Vien R. Guenther
Hiking to Ouzel Falls – Wild Basin Area, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Rocky Mountain National Park has plenty of stunning waterfalls. Some are easy to hike to and some need a little more effort on your part to reach them. There are at least 31 named waterfalls in the park. One of the easier ones (take note, I didn’t say easy), is hiking to Ouzel Falls located in a remote area of the park, between the small communities of Meeker and Allenspark. Ouzel Falls was named after a songbird called Ouzel, or American Dipper (formerly known as Water Ouzels). This type of bird catches its food by diving and ducking its head underwater, hence the name "dipper". They are usually found near mountain streams in forested areas.
TO GET HERE
Ouzel Falls is located in the southeastern corner of Rocky Mountain National Park. You have to enter at the Wild Basin area and not at the main entrance of the park near the town of Estes Park. Coming from Estes Park, it’s about 12.5 miles south. From Highway 7 turn right to County Road 84 (2 miles from Saint Catherine’s Chapel on the Rock) and then right on Highway 115.
From Denver is about 68 miles, a 90-minute drive via US-36 W/Denver Boulder Turnpike and CO-7 W (South St. Vrain Drive). Then a little over 2 miles past Allenspark, turn left to County Road 84 W and then right on Highway 115 which is a narrow gravel road but well maintained - RV’s are not suitable to drive here. The Wild Basin Trailhead is at the end of this road.
WILD BASIN TRAILHEAD TO OUZEL FALLS – 6 Miles round-trip
On this trail you will pass three cascading waterfalls before you reach Ouzel Falls – Lower and Upper Copeland Falls and Calypso Cascades. The uphill trail follows North Saint Vrain Creek for about 1.5 miles then veers off southwest. Make sure to read the signs, otherwise you might end up somewhere far from where you want to be.
COPELAND FALLS – 0.5 mile
The first waterfalls you will find on this trail is Copeland Falls, just half a mile from the trailhead. The trail follows the creek with easy access to the falls. Hiking on this stretch of the trail always takes us longer, we just can't resist the sound of the water. The flow of water on these waterfalls depends on the time of year. They are more spectacular in early summer when the snow is still melting in the high mountains resulting in lots of water gushing down the creek.
In late summer, Copeland Falls has more gentle cascades (photo below). You might just want to hang out here and enjoy the gentle sound of the water. I don't blame you if you do, but there are more waterfalls above, which you might not know if it's your first time hiking here. This trail probably passes more waterfalls than any other trails in Rocky Mountain National Park, as far as I know.
CALYPSO CASCADES – 1.8 miles
After Copeland Falls is Calypso Cascades. Yes, the falls cascade down as you will find out soon enough. There is one part of the trail where you have to cross on slippery rocks. Water flows over the rocks - at least when we hiked here in early summer - so that you really have to be careful when crossing the rocks. Having hiking poles helps a lot to steady yourself.
There are so many water features on this trail, so don't hurry to reach the top and just enjoy what this unique trail has to offer. That's why it's always nice to start early so you can take your time. When standing on the bridge over Cony Creek you will see the Calypso Cascades when looking upstream.
Some hikers stop at Calypso Cascades. But it's just another mile to Ouzel Falls, not that far at all. but it gets really steep for the last part of the trail, so I can understand why some hikers don't want to push it. Reaching the waterfall is just half of the hike after all, and you have to hike back down again, which can be tough for some people.
Taking photos of Ouzel Falls is a little difficult, but the setting is quite nice. Its location is like a small oasis in the forest, which is actually what it is. We hung out here to have lunch and rest before hiking back down.
On this trail are camp sites for tough hikers and backpackers who hike farther up past Ouzel Falls. If you are a seasoned hiker, you can extend your hike to Ouzel Lake, an addition of a little over 2 miles of hiking, one way. If that is not enough for you, there are even more lakes and ponds above waiting to be explored - Bluebird Lake, Junco Lake, Pipit Lake, Isolation Lake and Lark Pond. But then you would have to camp in the area in order to see all of these. These lakes sit below Copeland Mountain (13,176 feet), Mahana Peak (12,632 feet) and Isolation Peak (13,118 feet).
Dogs are not allowed on trails in national parks. This is a bear country so be bear-aware and follow the rules of the park.