5 of the best frozen waterfall hikes in Colorado
The best frozen waterfall hikes in Colorado dazzle with startling ice formations reached by peaceful winter walks through evergreen forests and alongside icy creeks
Winter adventures abound during the cold months in Colorado, and not all of them are fast-paced. When you want to take a break from the crowds at the resort, grab your hiking boots and snowshoes or Yaktrax and take a hike to one of the state’s breathtaking ice spectacles. The best frozen waterfall hikes in Colorado will dazzle you with startling ice formations reached by peaceful winter walks through evergreen forests and alongside icy creeks with stunning views of the Rockies.
There are lots and lots of frozen waterfalls in Colorado, and many of them you can reach without hiking, such as Boulder Falls and Rifle Falls, or even view from the car as you zoom down I-70. The frozen waterfalls we’ve chosen for this list require a manageable hike and usually freeze fairly consistently. For all winter hikes in Colorado, make sure you go prepared. Carry traction devices, dress in layers for winter hiking, use trekking poles and make sure you time your hike to be back at the car before nightfall.
Hanging Lake, near Glenwood Springs
Distance: 2.5 miles
Hanging Lake is probably the best-known frozen waterfall hike in Colorado, for reasons good and bad. In recent years, it’s gained notoriety for being extremely congested and popular with influencers, but that’s because it’s such a consistently spectacular sight, even in warmer winters. A permit system is now in place to reduce the flow of foot traffic and help keep this National Natural Landmark pristine, so make plans in advance. To reach this well-loved waterfall, park at the large parking lot off exit 125 on 70 just east of Glenwood.
The well-signed trail climbs steeply alongside Dead Horse Creek, but its intensity is somewhat lessened by its brevity and beauty. Traction devices are usually required, though the snow is typically too packed down to merit snowshoes. The final, steep rocky section before the lake involves a single file scramble with hand rails to support you, but a rocky outcrop provides a great view and spot for a breather. Upon arrival, you’ll be greeted by a curtain of stunning ice formations and frosty moss suspended over the picturesque lake. Make sure to walk all the way around the lake where you can stand behind the frozen waterfalls.
Bridal Veil Falls, Telluride
Distance: 3.6 miles
These famous 365ft falls at the end of Telluride’s box canyon are Colorado’s tallest, and in winter they freeze to form a spectacular monolith. Just three miles out of town, no visit to Telluride is complete without a trip to the falls which you can reach by driving east through town along Colorado Avenue toward. Pass the Pandora Mill and park at the road closure.
The jeep road is closed to vehicles in winter, but the snow is usually well-packed due to the trail’s popularity. Ascend the switchbacks with traction devices or on skis, taking in the rock spires, pinnacles and views of Sneffels Range on your way to the bottom of the mighty falls where you might spot daredevil ice climbers scaling nature's ice sculpture on a winter’s day.
Hidden Falls, Rocky Mountain National Park
Distance: 4 miles
Rocky Mountain National Park is of course teeming with frozen waterfalls come winter. In the summer months, these falls aren’t so much hidden as they are just not very impressive, but don’t let that fool you. Come winter, summer’s meek trickle transforms into icy chutes that draw ice climbers seeking the challenge of this Class 3 icefall.
Take the Wild Basin entrance into the park from CO 7 and drive for as long as you can down the plowed road. When you can’t drive any further, park and grab your snowshoes to continue walking along the road. The horse trail on the left takes you to the falls, which make up a giant column of ice about 1.75 miles along the trail (before you reach Copeland Falls).
Horsetooth Falls, Fort Collins
Distance: 2.2 miles
These slender falls are popular with Fort Collins’ student population at any time of year, and they can be visited easily in a day from Boulder and Denver. From downtown, head west on County Road 38E and park at Horsetooth Mountain Open Space about four miles out of town.
Follow the signs to hike the loop where you can take in the suspended 20ft falls as they hang in jagged ice sheets over the rock walls to a shallow pool below, and on the way back enjoy the snowy vistas of Fort Collins and the Rocky Mountains to the west.
Seven Falls, Manitou Springs
Distance: Up to 3 miles
Whether or not this one really constitutes a hike is questionable, since the distance required to see these magnificent falls isn’t much to write home about, but since getting there involves climbing 224 steps and there are hiking trails at the top, we decided to include it. Also, they’re magnificent. Seven Falls are formed by the Pikes Peak watershed and indeed consist of seven falls that tumble down a box canyon through the Pillars of Hercules.
The falls are actually privately owned by the Broadmoor and you’ll need to park at Norris Penrose Event Center, and take the shuttle to the falls, four miles away. Then you’ll walk nearly a mile to the base of the falls before beginning your challenging climb besides the sparkling ice sculptures to the viewing deck at the top.
*Note that these falls are currently closed and reopening in March, 2023.
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Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.