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On Walkabout On: The St. Marys Falls Trail During the Winter

Basic Information

  • What: Saint Marys Falls Trail
  • Where: Colorado Springs, Colorado
  • Distance: 6 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,511 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficulty: EasyMedium HardDifficult
  • Time: 3-5 hours round-trip
  • Cost: Free
  • More Information: City of Colorado Springs website

Topographic Map of the Saint Marys Falls Trail

st marys falls map

Elevation Map of the Saint Marys Falls Trail

St. Marys Falls Elevation Graph

Narrative

This winter I have been spending a lot of time hiking in North Cheyenne Canon in Colorado Springs, Colorado because of how the heavy snow in the high country has made the avalanche conditions very dangerous to back country travelers.  In areas with smaller mountains such as around Colorado Springs there really is no avalanche danger and thus it is safe to hike the various trails in the area.  The latest trail I decided to hike was the St. Marys Falls Trail.  I have hiked up to the falls a number of times before, but I have never hiked up there during the winter.  So I drove over to North Cheyenne Canon in southeastern Colorado Springs to access the trail.

It was a foggy, cold, and snowy morning as I drove through town to the canyon.  However, as I reached about the 7,500 foot elevation level in the canyon I found myself above the fog and it was suddenly beautiful out with blue skies as I pulled into the “Hub” parking area.  From there I set off down the Gold Camp Road section of the trail that loops around the canyon towards the falls:

Picture from St. Marys Falls, Colorado

I brought my snowshoes with me, but did not need them due to how packed the snow on the trail was.  About a mile into the hike the trail passes over North Cheyenne Creek that was nearly completely frozen over:

Picture from St. Marys Falls, Colorado

The creek is where I passed the junction with the popular Seven Bridges Trail located in the canyon.  You can read more about this trail at the below link:

From the creek, the trail loops back towards the west in a horseshoe shape:

Picture from St. Marys Falls, Colorado

Across from the canyon I could see the section of the road that I had already hiked as well as the various homes of people who live down below in the canyon:

Picture from St. Marys Falls, Colorado

About 1.5 miles into the hike I reached the old collapsed railway tunnel:

Picture from St. Marys Falls, Colorado

Years ago this road used to be open to vehicles like Upper Gold Camp Road is today, but due to this tunnel collapse the road was closed to vehicles and is now only a trail.  The tunnel collapse did have the positive benefit of causing this section of road to become very popular with hikers, joggers, and mountain bikers who regularly take advantage of what has become a great trail.  Here is the view from the railway tunnel looking East up the canyon where one of the snowcapped summits of Almagre Mountain could be seen:

Picture from St. Marys Falls, Colorado

You can read about my prior hike up Almagre Mountain at the below link:

From the railway tunnel the trail bypasses it by ascending the hill on the left:

Picture from St. Marys Falls, Colorado

The trail leads to the top of the tunnel where it meets a junction with the trail that leads to St. Marys Falls:

Picture from St. Marys Falls, Colorado

From the junction St. Mary’s Falls is only about a 1.5 mile hike.  However before proceeding to the falls I had to stop for a little while and take in the incredible view I had of the fog bank to the East:

Picture from St. Marys Falls, Colorado

The fog down below just looked incredible as it bounced around the walls of the canyon.  It almost resembled ocean waves crashing along the shore:

Picture from St. Marys Falls, Colorado

After spending about 10 minutes just admiring the view I then proceeded to hike up the trail to St. Marys Falls.  The snow on the trail was not as packed as it was along the Gold Camp Road portion of the hike, but it was still compressed enough to where I did not need to put on my snowshoes:

Picture from St. Marys Falls, Colorado

The trail during this section of the hike follows a bubbling creek towards the falls:

Picture from St. Marys Falls, Colorado

After about 30 minutes of hiking I could see the 9,782 foot Stove Mountain which rises directly above St. Marys Falls up ahead:

Picture from St. Marys Falls, Colorado

Here is a closer look at the summit of this impressive mountain:

Picture from St. Marys Falls, Colorado

Below the mountain the trail begins to switchback up towards St. Marys Falls:

Picture from St. Marys Falls, Colorado

However, behind this sign is where the very bottom of the waterfall can be seen.  I could hear the water flowing down the falls, but I could not see it due to all the snow and ice:

Picture from St. Marys Falls, Colorado

The section of the trail that leads to the top of St. Marys Falls is the steepest of the hike which meant I was quickly gaining altitude.  This also meant that I began to get better views of the fog bank that was covering Colorado Springs to the East:

Picture from St. Marys Falls, Colorado

The fog continued to flow like ocean waves into North Cheyenne Canon below:

Picture from St. Marys Falls, Colorado

Here is a closer look at the fog below in North Cheyenne Canon:

Picture from St. Marys Falls, Colorado

Picture from St. Marys Falls, Colorado

After gaining about a thousand feet in altitude I came upon another trail junction where one trail led to St. Marys Falls and the other one to Mt. Rosa:

Picture from St. Marys Falls, Colorado

According to the sign Mt. Rosa is only a three mile hike from the falls, but be warned because it is a long three miles because of how Mt. Rosa is over 3,000 feet in elevation higher than the falls which means a lot of ascent.  You can read more about my prior hike up Mt. Rosa at the below link:

I had no plans of hiking up Mt. Rosa on this day due to the fact a snow storm was supposed to be moving in later in the day.   So I followed the trail over to St. Marys Falls with Stove Mountain hovering over head like some kind of sentinel:

Picture from St. Marys Falls, Colorado

Picture from St. Marys Falls, Colorado

After about 10 minutes of hiking I reached the falls which were completely frozen over:

Picture from St. Marys Falls, Colorado

As I looked at the falls it was obvious that this was a pretty popular ice climbing location though the weather back in Colorado Springs probably caused everyone, but me to not want to hike up here on this day.  I saw no one the entire way up to the falls and sat at the falls for about 30 minutes drinking water and enjoying the view without seeing anyone either.  As expected the view to the East of the fog bank covering Colorado Springs was spectacular:

Picture from St. Marys Falls, Colorado

Here is a closer look at the fog down below in North Cheyenne Canon:

Picture from St. Marys Falls, Colorado

From the falls I also had a good view towards the Southeast of the famed Cheyenne Mountain:

Picture from St. Marys Falls, Colorado

After enjoying my time at the falls I then proceeded to head back down the trail to beat the winter weather that was supposed to be moving in from the West.  It was hard to believe that a storm was coming in and that it was already icy and snowy down below me based on how perfectly blue the sky was above Stove Mountain:

Picture from St. Marys Falls, Colorado

However, as I continued down the trail I had a perfect view of the icy weather down below that awaited me once I got back to my truck:

Picture from St. Marys Falls, Colorado

I descended down the trail very quickly and within 30 minutes I was back on the Gold Camp Road section of the hike.  I actually passed by two ladies heading up to the falls during my descent who were the only people I saw all day.  Looking towards the West I could see that some clouds from the storm system moving in were forming over the mountains:

Picture from St. Marys Falls, Colorado

About 30 minutes later I completed the horseshoe shaped hike around Gold Camp Road and was back at the trailhead looking at Cheyenne Canon Road down below:

Picture from St. Marys Falls, Colorado

Conclusion

In total the round-trip hike up to St. Marys Falls was six miles long and took me 3 hours to complete; 1.5 hours up, 30 minutes at the falls and 1 hour to hike back down.  I hike at an above average pace so most people should expect to complete the hike in about 3-5 hours.  Despite it being winter the trail was in great shape and of course it is in even better shape during the summer months.  However, I recommend checking out the falls during the winter like I did because it is pretty cool to see the winter scenery and St. Marys Falls frozen over.  Additionally the trail is pretty busy during the summer months, where during winter few people hike up here which gives you a bit of solitude if that is what you are looking for.  Regardless of when you hike the trail, St. Marys Falls is another great short day hike I recommend checking out in  the Colorado Springs area.

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