Why we love it: There are few waterfall treks whose drive time is under an hour from Denver, and this mellow system of trails near Evergreen is one of our favorites. You’ll find a hike that’ll get you out of the city for a true escape while being a totally manageable crowd-pleaser for three seasons.
When to go: Early spring to late fall—and in between if you want to break out the snowshoes.
The Maxwell Falls trail system (there are three hikes to choose from) winds into the Arapaho National Forest roughly along Maxwell Creek, culminating in a set of cascading falls that rush over tiered boulders for a refreshing summit to your hike. The accessibility and proximity to downtown Evergreen, plus the mild nature of the climb, are huge draws, and the trails can get busy in summertime.
For a quick jaunt just to see the falls and perhaps enjoy a picnic, hit the Upper Falls trail from the upper parking lot. The falls are just over a half mile in. For a longer hike (three miles round-trip), try the Cliff Trail Loop from the upper lot. Keep left when the trail forks and follow the signs. You’ll reach a rock outcropping with gratifying views, before continuing downward toward the stream and, eventually, the falls. The loop continues back to the parking lot.
The longest option is the Lower Maxwell Falls route, which starts at the lower lot. The four-mile round-trip trail takes you through lodgepole and ponderosa forests on a shady path that parallels the riverbed. At about 1.7 miles in, you’ll cross the creek before approaching the falls. Recent reports have lamented about the lack of signage and slightly confusing nature of the trail; ask fellow hikers coming down if you’re headed the right direction. Though there is a leash law, dogs are welcome and frequent visitors to these trails.
Getting there: From Denver, take I-70 west to Exit 252 and merge onto CO-74 South/Evergreen Parkway. Drive 7.6 miles and take a slight left onto Bear Creek Road. After half a mile, turn right onto CO Road 73, continue for a mile, and turn right onto South Brook Forest Road. The lower parking lot and trailhead are 3.6 miles in, on your left. To reach the upper parking lot, continue past there for about 1.6 miles more until the road turns to Black Mountain Drive/CO Road 78; drive 1.2 more miles to the upper lot (on the left).
Caveat: Because of the dry summer and light snowpack this past winter, the falls may be a bit subdued—more like a trickle—at this point.
Find out about other day hiking opportunities around Denver here.
—Image courtesy of Shutterstock