A waterfall that must be earned in Colorado Springs

St. Mary’s Falls. Photo Credit: Christian Murdock, The Gazette

In North Cheyenne Cañon Park, Helen Hunt Falls is the easy waterfall of choice, with a parking lot right at its base. In the summer, tourists flock here, while Colorado Springs locals embark on a tougher trip with greater rewards.

Such is the promise of St. Mary’s Falls, the cascade hiding in the park’s outer boundaries, tucked amid the rocks and trees of Pike National Forest.

Start from North Cheyenne Cañon’s uppermost “hub” parking lot, where Gold Camp Road meets High Drive — and be sure to start early in the warm months, as parking spots are quick to fill. Plus, you’ll want to give yourself time for the arduous trip before afternoon thunderstorms.

The masses on foot and wheels converge on Gold Camp Road, with plenty of side paths along the way that break up crowds. Fewer go the full length, to where the road ends near a historic tunnel. At an overlook of the city, the St. Mary’s Falls trail starts, narrowing in the fragrant forest of spruce, pine and aspen.

A post marks the falls as 1.6 miles out — a slight underestimation according to our tracker. The trail follows the melodious Buffalo Creek, a soothing stretch before a harsh ascent.

Our tracker read 2.37 miles at a split; go right uphill, ambling over log steps. The thin trail climbs along a hillside with views of steep slopes and granite promontories — a wild experience that feels far above 8,000 feet.

A post points right for a wilder trip to Mount Rosa, several miles away. Continue straight to the base of the falls, which we found crashing through ice on this day in early spring. Some ascend over rocks to the top of the cascade, but this is a slippery, dangerous proposition.

Trip log: 6.3 miles round trip (out and back), 1,316 feet elevation gain, 8,849 feet max

Difficulty: Difficult

Getting there: From main entrance of North Cheyenne Cañon Park (2120 S. Cheyenne Canyon Road), drive about 3 miles to top parking lot.

FYI: Park gates closed from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. Open to hiking, biking, horses. Icy in winter; bring traction.

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