Ouzel Falls

Hike along a gentle path by the side of North Saint Vrain Creek as it makes its way through the deep forests of Wild Basin. The trail passes by the impressive Calypso Cascades and then winds through open forest before climbing up to beautiful Ouzel Falls.

The Stats

  • Distance RT: 5.4 miles
  • Difficulty Rating: 106
  • Hiking Time: 3 hours and 35 minutes
  • Time to Go: anytime
  • Season: June through October
  • Primary Ecosystem: montane
  • Views: forest and stream views, a 150-feet cascade, a waterfall
  • Possible Wildlife: forest animals and moose
  • Trail Conditions: relatively wide trail, with rocky sections, some stairs, and a few switchbacks
  • Reminder: Parking fills quickly, so arrive early. Be aware that the water can be very powerful and dangerous during the spring runoff, so keep an eye on children and maintain a safe distance.
  • Elevation Start: 8,500’
  • Highest Point: 9,387’
  • Total Elevation Gain: 1,037’
  • Trailhead: This hike begins at the Wild Basin Trailhead.

Hike Description

The hike departs on the south end of the main Wild Basin parking lot. It crosses a small stream, heads through a small section of forest and then enters a meadow that often has wildflowers. At the end of the meadow it reenters the forest. Here the trees reach over the trail like a very tall canopy. The trail here is wide and gentle. Soon it arrives at a junction for Copeland Falls, which is not much of a waterfall (being only a few feet in height), but this trail lets you get down by the water and then brings you back to the main trail. If you don’t go down the Copeland Falls Trail and instead stay on the main trail you’ll enjoy an often flower-filled meadow on your right side.

After a little while the trail draws near to the stream with a few places where you can get right down by the water. This is not recommended in the spring when the water is dangerous but can be enjoyable later in the summer when the flow has slowed. At about one mile the trail climbs a large rock slab. Here you get your first glimpse of the valley with the high hills surrounding it. Along this rocky area are places where you can get off the trail and relax in the sun with a good book.

At 1.4 miles you’ll reach an intersection with a trail heading off to your right. This trail leads to a number of wilderness camping sites, which can be reserved at Rocky Mountain National Park’s Wilderness Office. Most of them are more than a mile up the branch trail. You, however, will stay on the main trail that soon leads across a large bridge over the North Saint Vrain Creek. Here you can watch the water crashing over the rocks as it hurries downward.

Just after the bridge the trail begins to climb. Many people find this section of trail a bit challenging, but the key is to take your time and don’t walk faster than you can comfortably breathe. In a little while you’ll reach the top and the trail will begin to level off. It’s not far from here to Calypso Cascades. When you pass a horse tie-up on your left, you know you are nearly there.

When you reach the long bridge, you’ve arrived at Calypso Cascades. Here Cony Creek puts on a show as its waters tumble down creating this great roaring fury of water. There are a few large boulders here where you can sit and enjoy the sounds, scenes, and the gentle mist coming off of the cascade.

From Calypso Cascades continue across the bridge to the north. Around the corner there is another bridge with a pretty stream coming down the hillside. The trail continues through a pleasant section of forest and is relatively level as it gently winds its way through the trees. If you keep your eyes open you may catch glimpses of Mount Meeker and Longs Peak. After crossing two small streams the trail begins to ascend.

This next section is a bit of a climb, winding sharply back and forth as it makes its way up the hillside. There are a number of very large steps, which can be a challenge for smaller legs. Simply take your time and you’ll eventually get there. The last sharp left turn takes you to the south and then the trail gradually turns to the right until it heads back to the north. Just as it heads north you arrive at Ouzel Falls.

You’ll see a large bridge in front of you, but take the spur trail slightly off to the left. This will give you a better view toward the falls. Where this spur trail meets the water is where the old bridge used to be before it was washed away in the flood of 2013. The NPS with great effort built the new bridge much higher over the water just downstream.

Head back to the main trail. Next to the sign for Ouzel Falls you’ll find a rough and muddy path heading to the base of the falls. This is not an official trail and is definitely not maintained. It is only for the adventurous and sure-footed. It has many fallen trees, rocks, mud, and other obstacles that you’ll have to negotiate, but if you’re careful you can follow it and get right next to the waterfall. Be especially aware that the rocks and logs are extremely slick when wet.

Ouzel Creek was named by Enos Mills for the small ouzel birds that can often be found along the edge of fast-running streams. The falls later took the name of the stream. Keep your eyes open and perhaps you’ll see an ouzel either here or elsewhere along the water’s edge.

If it’s early in the day and you are still full of energy, consider continuing on up the trail to either Thunder Lake (page xx), which is an additional 7.8 miles round trip and 1,300’ of elevation gain. Alternatively, head on to Bluebird Lake (page xx), which adds an additional 7.4 miles and 1,600’ of elevation gain.