Why we love it: Views of the quiet Arkansas River Valley make you feel like you’re watching a diorama.

When to go: The waterfall won’t be quite as spectacular in autumn, but landscape views en route make it worth the trek.

For me, traveling used to be focused on getting from point A to B as quickly as possible, which meant eating on the go and rarely stopping. Once my son was born, of course, that ended because of feedings, and diaper changes, and I’ve-been-strapped-in-a-carseat-for-too-long wails. Instead of being frustrated at the slow pace, I started planning pit-stop hikes. On the way back from a recent trip to Salida, that meant we pulled into the Brown’s Creek Trailhead parking lot in the San Isabel National Forest in time for a morning snack. Here, three trails (1429, 1776, and 1427) form a 3.5-mile loop through the woods—with views of Mount White—to a waterfall.

After applying copious amounts of sunscreen (the landscape is woody, but the trail is often exposed), my husband loaded the little guy into our Kelty backpack and we took off. The trail has a fair amount of loose rock and dirt, so our socks and shins became pretty dusty within just a few minutes. We climbed steadily (about 800 or so feet in a mile and a half) and took plenty of water breaks. Yes, hydration is important, but it really just gave me an excuse to turn around and take in sweeping views of the neatly plotted Arkansas River Valley.

The loop continues to a waterfall, but unfortunately we didn’t make it to the cascading waters that day. The bambino woke up and we still had quite a few miles to drive, so we turned around. But the final destination isn’t important on a pit-stop hike. It is about getting out of the car, stretching your legs, breathing fresh air, and—this is important—not being obsessed with doing-it-all.

Getting there: From Denver, take Highway 285 south past Buena Vista to County Road 270. Travel west on this road for 1.5 miles (you’ll come to a four-way intersection). Continue west about two miles on what becomes Forest Road 272. You’ll cross a cattle guard and drive into the National Forest for another two miles or so. When you hit the next intersection, turn left; the trailhead is about 1.5 miles to the south.

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Natasha Gardner
Natasha Gardner
Natasha Gardner is a Denver-based writer and the former Articles Editor for 5280.