Basics: Distance: 10.4 miles RT Elevation Gain: The park newspaper says 1,406 feet, some Web sites say 1,040 feet. Trailhead elevation to falls elevation is about 1,000 feet, add 200 feet for the ups and downs along the trail. Location: Green Mountain trailhead, Rocky Mountain National Park, west side. (Directions and trail map below) Dogs: No dogs are allowed on the trails inside the National Park Entrance Fee: $20 per car, $80 for a year long to pass to all the National Parks Advice: Bring bug spray! A lot of bug spray. Hiking partner: Bill Granite Falls has been on my hiking "to do" list for quite some time. I love waterfalls and with the snowpack this year, I figured this was a good year to go.The snowpack has been a mixed blessing for early season hiking. While high elevation destinations are still snowed in, waterfalls are gushing from the extra snowmelt this year.The hike to Granite Falls is a long one. I typically don't pick hikes that are more than 10 miles. However, this hike has an elevation gain of about 1,000 feet, so I figured it would be doable.Granite Falls is on the west side of the park, just a couple miles from the west entrance near Grand Lake. You may stop at the Visitor's Center for information, advice and a movie, but you can't pay there; you have to pay at the nearby entrance station. A good reason for stopping at the Visitor's Center? It's a good place to get your pack ready and put on your bug spray. The trailhead parking lot for Granite Falls has a reputation for having a lot of mosquitoes.About 2.6 miles from the entrance, we found the Green Mountain trailhead on the right side of the road. There was plenty of parking at 10:15 in the morning, even on a Saturday. While there weren't mosquitoes in the parking lot the day we hiked, we did find them right away on the trail.I can't stress the need for bug spray enough. At times we saw a half dozen or more mosquitoes hovering around us. I think the bug spray helped. I only had one mosquito land on me all day and when that happened, I reapplied the bug spray.
The other thing you find right away on this trail is your lung capacity. This trail starts climbing right away. According to my GPS, we gained 300 feet in the first 0.3 mile on this trail. The good news: that's about 1/3 of the elevation gain for the whole hike.Most of the elevation gain is in the first mile and a half. The rest is near the falls. In between, you'll find yourself climbing at times, dropping at times, but typically no more than 30 to 40 feet at a time.After the first mile and a half of climbing, there's a bit of a drop to a place called "Big Meadows." The person who named this was right, this is a big meadow. When you first arrive at Big Meadows, walk toward the hitching rack and take in the view. There's the expansive meadow, wildflowers, scenic nice mountain peaks in the distance and occasionally some wildlife in the meadow. We saw two elk having lunch. Other hikers say they often see moose in this area. Big Meadows at Rocky Mountain National Park
After a picture stop, we continued on. The trail runs along the side of "Big Meadows" for about a mile. You'll pass two old cabins, now just ruins. One cabin still has enough of a wall that you can see where the front door opened to the meadows. Along this part of the trail, you'll also come to the junction for the Onahu Trail. While this trail junction isn't a big deal, it is about the halfway point for the hike.Just past the 3 mile mark, you get your first view of the Tonahutu Creek. For the next half mile or so we enjoyed watching the swift moving water and spotting occasional small waterfalls. Cabin in Big Meadows area
The trail winds in and out of the forest until you get close to the falls, then you start climbing again. When you've climbed about 200 feet in a short distance, you'll see a sign for the "Lower Granite Falls" campsite. We decided to hike on to the upper Granite Falls first. Good choice.At upper Granite Falls is a sign saying simply "Granite Falls." You'll hear the falls before you see them. Walk toward the water at this point for a first look at this impressive waterfall. In late June, we found it gushing. The water was tumbling over the rocks, occasionally jumping in the air and even creating a mist that floated over us.You can go back to the trail to climb to the top of the falls and look down on the cascade. Tonahutu Creek isn't that impressive above the falls, it looks like your typically creek, but once it hits that drop, it's just spectacular. We decided to take a nice, long, well-deserved break here. Tonahutu Creek
I was surprised at how few people we saw at the waterfall. We had lunch, we napped, we took tons of pictures and really just enjoyed our time at Granite Falls. We didn't see another person at the falls for more than a half hour. We saw two groups of people make a quick picture stop and leave. It really felt like we had this spot to ourselves.Instead of returning directly to the trail, we made our way off trail toward the lower falls. We found a trail of sorts with a lot of downed trees on it. While the trail was easy enough to follow, it landed us right in the middle of someone's camping area. They were nice about it, we apologized and we continued to lower Granite Falls. Honestly, if we hadn't seen the tents and the sign, we would not have found the lower falls. We saw more impressive drops on the hike up, but I took a picture and we headed back to the trail and our car.The hike out seems to take awhile, especially when your feet start screaming after about 7 miles, but I just kept thinking about how impressive those falls looked.If you want to continue hiking, this is a good trail. From Granite Falls, it's another 3 miles to Haynach Lake. You may also continue on the Tonahutu Creek Trail to Flattop Mountain and even onto Bear Lake on the East side of the park.
Directions: From Winter Park, take U.S 40 to Granby. Just past town, turn right on U.S. 34 towards Grand Lake. At Grand Lake, turn right to go into town or left to go towards the park. At 2.6 miles past the park entrance station, you'll see the Green Mountain trailhead on your right.Want to make a weekend of it in this area? I've written hiking reports on another waterfall hike at Snow Mountain Ranch, Granby Ranch and another hike on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park at Lulu City and Little Yellowstone. I'm working on my annual list of my favorite hikes in Colorado. I'd love to hear yours. Just e-mail me, firstname.lastname@example.org. I also welcome your questions and comments.
Previous hiking reports:(lower elevation hikes have a star)
Caribou Ranch*, Mallory Cave*, Marshall Mesa,Heil Valley Ranch*
Forsythe Canyon*, South Boulder Peak*, The Boulder Flatirons*, Walker Ranch*, Bear Peak*, Rabbit Mountain*, Bald Mountain*, Betasso Preserve*, Wonderland Lake*
Forgotten Valley, Chimney Gulch*, Apex Park*
Mt. Falcon*, Elk Meadow*
Herman Gulch, Chicago Lakes, Chief Mountain
Rocky Mountain National Park:
Twin Sisters, Bierstadt Lake, Chasm Lake, Lulu City & Little Yellowstone, The Loch, Andrew's Glacier, Sandbeach Lake
Indian Peaks/James Peak Wilderness:
King, Bob & Betty Lakes, Forest Lakes, Arapaho Lakes, Mitchell & Blue Lakes, James Peak Area, Heart Lake
Homestead Meadows, Devil's Backbone*, Lake Agnes
Summit & Eagle Counties:
Booth Falls, Missouri Lakes, Mohawk Lakes & Continental Falls
St Louis Lake, Waterfall At Snow Mountain Ranch, Granby Ranch
Exploring Fulford Cave, Our Favorite Hikes, Our Favorite Bike Rides
Map courtesy of Trails Illustrated