Wild Basin: Copeland Falls, Rocky Mountain National Park


If you’re spending a few days in Rocky Mountain National Park, and you get tired of the trails near Estes Park, here’s the solution.  About 13 miles south of Estes Park, you can access the southeastern corner of RMNP, where you’ll find a beautiful reflective lake, and a nice network of hiking trails, that are long enough to while away an entire day.

I didn’t have a full day.  In fact, I arrived at the Wild Basin area near the end of Day 5.  The sun had already sank into the western sky, almost behind the mountains, leaving the entire area in the shadows.  It was still bright enough for a short hike, though, and I was very thankful for that — since I had just spent a very long day driving up from Colorado Springs, and desperately needed to get out of the car.

Just after turning off Colorado Highway 7 into the Wild Basin area, I came upon Copeland Lake.  Nearby Mount Meeker provides a perfect backdrop for this small lake with a still-as-glass surface.  It was such a great scene, that I really should have driven back here the next morning, to capture the area in a better light.

Copeland Lake lies just inside the park boundary.   A dirt road runs past the lake and continues for two miles, to the Wild Basin trailhead.


From the trailhead, you can choose your destination, based on how much time you have for hiking.  I was happy to discover that the first waterfall was only 3/10 of a mile (1/2 kilometer) away.  Given the late hour of the day, I knew that’s all I would have time for.

Around Calypso Cascades, the trail splits, and you can choose either Bluebird Lake or Thunder Lake.  Both are located just below the Continental Divide, and mountain peaks that top 12- and 13-thousand feet.  Pear and Finch Lakes are located along another branch of the trail, further south.  The NPS offers a map that explains the routes, and the rather challenging elevation gains required.

I had just begun the trail, when I spotted a small cascade worth photographing.  The first section of the trail runs alongside North St. Vrain Creek.

No surprise, there are plenty of nice places creekside.

Copeland Falls isn’t a big deal, but it’s still a nice spot to stop and appreciate the sound of rushing water and, well, not much else at all.

From the lower end of the falls, you can look upstream and see the upper falls…

… which is equally impressive, and only a few hundred feet further up the trail.

Wild Basin is also open in winter, for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.  But be aware, you’ll have further to go — the winter parking area is about a mile from the summer trailhead.

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