Bus Station, the hike from the station to the trailhead will add and additional .8 mile, one-way, to your hike.



The Hike: Windy Gulch Cascades in RMNP

Beginning at the Fern Lake Trailhead, the trail will lead approximately .4 mile to a point where the trail bears to the left, just after crossing a small footbridge. The falls can be heard from the trail. Here, on the right-hand side of the trail is a small, unmaintained, social trail that leads into the woods and up to Windy Gulch Cascades (see photo below).

windy-gulch-cascades-social-trail

Because this trail is unmaintained, be sure to hike on durable surfaces and stay on the discernable social trail. The trail soon gives way to a boulder field that leads up into the gulch. The way up to the cascade stays to the left side (west side) of the creek.

windy-gulch-cascades-rmnp-top-of-boulder-field

A small amount of scrambling is required, but no climbing. In fact, avoid any steep areas. Soon, the boulder field gives way to grass. From here, the lower cascades come into view (pictured at the top of this post). The upper cascades can be seen by looking further up into the gulch (which has essentially become a narrow canyon). At the top of the upper cascades, a 15′-20′ waterfall can be seen gushing over the the canyon wall (pictured below).

windy-gulch-cascades-rmnp-waterfall-upper-cascades

Travel beyond this point is not recommended as the terrain is steep, slick, and the rock is unstable.

After retracing the same route by descending the boulder field, then following the same social trail, hikers will arrive back at the main trail. The cascades can be enjoyed from a distance when hiking further up the Fern Lake trail. However, they are missed by most hikers because they are tucked away in the gulch. The photos and video of this hike were taken in the early summer whe the cascades are at their best.

explore more colorado waterfalls

Tips & Resources for Hiking to Windy Gulch Cascades in RMNP

  • TIP: It is advisable to arrive early as parking is limited. One may opt to ride a shuttle that drops you off at the trailhead.
  • Bring some food: The rocks near the Big Thompson River can be a great place for picnics.
  • Mosquitos: There were an unusually high number of mosquitos on this hike, so we would recommend wearing some mosquito repellant.
  • Recommended Map for Rocky Mountain National Park: The trail maps provided by Rocky Mountain National Park are usually sufficient. However, if you plan to hike RMNP often, we recommend purchasing a National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map. This map also notes the location of the Windy Gulch Cascades and gives an accurate depiction of the terrain.
  • Packing List: Always pack the 10 Essentials. Download our Hiking Guide to get list and dayhiking packing checklist.
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • After the Hike: Baba’s Burgers & Gyros


Weather

Estes Park, CO
37°
partly cloudy
78% humidity
wind: 22mph W
H 49 • L 36
50°
Thu
49°
Fri
49°
Sat

Map & Driving Directions


Click for Driving Directions



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