I love a waterfall, even frozen falls, and Browns Creek Falls is worth visiting in winter. This large waterfall cuts through a chasm at the end of a 3 miles hike in the shadow of a 13er — Jones Peak.
The hike starts at the Browns Creek Trailhead, between Buena Vista and Salida, in the San Isabel National Forest (directions below). Park and head for the information sign. A short distance away, you’ll come to a trail sign. It gives hikers several options:
- The 3.5 mile Browns Creek Loop
- The 8 mile Four Creek Loop
- The 11 mile trek to Mount Antero
I knew my destination — the waterfall, so we continued on. Pass through a cattle fence and begin climbing up in the trees. Even in late spring, the trail can be very snowy here, so bring snowshoes and/or traction devices.
The trail winds through the forest with occasional views of a snow-capped Jones Peak. Not only are the views breath-taking, but the hike may take your breath away, too. You’ll gain about 600 feet of elevation in the first mile. The trail is never terribly steep, but it is a steady climb, especially tiring in the snow.
About half way to the falls is the first trail split. Here the Colorado Trail branches off to the north. Stay on the trail for Browns Creek and you’ll be walking the Colorado Trail for the next quarter mile or so.
At 1.65 miles, the trail crosses a log bridge. This is the first of several stream crossings. If there’s enough snow, you may not even see the bridges.
This beautiful spot is surrounded by Aspen trees that likely put on a colorful show in the fall.
Just a few steps away from the first bridge is the turn off for the Colorado Trail and the Wagon Loop Trail. Stay on the Browns Creek Trail and in a few steps you’ll arrive at a sign in sheet for the national forest. Take a moment and register so the Forest Service can track how many visitors are enjoying this area. Continue hiking the path as it mellows out. This was a peaceful area as we crunched through the snow, enjoying the forest and the views.
About 0.25 miles from the falls was a big stream crossing without a bridge. The crossing takes about 6-8 steps, so your feet might get wet. From here, it’s just another 10 minutes or so to the falls.
Browns Creek Falls appears to be a two-stage drop in a rock chasm. In winter, look for icicles on canyon walls. Look in the path of the falls for melted spots where you may see the water running. We did a little exploring, but be careful because you don’t want the snow and ice to give way and leave you soaked or stuck.
When you’ve enjoy the falls, it’s time for the hike out. Remember, because of the high peaks in the area, the sun drops earlier than you’d expect.
Learn more on the Forest Service website. In the area, check out Salida’s Volcano. Find more than 200+ great hikes in Colorado here.
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Details: The hike to the falls and back is about 5.9 miles with 950 feet of elevation. The starting elevation is 8950ish. The hike hits a high of about 9850.
Directions: From Highway 285, midway between Poncha Springs and Buena Vista, take County Road 270 west for approximately 1.5 miles to a 4-way intersection. From the yield sign, continue straight ahead/west. The road continues as Forest Road 272. Stay on FR 272 for about 2 miles. A sign at the cattle guard will indicate you entrance onto Nation Forest lands. Continue traveling west from the boundary sign for 2 miles. At the intersection, turn left and travel south for 1.5 miles to the trailhead.