Maxwell Falls & Butler Gulch hikes & Jones Pass

So I’ve been meaning to blog about our Maxwell Falls hike for a couple of weeks now, but that pesky bar exam took priority.  However, now that’s over and I can focus on blogging.. hooray! (Don’t act like you aren’t excited, too!)  I’m including some pictures along the way, but I’ll include a link to all the pictures on Facebook at the end of the post.

Maxwell Falls Hike

This was one of the hikes we found in our Best Denver Hikes book.  Since we are still getting used to the altitude, we’ve been going for relatively short hikes that are marked “easy” in the book.  This one is technically an easy-moderate, but it’s only 2.4 miles with only an 800 foot elevation gain (from the lower trailhead).  There are actually two places to start the trail, the lower trailhead and the upper trailhead.  We started at the upper trailhead purely because the book said it would be easier to find (and it was).  This hike is just outside of Evergreen, CO, a cute little town about an hour’s drive from Denver.  We went on a Sunday and saw plenty of other hikers on the trail, but I’m sure it’s less busy during the weekdays.

Bets on how many trees there are in this picture?!

Anywho, the trail itself is relatively easy.  We always have a GPS (our smartphones) with us and we had the map in the book, but there are several off-shoot trails that are not clearly marked which way to go so it can get a bit confusing.  There was only one place where the elevation gain really got to us, other than that, the change in elevation is gradual enough that you hardly notice.  There are PLENTY of photo ops along the way and I would highly recommend checking out some of the little side trails.  We headed down from the upper trailhead and took the Cliff Loop around.  The first trail we saw off to the side, I took only part of the way down to a large rock outcrop.  Climbing out onto the rocks gets you some incredible views!  You can hear the waterfall from the rocks and the trail does continue down, but I’m not sure if it takes you all the way to the falls.

Our deer friend

We continued on the trail through some dried up streams and you get to almost a T in the trail.  In front of you are some rocks (also a good photo op), with one trail to your left and one to your right.  There are no signs to indicate which way you are supposed to go.  We compared the GPS and the map (because of course my husband and I each thought we were supposed to go opposite ways) and determined that we were supposed to go left (the way I thought and the right way 🙂 ).  You follow the Cliff Loop around, eventually making a sharp turn to head back towards the falls.  After heading downhill for a bit, you meet up with the Maxwell Falls trail and have the option to head down to the lower trailhead or back up to the falls and the upper trailhead.  We headed towards the falls and back up to the upper trailhead.  Along the way, we saw a deer on the other side of the creek, just hanging out, eating some leaves.  Pretty incredible to see wildlife like that in its natural habitat.  It had no idea we were watching it for a good 5 minutes.  The trail follows the creek pretty much until you get to the falls.

The falls

Now, don’t expect anything too fancy-schmancy with the falls. It is indeed a waterfall but there are a lot of trees around it so it’s difficult to even see and it’s not flowing all that much.  When we went, it had been raining the entire week before (in the afternoons, like it does in CO), so we were expecting a heavier flow, but no.  So just be prepared for that.  It is pretty though and there are huge rocks on both sides that allow for some rock scrambling.  This is how my husband and I got to the top of the falls.  However, you can follow the trail around to get to the top.  If you have a water bottle with a bacteria filter or a separate filter, I would highly recommend stopping at the creek on top of the falls and filling up your water bottles/camelbak, etc.  That water was absolutely delicious!  You can see that it’s incredibly clear and freezing cold and with a little filtering, the best, freshest water you have probably ever had.  After that, the trail leads back up to meet with the top of the Cliff Loop we took to begin with and back to the car.  It was overall a great little trail for us.  Not too long, not too difficult and not too cool.  It’s not real high up in the mountains so there isn’t a big temperature difference between Denver and the hike.  Cooler, don’t worry, but not chilly.

Kind of a side shot of the falls

Butler Gulch

Once again, my husband and I chose something relatively easy just outside of Empire, CO.  A bit further drive, but very easy to get to.  My husband found this trail on backpacker.com, however, it can also be found in the Best Hikes with Dogs Colorado book. It is an out-and-back and was a little bit more difficult because it gained 1,500 feet in about 2.25 miles.  Being from Texas, we’re used to hiking on a very flat trail with just about the only changes in elevation being climbing in and out of creek beds (if that).  However, we headed out earlier than usual, so we figured we could take plenty of breaks and make it all the way up.

Snow capped mountain peeking through all the Ponderosa Pines

There isn’t a trailhead, you kind of just start going.  There is an area near the beginning of the trail that looks like it was a road that is now blocked off that some people were parked, but there is a larger parking lot before then that just requires you to walk up the road to get to the trail.  We did this trail on a Thursday and met quite a few people on it, so I can only imagine that it gets really busy on the weekends.  We also saw a lot of dogs, some on-leash but most off so be prepared for that if you are taking your dog(s) or if you have some issues with dogs.  Also, be prepared for the trail to be muddy, wet, or a creek in itself.  The snow melt makes this trail incredibly messy in places.  Also, you have to cross several (cold) streams.

The smaller falls

The trail starts off relatively easy, only a slight incline.  You cross a small stream with a small, very pretty waterfall.  Currently there are small logs across this stream to walk across, but be careful, at least one of them is very unsteady.  After this, the trail for us was completely washed out.  People have created a small trail to the side so that you don’t walk through all the water, which is nice.  A little further along, you reach another, wider stream crossing.  This one also has small logs across it, but here, it’s really easier to just wade through the shallow stream (or run through it quickly as I did because it is still quite cold).

THIS is the trail... pretty much just a stream now.

After this, it gets significantly steeper.  For us Texans, it was quite difficult and we had to stop about half way up.  Once it starts to flatten out, the trail goes to the side to a GORGEOUS waterfall coming down from the top of the mountain.  Using the term waterfall here loosely, it’s more just a stream running quickly down the steep rocks on the side of the mountain.  Regardless, it’s beautiful.  It was quite chilly up there, even at the end of July, but its absolutely worth it to sit on the large rock nearby and just enjoy the sounds of the rushing water.

The larger waterfall from the top of the mountain

This was where we stopped, but only for this reason…  My husband was rearranging his pack and his brand new Katadyn water bottle fell out of the pocket and fell right into the stream.  We immediately went chasing after it, with no luck.  If you happen to find a bright blue Katadyn filter bottle, it’s ours!  Overall it was a really nice, enjoyable trail.  I would highly recommend it, especially if you are used to the altitude and elevation gain, it would be pretty easy and definitely some beautiful views.  The top of the trail is at nearly 12,000 feet.

One of my favorite pictures from our trips. There were plenty of beautiful flowers all along the Butler Gulch trail

Jones Pass

After getting back to the car (and taking off our soaking wet shoes!), we noticed that there was a sign on the road telling motor vehicles to stayed on numbered roads only, implying that we could keep going higher up on the road.  We were in my husband’s four wheel drive Xterra, so we decided to head up and see what was up there.  We started driving and noticed that we were getting higher and higher and the road kept going.  The road continues past several campgrounds, further up onto the mountain.  Definitely not a trail for someone afraid of small mountain roads.  It’s a small, one-lane dirt/gravel/rock road with cliff up on one side and cliff and trees straight down on the other.  Not a bad drive though, for the most part smooth with the exception of a few larger rocks in the road.  I was driving and I don’t have a ton of off-road experience, but didn’t have a problem with it.  And as far as I know, I didn’t freak out my husband. 🙂  Anywho, we followed the road as far as we could go, which was somewhere above 12,100 feet.  The only reason we had to stop there was because there was still snow blocking the road further up.  What gorgeous views though!  You could see several mountains and were well above the tree line.  There were even spots to camp up there.  It was definitely chilly, but absolutely gorgeous that camping up there would be worth it.  I cannot wait to watch the sun set and then rise over the mountains!  We are hoping to go back up at the end of August to see where the road actually goes.  We were pretty close to the summit of the mountain, so we weren’t sure if it just went to the top and that was it or if it went down the other side.  (If you know, please, let me know!)

Beautiful views driving up Jones Pass

On the way back down, I noticed some small animal moving at one of the campsites.  We turned in to get a closer look and the animal moved away to a nearby fence.  It perched there, so we sat and waited to see if it would come closer again.  We wanted to get a closer look because neither of us knew what it was.  After taking several pictures of the animal, we came back and looked at my husband’s National Audubon Society Mammal book to find that it was a marmot.  Besides the elk we saw in a reserve when we were here in March, this was the first animal we saw that we don’t have in Texas.  Definitely keep an eye out if you get up there.  This one looked like he was eating something out of the remnants of a campfire (another reason to make sure you either pack out or completely burn your stuff).

Our marmot friend!

More pictures:

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4 thoughts on “Maxwell Falls & Butler Gulch hikes & Jones Pass

  1. Pingback: Stay at Home Wife… ish « theblondelawyer

    • Yeah, I’m thinking the waterfalls are going to be pretty bad this year with not a lot of snow or rain but it’s still a nice hike with all the wildflowers that you see along the way.

      Very helpful Maxwell Falls profile. Love that the map is included, that’s a great idea!

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