Waterfall hunting: nature’s original scavenger hunt
The city of Durango isn’t well known for its waterfalls. That’s not because we don’t have them but rather, because most of these outstanding water features are still a well-kept secret.
Many a grand falls surround our town but to find them, you’re going to have to take a hike. If you’re ready to experience the adventure of a lifetime, check out these areas and keep your ears tuned to the sound of roaring water.
Cascade Creek Trail
Cascade Creek is an out-and-back trail located just a little over 2 miles past Purgatory Resort. Traveling north from the resort, you’ll reach a hairpin turn intersected by a dirt road. Turn left here and drive on dirt up to the Cascade Trail parking lot. Unless you have a 4WD vehicle with high clearance, park in the lower lot and hike in on the road to the gate.
There are two notable waterfalls on this trail. After hiking ¼ mile past the gate, the trail will split. Turn left to cross the creek and start your journey towards the falls. After a little less than three miles, you will cross over a wooden bridge. Turn right immediately after and follow the lightly trafficked path for 20 yards to reach a small pool and 20-foot fall.
To find the second fall, return to the main trail and continue on. Don’t worry – it’s hard to miss, as this massive feature crashes into Cascade Creek from 150 feet above.
Lime Creek Road
Lime Creek is a 12-mile long dirt road popularly used by jeeps and ATVs. In the 1800’s, this hairy stretch of land was the only way to access Silverton from Durango, so taking an adventurous drive along this path is worthy in itself.
To reach this waterfall, drive north towards Silverton on Highway 550. Continue beyond Coal Bank Pass and look for the north entrance to Lime Creek on your right. Descend onto the dirt road here and drive for a little less than 2 miles. Here, you will reach a paved bridge that crosses over Coal Creek. The road is fairly wide here and there is available parking for maybe one or two vehicles nearby. Stop here, but please don’t block traffic or park directly on the bridge.
On the right side of the road, you will see a small trail that follows the creek upstream. Tread lightly up this path for around 15 minutes. Do not stray off the trail. You won’t get lost if you just follow the sound of roaring water. You can’t miss it!
Note that this is a seasonal waterfall that is usually most powerful in the late spring to early summer months, so time your trip accordingly.
After you’ve enjoyed your time at the falls, don’t stop there. There are a huge number of waterfalls in this area, thanks to its many tributaries and dramatic elevation change. Keep exploring as you go! You can take this road all the way back to Durango.
Ice Lake Basin Trail
The Ice Lake Basin Trail is located right outside the town of Silverton along South Mineral Creek. Because of the dramatic cliffs of the basin where South Mineral is located, it’s possible to lose count of all the distant waterfalls you’ll find along your drive to the trailhead.
If you’re ready to get up close and personal with a beautiful and long-extending fall, you’ll need to hit the trail. While the full length of Ice Lake Basin Trail is 8.1 miles, you’ll hike only 1/8 of that to reach the falls.
There are two ways to get to this waterfall. From the lower trailhead, the hike is a little less than 1 mile in length. From the upper trailhead, it’s just a few hundred yards. What’s the difference? The lower section offers a more vertical view of the waterfall. The upper section offers a more expansive view of the entire basin and a unique chance for a waterfall crossing experience.
Secret Trail to Adrenaline Falls
Adrenaline Falls is a very well known but mysterious waterfall around Durango. While many of heard of it, very few non-locals actually know where it is. For the folks who grew up here, this fall hold special memories of growing up in the mountains. So, please respect this area and always practice Leave No Trace principles.
To get to Adrenaline Falls, you’ll first need to find a local. The best and only true way to experience Adrenaline is with a Durangotang who can share their own stories and provide meaning to the area. If and when you do make it out here, it’s possible to have this incredible view of the fall all to yourself. So ask around and do some digging. You won’t find directions from us here.
Creating your Own Waterfall Chasing Adventure
The first moment of stumbling upon a secret waterfall is unforgettable, especially when you have the entire area for yourself.
We’ve listed a few waterfalls here, but there are still many more out there in the neighboring backcountry. If you’re up for the trailblazing challenge of waterfall hunting, grab a topographical map and follow this simple trick:
First, identify on the map a creek or river in an area with a large number of contour lines. The contour lines suggest that there is a huge variance in elevation, which is exactly what you want. Next, follow your finger along the creek and look for a point where the river intersects a tight cluster of lines in the shape of a U. In many cases, this may suggest that there is a waterfall!
When is the Best time to Go?
Some of the waterfalls mentioned in this article are seasonal, meaning that they don’t flow year-round. We rely on snowmelt to keep our falls flowing, so the best time to catch sight of these awesome features is in the late spring and early summer months.
Leave No Trace – Keeping these Places a Secret
Remember, the locals have known about these falls for generations and generations. Waterfall hunting is a thrilling, age-old activity that we want to continue for many years to come. As such, it’s important to take care of these areas. Always aim to leave a trail better than you found it. Stay on the trail, pick up trash, and keep to a single-file line to avoid trail erosion.