Eastern Waterfall Guide

Southford Falls Falls of the Month, February 2001

Falls of Rocky Mountain National Park, Part 4

Fern Falls This is part four of a series of pages on the waterfalls in Rocky Mountain National Park. Unlike other Falls of the Month pages, it covers several waterfalls in the same area of the park. As you may have noticed, this series falls somewhat out of the scope of this page (Colorado is definitely NOT in the eastern United States). However, since I live in Colorado now, I figured I would give you a taste of what it's like out here!

Some general information about falls in Rocky Mountain National Park :

This part of the series concentrates on other waterfalls in the park that I haven't mentioned in the first three parts of this series.

Fern Falls
Ratings : Power - StarStarStar Beauty - StarStarStarStar Ease of Access - StarStarHalf-star
Height : 60 feet, River/Stream : Fern Creek, Water Levels : moderate, Safety Considerations : none, Hike : 5.4 miles round trip, steep terrain

Adams Falls
Ratings : Power - StarStarStar Beauty - StarStarStar Ease of Access - StarStarStarStar
Height : 55 feet in two major cascades, River/Stream : East Inlet, Water Levels : moderate, Safety Considerations : steep cliffs, Hike : .6 miles round trip, easy terrain

Bridal Veil Falls
Ratings : Power - StarStarStar Beauty - StarStar StarStar Ease of Access - StarStarStar
Height : 40 feet, River/Stream : Cow Creek, Water Levels : moderate-low, Safety Considerations : none, Hike : 5.4 miles round trip, moderate terrain

These three waterfalls are widely dispersed throughout the park and, unless you are a fast hiker, cannot be visited in one day. Fern Falls is located on the Fern Lake trail which originates near Moraine Park. The other two falls are similar in that a visitor does not have to pay access fees to gain access to the trails. Adams Falls is located just east of Grand Lake on the East Inlet Trail and Bridal Veil Falls is accessed from the Cow Creek Trailhead north of Estes Park.

Fern Falls is the most difficult and most interesting hike to these three waterfall hikes. The trail for Fern Falls starts at the popular Fern Lake trailhead. Like many of the trailheads in the park, parking is limited and will be gone if you wait until 10 AM to start this hike. So, start early!

The trail leaves the parking area following the Big Thompson River which runs through Moraine Park and eventually out through the downtown area of Estes Park. The initial section of the trail isn't too steep as it passes through a green but lightly-forested area. Cliffs rise on the right side of the trail and, during spring melt or wet weather, you might be able to spot a series of cascades running down the cliff about a half mile from the trailhead. These are called Windy Gulch Cascades. One mile from the trailhead, the trail passes Arch Rocks, a large tilting rock formation standing on its end. About a half-mile after Arch Rocks, the trail goes over Big Thompson River at a bridge. This spot is called the Pool because the river deepens as it goes through a small chasm. The entire effect is quite impressive. Directly before the Pool is a substantial cascade in the narrow section of the chasm. In some states, this would be a "waterfall" but, in Rocky Mountain National Park, it's just a bump in the river.

Above the Pool, the trail splits and begins to climb underneath tree cover. The left fork goes to Cub Lake while the right fork continues on to Fern Falls and Fern Lake. The trail continues to follow the water for some time. However, there is a confluence of the Big Thompson River, Spruce Creek, and Fern Creek above the Pool so the river that the trail follows changes several times. Initially, the trail follows Fern Creek until it crosses over Fern Creek and travels between both Fern Creek on the left and Spruce Creek on the right. Fern Creek eventually goes its own way and the trail climbs alongside Spruce Creek. Throughout this climb, there are various views of impressive cascades and rapids in Spruce Creek. Eventually, the trail turns left away from Spruce Creek and climbs back to Fern Creek. Fern Falls is at the next major switchback. The trail passes very close to the falls which are very difficult to miss.

Fern Falls is a pretty waterfall more in the family of an eastern waterfall than the crashing western waterfalls of Yellowstone and other falls in Rocky Mountain National Park. It falls through the forest in a green and quiet setting. Like many forest waterfalls, Fern Falls is strewn with fallen tree trunks and other natural debris. Although it takes away from the visual aspect, it adds to the feeling of wildness surrounding the waterfall. The top section of the waterfall is easier to see clearly as it falls in a series of cascades that fan out as the stream descends. The stream then cascades under a large collection of tree trunks and passes by the trail. Below the trail, the stream continues to cascade downwards for at least 100 feet more. It is not clear if these cascades are considered part of the waterfall. After viewing this waterfall, return the way you came back to the trailhead.

Photographs of Fern Falls :

Approximately an hour's drive from Fern Falls is the easiest waterfall hike in the park (not including the Alluvial Fan Falls or Chasm Falls, which aren't really hikes). The East Inlet Trailhead is reached by following Trail Ridge Road over the Continental Divide and down the Kawuneeche Valley to Grand Lake. Turn left at the main road to go through Grand Lake and follow it through to the end all the way to East Inlet Trailhead, passing the entire town of Grand Lake and North Inlet Trailhead in the process. The trailhead is located at a open grassy area.

East Inlet Trail leads away from the trailhead and travels through a forested section of trail. The hike is rather easy as it loosely follows East Inlet upstream. The falls are well-marked and impossible to miss. Near the falls is a sprawling rock formation from which most viewing of the falls is done

The falls themselves fall in two different sections. The top section falls into a chasm strewn with various natural debris. As it falls in several cascades, it turns 90 degrees to the left as it enters the steepest section of the chasm. There are several wonderful views of the top section possible. However, take care while using them as they are almost all near precipitous drops into the chasm.

To view the bottom section of the falls, make your way down the hill in whatever way you choose. At the bottom of the hill, the East Inlet flattens out again. Making your way upstream towards the chasm, you can find obstructed views of the chasm around various rocks. The best place to view the falls is unfortunately across the river on the other bank. In lower water, it may be possible to cross the river in the flat section below the falls. The lower section of Adams Falls is more dramatic as it falls through the chasm in a 25 foot cascade into a deep pool. The walls of the chasm rise above the bottom of the waterfall at least 50 feet at this point.

You may follow the trail back to your car or continue on to East Inlet Falls which are a few miles up the trail. However, you may just want to stick around for a while and explore the falls. The last time I visited this waterfall, I ran across a very surprised mink near the bottom of the falls. He (or she) recovered quickly and swam across the river agily and then disappeared behind a large rock. I also spent 40 minutes watching fish attempt to jump up the bottom section of the waterfall.

Photographs of Adams Falls :

At the opposite end of the park from Adams Falls is Bridal Veil Falls. It is reached by driving north from US-34 on MacGregor Avenue, which turns into Devils Gulch Road as it goes around a corner near a trailhead. After a few miles, turn left on a ranch road which declares it is private but either isn't private or is open for accessing the trailhead. Drive to the end of the public section of the road and park wherever you are allowed to park. When I was last there, parking was only allowed along the roadside near the trailhead. This may mean that parking is difficult on nice weekends after a certain time.

The trail begins at an old dude ranch which is being converted into a park education facility. Two trails lead off from the trailhead. The one of the right goes through national forest land and is used heavily during hunting season. Approximately two and a half steep miles on this trail is West Creek Falls. The left trail leads to Bridal Veil Falls. Follow this trail through rolling meadows as it follows Cow Creek. A little more than a mile later, a spur trail goes off to the left to Gem Lake. After another three-quarters of a mile, Cow Creek forks and so does the trail. The left fork is the long way to Lawn Lake or can work as a long loop trail past Gem Lake and back to Cow Creek Trailhead. Take the right fork. After the trail forks, the trail and the landscape becomes more rugged and steep. Still following Cow Creek fairly closely, the trail reaches the falls in another mile or so.

The falls themselves are not the most impressive falls in the park but they are very pretty and their setting is one of the best in the park. Like most falls in the park, they are more impressive in the spring or early summer when they flow over the straight rock ledge in one cascade. In lower water, they trickle down the rock cliff, half-sliding and half cascading. The top of the falls is rounded, making the dropoff less severe. In lower water, it is easy to cross to the other side of the stream and climb the hill to the top of the falls. Above the falls, the water slides down a smooth rock incline underneath a cliff. A trail seems to continue above the falls, most likely continuing up Cow Creek.

Photographs of Bridal Veil Falls :

Other waterfalls I know about in Rocky Mountain National Park that haven't been mentioned : East Inlet Falls, 2.5 miles from East Inlet Trailhead, Cascade Falls, 2.5 miles from Tonahutu/North Inlet Trailheads, Granite Falls, 6 miles from Green Mountain Trailhead on Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, Lost Falls, 6 or 7 miles from Dunraven/North Fork Trailhead, West Creek Falls, 2.5 miles from Cow Creek Trailhead, Marguerite Falls, just before Fern Lake on Fern Lake trail, Grace Falls, located about 1.5 miles beyond Fern Lake on trail to Bear Lake, Trio Falls, between Lion Lake no.2 and Lion Lake no.1

Complete List of Falls of the Month : Falls of Rocky Mountain National Park Part IV - February 2001, Falls of Rocky Mountain National Park Part III - January 2001, Falls of Rocky Mountain National Park Part II - November/December 2000, Falls of Rocky Mountain National Park Part I - June through October 2000, Bash Bish Falls - May 2000, Wadsworth Falls - March 2000, Staton's Falls - February 2000, no December or January Falls of Month (I was lazy...), Raymondskill Falls - November 1999, Linville Falls - October 1999, no September 1999 Falls of the Month, Race Brook Falls - August 1999, Blackwater Falls - July 1999, Muddy Creek Falls - June 1999, Whiteoak Canyon - May 1999, Elakala Falls - April 1999, Southford Falls - March 1999

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