Mileage: Up to 7 miles roundtrip
Altitude: 10,449 feet at waterfall
Elevation gain: 1,221 feet
To get there: Take US Hwy 40 to the Bonfils Stanton Foundation/ Winter Park Outdoor Center sign, between mile markers 232 and 233.
We begin our hike in the Winter Park Outdoor Center, along the Discovery Trail. We are alone on the trail here, and can hear cars behind us on highway 40 and Jim Creek trickling to our left. Within 10 minutes we pass under a viaduct that transports water to Denver, and soon after we are crossing a road and another small parking area for the trail (we never did quite figure out where the turnoff for that road is off of highway 40). This is where the trail really gets pretty. It is narrow and shaded by a thick tangle of plant life: fallen trees, willows, vines, and a number of things we can’t identify. As we continue parallel to the creek we can see the adjacent hillside covered in changing aspens, splashing orange and yellow light over the green ravine. About an hour into the hike we stop in a small meadow next to the creek. The low grasses are drying up and turning tan and orange on this early fall day, and the leaves of the creek-side willows are a deep auburn. The fall is by far my favorite season, and I could be perfectly content sitting here for days and watching the hill change (until night falls that is…it was 36 degrees when we woke up this morning).
We decide to leave the trail, cross the creek, and walk back to the trailhead along the water. I begin to feel like a little kid, exploring my neighborhood woods. We go tromping through moss and mazes of fallen trees, the autumn light dancing through the pines overhead. We make a game of walking on river rocks and eventually stop at a big sitting log that has fallen across the creek below a small series of cascades. Again, I am content here, with the light moving on the water, looking at the last lush green of the year, and watching an ouzel bounce as he stands on a rock with the creek washing up over his little legs. It’s easy to be happy on a day like today, a day speckled with leisurely exploration and freedom and easy youthfulness under the yellowing the light of coming autumn.
Hiking details from Hiking Grand County, Colorado by Deborah Carr and Lou Ladrigan.