Steamboat Springs: Adventures at the Upper Fish Creek Falls

Every Colorado resort has one: a popular hike that is bombarded with tourists in the summertime. In Steamboat Springs, that hike is 283-foot Fish Creek Falls in the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest. And for good reason. It is:

1) Lovely. The falls spill over a hanging valley, formed at the junction where a small glacier joined a larger one.

2) Accessible (only four miles from downtown Steamboat Springs).

3) Easy. From the upper lot (which has a $5 fee to park), it is only a 1/4-mile trek to the falls with some scenic picnic areas.

During my October visit to Steamboat Springs to speak at the Governor’s Tourism Conference, I resolved to hike the still-popular yet not as frequented Upper Fish Creek Falls, a 4-mile round-trip hike. But here’s the catch: a storm was blowing in and I needed to drive back to Denver. And the trail was pretty unrelenting and steep.

But I was a woman on a mission. I hoofed it through the conifer forest with its Englemann spruce and Douglas firs for what seemed like an eternity (really, it was only 50 minutes) until I was finally rewarded above treeline with this stunning view of Steamboat Springs and the Yampa Valley.

I chugged along another 10 minutes before I finally reached the falls. For anyone keeping track, it took me one hour to hike 2 miles, attesting to 1) The trail’s steep pitch or 2) That I’m more out of shape than I thought.

The Upper Falls. This picture taken as a testimony I actually made it.

For those ambitious sorts, Fish Creek Falls is the jumping-off point for miles of hikes and the 6-mile hike to Long Lake leads to the Continental Divide trail where the real backcountry explorations can begin.

But that time around, I was perfectly happy with my four-miler.

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