Hiking Maxwell Falls: A Matter of Unfinished Business

I’ve had a bone to pick with Maxwell Falls. Several years ago, baby Hadley and I joined one of my friends from Colorado Mountain Mamas to hike this trail that winds into the Arapahoe National Forest along Maxwell Creek. Only we never made it there. This hike in Evergreen, Colo. was only supposed to be a couple of miles and yet we kept going and going and going. We eventually turned back without ever finding the falls.

If there’s anything I hate, it’s unfinished business.

My Thursdays have been dedicated unto hiking and mid-October, I made attempt No. 2. There are two ways to access Maxwell Falls: a 1-mile hike (perfect for families), a 3-mile loop (both accessible via the upper trailhead lot), and a 4-mile round-trip trek from the lower trailhead lot.

Or, if you’re like me, get lost, go on a couple of detours and your adventure will last about three hours.

I’ve hiked pretty much every trail along Denver’s Front Range and waterfalls are a rarity so that made Maxwell Falls that much more desirable. I parked at the Lower Trailhead Lot and was delighted that the scenic trail in the Ponderosa forest maintained a steady upward pitch. The October temperatures were brisk, the golden aspens were hanging on for dear life and there was a dusting of snow on the trail. Pretty much, my ideal hiking conditions.

I’d been hiking for about a half hour and all was going well until The Stream Crossing of Doom.

What I did: Instead of skirting across the rocks strategically placed on the creek, I kept going straight and noticed a trail that continued up the valley on the other side of the creek. I followed the sketchy trail, over logs and fallen brush from the flood for about 20 minutes before turning back.

What I should have done: Crossed the stream and taken a sharp right up the mountain. Consider yourself warned.

Once I finally made it back on the trail, all was clear sailing until I reached the falls. There wasn’t a clear view of Maxwell Falls from the trail and darnit it I’d hiked all that way and I was only going to hear them. I scrambled down the boulders, snapped a few shots of the pretty, understated waterfall’s icicles that cascaded over the tiered boulders.

Now, a smarter person would have headed back to the Lower Lot but my confidence had returned so I figured I’d make my hike even longer by doing the Cliff Loop. It took me away from my creek-side view into a beautiful forest with a stunning glimpse at Evergreen’s charms. But remember that snow? The loop is not as frequented, the signage is lacking and the snow made it tough in places to find the trail. After about 45 minutes of hiking, it cut back down near the creek and I was dismayed when it didn’t connect with the original trail to Maxwell Falls. I was lost. Again.

I called Jamie but he didn’t answer (what’s the point of downloading your lamentations if someone isn’t there to hear them?) I said a quick prayer along the lines of “Heavenly Father, I knew I was stupid by trying to do this loop but do you think you could cast me a lifeline?” Two minutes later, I spotted a bridge and the original trail. Prayers answered!

Forty-five minutes later, I was finally back at the car, exhausted but jubilant I’d finally seen Maxwell Falls. Now, all that remains on my bucket list is accessing them via the Upper Parking Lot.

Only for that one, I’ll recruit my kiddos. They should consider themselves warned.


Getting there: From Denver, take I-70 west to Exit 252 and merge onto CO-74 South/Evergreen Parkway. Drive 7.6 miles and take a slight left onto Bear Creek Road. After half a mile, turn right onto CO Road 73, continue for a mile, and turn right onto South Brook Forest Road. The lower parking lot and trailhead are 3.6 miles in, on your left. To reach the upper parking lot, continue past there for about 1.6 miles more until the road turns to Black Mountain Drive/CO Road 78; drive 1.2 more miles to the upper lot (on the left).

Roxborough State Park: The Shire Never Had Views Like This!

Everyone needs a friend like Tina. We met when Hadley and her son Nolan were babies and we were a part of our hiking group, Colorado Mountain Mamas. Though we live on opposite sides of Denver, we’ve stayed friends through the years and she’s the kind of person I talk to about anything…and drag to anything. Cases in point: she participated in the Red Rocks Fitness Challenge where we worked out every Saturday morning at 7 a.m. one summer. Or that horridly steep hike up White Ranch when we laughed the whole way through (though we wanted to cry).

I recently asked her if she wanted to join me for a hike to Roxborough State Park. Located in southwest Denver, this 4,000-acre park is a bit of haul for me but has been on my bucket list for ages because of its dramatic red-rock formations like the Fountain Formation, Lyons Formation and the Dakota Hogback.

We really didn’t have a plan…we never do and I figured we’d just find a trail and wing it. I offered to pay the $7 state park entrance fee but when we pulled up to the kiosk, no one was working and a sign guided us to a pay station where we were to put our money in an envelope. Problem No. 1: neither of us had $7. I had larger bills but there was no way to make change so Tina and I dumped out every coin we had and inserted it in the envelope. Problem No. 2: the envelope was too bulky to fit in the small slot. And so we stuffed and we stuffed and we stuffed until the envelope was completely shredded, coins everywhere and we ended up just feeding our money like it was a vending machine.

Apologies to the State Park employee who finds it. In our defense, maybe you should have someone working there to avoid lunatics like us.

We parked near the visitor center, grabbed a map and I quickly identified the longest trail in the park: the 6.4-mile round-trip hike to 7,160-foot Carpenter Peak. We wasted no time starting our hike, which is a designated Colorado Natural Area, National Cultural District and National Natural Landmark.

The trail was an intermediate pitch through Ponderosa pine, woodlands, Douglas fir forests, Gambel oak thickets, and tall and mixed grass prairie. And we nailed the fall colors perfectly.

We dubbed these enchanting oak archways “The Shire”

There was sunshine in my soul that day

There were plenty of geologic wonders along the way . The steeply dipping monoclinal sedimentary sections have resulted in the series of three major hogbacks and strike valleys, exposing highly scenic dipping plates, spires and monoliths. The granite Carpenter Peak offered the best views in the park and testified how far we had come.

View from Carpenter Peak

We had kept a steady pace on our climb but picked up our velocity on the descent because we were pressed for time to pick up our kids. For the final half-mile, we were both limping a bit–Tina from hot spots on her heel and me with my plantar fasciitis. I praised her for being a swell “friend” and she corrected me with “sucker.”

We raced back to the car and as she dropped me off, I thanked her profusely and offered.

“I’m sorry that took so long.”

“It always does with you.”

But she didn’t mind one bit. I need more friends like her.


Getting there: From Wadsworth Blvd. in Denver, follow Wadsworth south past Chatfield State Park. Then turn left on Waterton Rd., which is just before the entrance to Lockheed Martin. Keep following Waterton Rd. as it crosses the South Platte River, until it ends at North Rampart Range Rd. Turn right, (south), onto North Rampart Range Rd. Then continue on for a short while until you reach the intersection of North Rampart Range Rd. and Roxborough Park Rd. Turn left onto Roxborough Park Rd. Then take the next right, (about 50 yards away), and follow it to the park entrance. From the entrance to Roxborough State Park, follow the dirt road to either of the two parking areas. The visitor center is a short walk from the second parking lot and is a good place to pick up a map/brochure of the park.