Why we love it: The babbling brook helps us relax after a stress-filled work week.
When to go: Early in the morning. The trail gets too crowded if you show up after 9 a.m. (especially during the summer).
Coloradoans go in search of water on the weekends, whether that's snow or streams. I found myself doing the same, and discovered Ouzel Falls Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park, just south of Estes Park. The trail's tall trees provide shade during a hot summer, and the lush surroundings make you feel far, far away from Denver's urban buzz.
Ouzel Falls is a fairly easy 5.4-mile, out-and-back hike. Even though you’ll climb 950 feet in elevation, it's a slow rise, and great for families, thin-air newbies, and photography enthusiasts. You’ll pass three falls before you reach the main show: Copeland Falls (.25 miles), an unnamed waterfall (1.4 miles), and Calypso Cascades (1.8 miles). Once you pass Copeland Falls, the sound of St. Vrain Creek and Ouzel Creek will guide you the rest of the way as soaring aspens and evergreens shade you from the sun.
From Calypso, you only have 0.9 miles more to go before Ouzel Falls. The forest opens up now with great views of Longs Peak and other surrounding summits. Most of the elevation gain and rocky paths occur during this last leg of the hike, but the increasingly louder rapids propel you to the finish, where an incredible site is your reward. Climb around on both sides of the fall and creek, and take plenty of time to watch the falls even if numerous hiking groups arrive. Then if you’re feeling ambitious, continue onto Ouzel Lake, which is another 2.2 miles.
Getting there: Take U.S. 36 west to Lyons and then head southwest on Highway 7. Continue 20 miles until you reach the Wild Basin Area (on the left, past Allenspark). After you pass the park entrance, drive two miles to the park ranger station, and the trailhead is on your left.
Bonus: Take advantage of the $20 entrance fee. Drive north and enter Rocky Mountain National Park via other entrances—after some shopping and lunch in Estes of course. Your entrance receipt will allow free re-entry for seven days.