The Local newsletter is your free, daily guide to life in Colorado. For locals, by locals. Sign up today!
Length: 3.5 miles round-trip
Trailhead: Wild Basin (40.21975, -105.53441)
Why we love it: This route takes you past a small lake, meadows, wildlife, and several ice-caked waterfalls without forcing you to commit to a full-day journey.
Pre-hike fuel: Get your caffeine fix at the Tahosa Coffee House, which is located in an unsuspecting-but-beautiful church that’s just north of the Wild Basin turn off.
Post-hike buzz: On your way home, make a pit stop at Rock Creek Tavern to try the best pizza in Allenspark.
Restrooms: There are a couple of vault toilets at the Wild Basin trailhead.
Dogs: Not allowed
The Calypso Cascades are an accessible 1.5-hour drive from Denver, featuring 700 feet of elevation gain and moderate trails. Even better: This route allows you to escape the standard hustle-and-bustle of Rocky by heading to the southeastern corner of the national park. Wild Basin also sits lower than the better-known hikes out of the Bear Lake trailhead (ahem), a difference that often translates into warmer temps and weaker winds—and makes this isolated valley a great winter destination.
From the parking lot, the trek to the Calypso Cascades waterfall via the Wild Basin Trail passes the babbling lower and upper Copeland Falls, whose pockets of ice are visible from two well-signed vantage points along a short spur trail. The route then follows North St. Vrain Creek for a little over a mile, where you could turn your expedition into an overnight trip with the proper permit. The trail steadily climbs, offering adventurers several opportunities to rest on rocks and benches along the way. Turn left when you arrive at the junction near the Pine Ridge campground; then, after another 0.4 mile and a final push up a small slope, the main attraction becomes visible. The 100-foot cascades crash into the river, tumbling over rocks and boulders. Sometimes snow-covered, the waterfalls split a narrow chute among the evergreens like a stairway to heaven.
The Rocky Mountain National Park reservation system isn’t in effect between October 10th and May 26th, which means that visitors can come and go as they please. But a park pass is still required and should be purchased in advance, as the Wild Basin Ranger Station isn’t always operational. Keep in mind that after a heavy snowfall, the main Wild Basin road isn’t always plowed, which means that hikers may have to park their vehicles at the winter parking lot down the road. This adds three miles to the Calypso Cascades route.
Additional reporting by Logan Abbott and Terri Cook.
See more: If you’re interested in increasing the duration of your adventure, or getting a better workout, turn the route into a loop by hitting the Finch Lake Pear Lake and Finch Lake Cutoff Trails on the way out. This route will increase the total distance traveled from 3.5 to 5.3 miles.
Getting there: From Denver, navigate to Lyons, either by way of I-25 North and CO 7 west or U.S. 36 west via Boulder. From Lyons, follow CO 7 west 20 miles to the Wild Basin Area, which is accessed via a left turn just past Allenspark. After passing through the national park entrance, turn right into the first parking lot. When the entrance station is open, you must pay the daily entrance fee ($30) or display a valid annual pass, which can be purchased at the entrance or online.
Before you go: Always check winter conditions, including the local avalanche report and weather. It’s OK (and fun!) to hike in snow, but wind can make your outing miserable. Gusts up to 20 mph are perfectly manageable with the right gear.
Winter Packing List
- Trekking poles
- Waterproof boots
- Waterproof shell
- Insulating midlayer, like a puffy jacket or fleece
- Sunglasses or other eye protection
- In your backpack: water, food, sunblock, and extra layers. For more intrepid treks, consider packing the Ten Essentials and/or avalanche equipment.