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On Walkabout On: The St. Mary’s Falls Trail, Colorado

Summary

  • Name: St. Mary’s Falls Trail
  • Where: Colorado Springs, Colorado
  • Distance: 6.2 miles
  • Difficulty: Easy-Medium (1,490 ft elevation gain)
  • More Information: Colorado Springs Trails

GPS Map & Elevation

Click the following link for a 3D flyover video of the trail.

Narrative

Probably the most popular hike in Colorado Springs’ North Cheyenne Canyon is to hike the Seven Bridges Trail due to its shortness and scenery.  The 2nd most popular hike in my estimation is the one to St. Mary’s Falls:


View Larger Map

The distance to reach this waterfall is a round-trip hike of 6.2 miles and nearly a 1,500 foot elevation gain.  However, the trail is in excellent condition and the elevation gain is very gradual making this an excellent longer hike even for beginners.  The trail begins at “The Hub” parking area above Helen Hunt Falls.  It is here where the lower portion of Gold Camp Road begins.  This road is an old railroad grade that has been closed off to vehicular traffic for many years due to a tunnel collapse.  Today this section of Gold Camp Road is a popular destination for hikers and mountain bikers:

From “The Hub” Gold Camp Road travels to the end of North Cheyenne Canyon in a long horseshoe shape.  As I walked around this horseshoe portion of Gold Camp Road, I looked behind me and could see the valley that the Seven Bridges Trail ascends up towards Mt. Kineo:

As I looked directly across the horseshoe I could see the section of Gold Camp that I had already covered and down below there is a small community that I guess had these homes already built before this land became a city park:

Talk about an awesome place to live by being surrounded by beautiful mountains, hiking trails, and having a creek flowing in the front of your home.  Yes I am jealous.  Anyway as I approached the end of the horseshoe the collapsed railway tunnel came into view:

Looking through the tunnel there really was only a small portion of the tunnel that had collapsed but I assume that due to liability concerns the city had to put the whole tunnel off limits:

Since the tunnel closed there is a trail to the left that climbs to the top of the hill that the tunnel goes under:

From up on the hill there is a trail intersection where hikers can continue on back down on to Gold Camp Road:

The other option at the intersection is to follow the trail up a valley to St. Mary’s Falls, which is where I was heading to:

The trail ascends steadily up a beautiful valley with stream flowing through it:

The water was crystal clear and featured a number of small waterfalls as it flowed down the valley:

Since it was still early in the morning, about 7AM, the sun wasn’t shining in the valley yet and it was actually a bit cold.  I actually had to put on my Under Armour sweater to keep warm.

Due to the water from the creek, the valley was covered in thick vegetation that included many very large Ponderosa Pine trees and aspens:

As I continued up the valley the rock summit of the 9,782 ft (2,982 meter) Stove Mountain came into view:

This mountain you cannot really see from Colorado Springs since it is overshadowed by the much higher and impressive Mt. Rosa that stands nearby.  However, up close this mountain is quite an impressive sight.  I would have plenty of more time to marvel at this mountain later on in my hike.

At the end of the valley I came upon another intersection in the trail:

I first took the short walk to this small waterfall that lies below St. Mary’s Falls:

There really wasn’t a whole lot to see here so I then headed up a steep hill side to reach the base of St. Mary’s Falls.  This is the most difficult portion of the hike with an ascent for about .2 miles which really isn’t all that hard.  Once at the top of the trail there is another trail intersection that points hikers towards St. Mary’s Falls:

The other trail leads to the 11,499 ft (3,505 m) Mt. Rosa, which was my next planned hike that I intended to use the hike to St. Mary’s Falls as a recon for.  I have always been intrigued by Mt. Rosa since it is the summit that US Army explorer Captain Zebulon Pike climbed in 1806 during his failed attempt to summit the much larger mountain that now bares his name, Pikes Peak.

Anyway as I walked towards the waterfall I had some incredible views of Stove Mountain that towers over the fallls:

After a short walk St. Mary’s Falls came into view:

There are some logs that have been cut and set up as a bridge across the stream that I walked on to take the above picture of the falls:

From there I walked a little ways up the falls to where I saw this marker:

The marker was established in memory of the 60 year old Eamon Murphy who died on May 24, 2008 when trying to conduct a solo climb of Stove Mountain.  Very sad to lose a loved one in this way.  After looking at the memorial I then went about taking some more pictures of the waterfall:

This really is a nice waterfall and I think slightly more scenic than Helen Hunt Falls.  However, it still comes in a distant second in scenic value to the nearby Seven Falls. However, seeing Seven Falls is expensive while St. Mary’s Falls is free if you are willing to make the effort to hike up to see the falls.  Besides the scenic view of St. Mary’s Falls there also has some nice views looking back towards Colorado Springs:

After spending about 30 minutes hanging out at the falls I then proceeded to head back down the valley.  The sun was fully out now and the green leaves of the aspen trees looked spectacular all along the trail:

Instead of heading immediately back to the parking lot I took a short detour and walked out on to Gold Camp Road on the opposite side of the collapsed railway tunnel:

There was some very good views from here looking down North Cheyenne Canyon to include of Mt. Cutler pictured on the right of the below picture:

As I walked towards the railway tunnel I noticed this small waterfall that originates from the creek I followed up to St. Mary’s Falls:

The creek flows under Gold Camp Road and down below to Silver Cascade Falls that I have visited before as well:

Here is a view of the opposite side of the railway tunnel:

Looking through the tunnel I could see that people in years past have left a lot of graffiti to include swastikas and KKK signs.  The city really should make an effort to clean up such racist and inappropriate symbols within the tunnel:

From this side of the railway tunnel I could see the parking lot across the canyon from me:

The parking lot looked so close but I actually had about a 1.5 mile hike to reach it because of how Gold Camp Road horseshoes around the valley.  However, the weather was perfect with beautiful views of the surrounding mountains to include of the 12,367 ft (3,769 m) Almagre Mountain in the distance:

As I approached the parking lot I took this photo of the previously mentioned Silver Cascade Falls:

This zoomed in picture shows how the old collapsed railway tunnel was constructed through the smooth rock face just above the waterfall where I was standing at previously above the falls:

Conclusion

All in all I have to say that a hike to St. Mary’s Falls really is a great walk for all hikers to include beginners looking to challenge themselves.  For anyone of medium to good fitness this hike is an easy one to complete that has great scenic rewards considering the views of the surrounding scenery and St. Mary’s Falls.

2 Comments
  1. Dobbs

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