ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK - This is not a story about the Rocky Mountain National Park most people know.
There is no entrance through a busy town.
There are no shuttle buses taking dozens of people from a park-and-ride to a trailhead. This is Rocky at its most rugged.
This, is Wild Basin.
Getting there is the first task. Located at the extreme southeast corner of the park, the turnoff for Wild Basin is just north of Allenspark off of Highway 7.
Down a dirt road the adventure begins - that's if you can make it past the first ranger station.
Parking can be an issue here, and the one-and-only road leading to the Wild Basin trailhead is a few miles down a one-way dirt road.
I will detail the parking struggles later, struggles which nearly had me thinking of returning to try this hike again another day.
However, right away the streams near the trailhead remind hikers of why they made the journey. It's a journey that is rewarded almost immediately.
A third of a mile on the path leads to the first set of falls, Copeland Falls. In late June, lots of snowmelt from a major May storm had these falls flowing at full speed.
On the trail there are two places to see the lower and upper falls. You may be here for Ouzel Falls or another location miles ahead.
Stop and enjoy both places to see Copeland Falls, scenes like this are why people come to this trail and can spend much longer than they had planned.
Where to go and how long to travel on this trail is up to each person or group.
From the trail head the one way distances are:
- Copeland Falls 0.3 miles
- Calypso Cascades 1.8 miles
- Ouzel Falls 2.7 miles
- Ouzel Lake 4.9 miles
- Finch Lake 5.3 miles
- Bluebird Lake 6.4 miles
- Thunder Lake 6.8 miles
- Pear Lake 7.3 miles
Remember to have plenty of water, snacks, and sunscreen for this hike, however long you want it to be.
Make sure you also have good shoes, there are some slippery spots depending on how close you want to get to the falls and the water.
Also remember this is Rocky Mountain National Park and dogs are not allowed on the trail. If you take a dog you will likely spend the day getting reminded about the rules. One couple I saw learned this the hard way.
There is wildlife that call this place home and they do not view man's best friend as their friend in any way. Treat their home as you would want people to respect the rules in your home.
The trail starts at about 8,500 feet and is a gradual climb.
Each set of falls, some that don't have a name yet, are worthy of your attention along the way.
You have to climb to each location to see yet another waterfall and each climb is so rewarding, it will take away most of the effects from the 850 feet in elevation gain to Ouzel Falls.
Calypso Cascades and Ouzel Falls
A mile and a half beyond Copeland Falls the path crosses what I found to be my favorite part of this hike.
You can hear Calypso Cascades from a distance.
As you approach it, you see the different bridges across Cony Creek. The falls extend above and below you.
Calm pools of water at the edge of the base of the cascades offer people a chance to take their shoes off and cool their feet in the cold, but not frigid, water. Take your time here.
Ouzel Falls waits above you, although it is Calypso that stays in my memory.
Even as I prepared to move on from two different parts of the cascades, there was a third section to cross.
As you cross the third, there is still a lingering temptation to stay, wait, listen, and enjoy this incredible place.
One more note though about Calypso and the falls leading up to this point: I was struck by not just the power of the water, but also some trees that have managed to carve out a spot where it should not be possible.
At times, out of a rock, in the middle of the rapids there are trees, clinging to life, yet thriving.
Look for these trees, there are several of them along the way.
From here there is less than a mile to Ouzel Falls, which will reward you with incredible views of Longs Peak and Mount Meeker.
Meeker is only 89 feet away from being another of Colorado's 14ers, and still towers over the landscape along with its bigger and more well known brother, Longs Peak (14,259 ft.).
For being a more remote trail in a less traveled section of Rocky Mountain National Park, this trail is loved and cared for in immaculate ways.
Extreme amounts of care have gone into creating perfect natural log steps at a gradual incline. The amount of hours needed to make this place accessible is far too many to be counted, and that care should be both respected and admired.
Some of that work is relatively recent. The floods of 2013 took out several bridges in this area including the main one at Ouzel Falls that continues the path to Ouzel Lake.
A lot of craftsmanship went in to making this once again a place to visit and explore following the floods.
If your mind starts to wander and wonder if it has been another mile yet and shouldn't the falls be nearby, you're likely getting close.
When a straight, flat path opens to a group of people you are about to arrive at Ouzel Falls.
The first sight is the bridge for the path. Up and to the left are the falls. From here, it is just a profile view.
A path, mainly blocked by a very large log, keeps many from proceeding to the base.
Some scramble their way over the path, through the trees, and to the bottom of these 40-foot falls.
The water is loud, the roar fills the canyon, and the mist is cold, yet comfortable, especially on a warm afternoon.
Bring a lunch, as many do, and find a spot to soak in the sights and the sounds.
Another day I will get the chance to continue on to the lakes beyond this spot.
On this one, I grabbed a quick snack and decided to start my return and enjoy my lunch at Calypso Cascades. This trail is one I can see becoming a lifelong favorite of mine.
Before you go, I do want to warn you about the parking at Wild Basin. The first parking lot is a few miles from the trailheads.
If there are spots ahead they are spread out, except for a dozen at the entrance to the Wild Basin trail head.
I went on a Monday around mid-morning, not expecting a problem finding parking. It took me about 45 minutes and I ended up parking about a mile away from trailhead to Ouzel Falls.
Be patient and plan ahead.
I met many people around 11 that were making their way back to their cars. Try to carpool as well.
If a small break in the trees next to the one lane road only looks like it might be a parking spot, it probably isn't.
Be very aware of "no parking" signs and don't make up a parking spot unless you want a ticket.
Those very small areas are for people to pull to the side when two cars meet head to head on a very narrow one lane road.
Come in the very early morning or wait until midday.
Even by the late afternoon when I returned there were a high number of parking spaces that would allow for a quick hike to at least Copeland Falls or to Calypso Cascades.
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