Winter Hike to
St. Mary's Falls
We didn't know quite what we were in for when we decided to hike to St. Mary's Falls at the end of November, 2009. The sight of the 300 ft. high mass of cascading ice was worth the effort, however. It was good that Greg didn't have to carry a child that day because the path had many slippery spots. Our Yaktraks were WONDERFUL for traction. I just wished I had brought a ski pole for balance coming down, then I could have gone faster.
Directions: From I-25 take the Nevada Ave. exit, go south on Nevada under a mile and turn right (SW) on Cheyenne Blvd. Go about 3 miles and turn right at the Starsmore Discovery Center onto N. Cheyenne Canyon Rd. which winds through a box canyon for a couple miles and passes Helen Hunt Falls. Continue past the falls until the pavement ends and park in the large dirt parking lot on your left.
Difficulty: Moderate. The first mile is primarily flat, then the trail climbs gradually along a river. The last section with 2 switchbacks is difficult because it is so steep. We stopped to catch our breath a few times.
Length: Just under 6 miles round trip. We believe the trail is about 1/2 mile longer (one way) than the signs claim. Allow 3 1/2 to 4 hours total.
Elevation Gain: About 1,200 ft. Falls elevation is at 8880 ft.
On the west end of the parking lot the trailhead is marked by a gate blocking cars from proceeding on Upper Gold Camp Rd. which you take for an easy mostly flat mile to a closed tunnel (below). First, you will pass the entrance to the lovely Seven Bridges Trail which follows a river then takes you up to an aspen rimmed meadow (we've heard a couple of bear encounter stories from hikers on that trail).
Below is a sign noting N. Cheyenne Creek which flows along the Seven Bridges Trail. That trailhead is just beyond the sign on the right.
As you leave Upper Gold Camp Rd. the path is rocky and takes you to a nice view of Colorado Springs just before it heads over the tunnel. Watch for mountain bikes as they use this short section to connect back to Upper Gold Camp Rd. on the other side of the closed tunnel. The path soon splits and a sign tells you to go right.
Buffalo Canyon Creek follows the path for awhile. It looked pretty lined with ice and fresh snow. There were a number of small waterfalls along the way.
With much of the path covered by pines, the sun rarely touched it, leaving most sections hard packed and slick.
As we climbed higher it was a relief to find long dry sections. The trees thinned, revealing a steep valley to our left and Colorado Springs behind us again.
Up ahead Stove Mt. came into view (lower left).
The trail eventually became steep as we came to the switchbacks. The sign said the falls was .2 miles ahead, but we believe it's really .4 miles ahead.
After an arduous climb, I was happy to see the sign stating it was just 500 ft. more to the falls. We saw a couple people heading for Mt. Rosa, which was another 3 miles from there. I wondered if they'd make it back in the daylight since it was already mid-afternoon.
We carefully ascended the steps leading to the falls. The large mass of ice cascading down the rocks was impressive. We could see and hear water rushing furiously beneath the thinner sections.
Wooden planks cross over the falls, but they were covered with thick ice. Greg was the only one willing to stand on it. I heaved a sigh of relief when he returned to land.
The view of Colorado Springs from the top was great and would be even better with more sunlight.
Greg maneuvered down the icy steps a lot quicker than I did. Even though it was interesting to see the large ice formations around St. Mary's Falls, I expect it is a much more enjoyable hike in the summer with a dry path and the full roar of the water on display. The only benefit to hiking in the cold is the peaceful solitude. We only saw about 7 other hikers that day.