Hiking Colorado: Maxwell Falls

Maxwell Falls is a good place for either an afternoon hike or a pleasant picnic. The falls themselves are near the trailhead, for those looking for a place to spend the day without lugging a cooler too far. For those who want a bit of a challenge, there is the option of a four-mile loop hike leading through the forest and ending at the falls.

The trailhead is about seven miles southwest of Evergreen. Take Co 73 from Evergreen to Brook Forest Road. At the Brook Forest Inn, the pavement ends. Follow the gravel road 1 1/2 miles to the trailhead parking area on the left.

The trail forks just out of site of the parking area. Go left, and a narrow dirt path leads several hundred yards to the top of the falls. To the right, a wider gravel-and-sand path crosses the stream and begins the four-mile loop.

If you decide to take the loop, you can save the falls for the end of your hike. You will immediately be rewarded with a vista just off the trail to the right. Don't pass the rocky knoll without climbing it or you'll miss a great view of the valley to the east, and of the front range to the west.

From there, the trail climbs through a stand of young evergreens. Any sound made among the trees is dampened by the bed of pine needles on the forest floor. There is very little undergrowth, due to a combination of steep terrain and the sandy, rocky soil. The same sand and rocks, exposed on the trail, make the hiker the loudest thing in the forest - your footsteps dominate the climb, making you very aware of being an intruder. The only other sound is the occasional airplane passing overhead.

Halfway through the loop, the trail winds through a section of recently harvested timber, just before crossing the narrow path that follows the creek back up to the falls. If you continue on the gravel trail from here, you'll begin a steep descent for a mile down to the northeast trailhead. If you're looking for a moderately challenging climb, start your hike there - it's on Brook Forest road, about a mile before the Brook Forest Inn.

If you're not interested in scrambling up and down the mountainside just to see the road you traveled to get here, take the dirt path to the right. You'll descend to the creek, and follow it up to the falls. Several paths branch off in both directions as you follow the creek. The best strategy is to stay next to the water - you'll reach the falls in a little over a mile.

The falls themselves are fairly demure, but pleasant. After an impressive 15-foot drop, the creek runs through a series of small cascades. A choice campsite sits at the top of the falls, worth noting for those interested in an overnight trip.

Scrambling over the giant boulders, one can get underneath the largest of the falls. There, you can dip your head into the icy spray, and instantly recover from the hot, dusty climbs along the four-mile loop. Aside from a few patches of wet moss, the waterfall is easy to maneuver through. On a warm summer day it's the perfect end to an afternoon hike.

Continued In Hiking Colorado: Chief Mountain & Bear Creek Trail

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