UPDATED: April 4, 2016
When the snow begins to melt in Breckenridge, the rivers start to roar. It’s a peaceful sound that fills town. The trails start to peek through and this marks the start to summer. You don’t have to go to far to see the majestic sights and hear the noises of the cascading waterfalls. But depending on the time of year, you’re in for some very different experiences. Here are three hikes around Breckenridge to get your toes wet in a waterfall, and the best times and ways to see them.
If you’re reading this in the season I’m writing it, in the early spring, you’ll need some sort of snow flotation device like skis or snowshoes to check out these waterfalls. But in the summer or fall, these moderate hikes are great for a nice day’s walk.
Hike 1: McCullough Gulch
From the classic book, The New Summit Hiker by Mary Ellen Gilliland, “The trail splits below the falls, one branch leading to the lower deluge, and the other to a series of falls and alpine tarns….Just 45 minutes or less of pick-your-way walking (1.2 miles) brings you to a series of eight or so gushing cascades which stair-step down from a glacial lake. A broad, limpid watercourse across smooth rock alternates with a torrent, percolating, bubbly white water from a narrow chute.”
There are two trailheads you can use to access McCullough Gulch. The newer, lower access parking lot is located about 7 miles south of Breckenridge, on the right side of highway 9 opposite the Lodge by the Blue (formerly Skier’s Edge). From here you can access a beautiful woods trail, turning into the old road that leads up into McCullough Gulch following the rock-strewn stream. Starting here makes the hike about twice as long, being that it starts 1.5 miles down the mountain from the upper access.
Park at the end of County Road 851, and you can access the McCullough Gulch falls with just a 1.3 mile hike. Drive south out of Breckenridge, a couple switchbacks up Hoosier Pass (7.9 mi), and take a right on Blue Lakes Road (CR 850), and another right on CR 851. This hike is pretty high in elevation, starting at about 11,000′, so the snow usually clears sometime in July.
Hike 2a: Mohawk Lakes – Continental Falls
Spruce Creek Trail is one of the most popular hiking spots in the Breckenridge area. Just south of town about 2.4 miles, opposite the Goose Pasture Tarn, take a right on Spruce Creek Road (CR800). Follow signs to the main trailhead parking lot, where low-clearance vehicles must park. You can opt for the rough 4wd road and continue another 1.5 miles to park closer.
From the lower parking lot, the hike all the way up to Upper Mohawk Lake (6.7 mi round-trip) is usually rated as moderate, but some might find it pretty strenuous at the steep points. Before climbing the steep switchbacks beside Continental Falls, however, there’s beautiful Mayflower Lakes with its quaint set of cabins and a view of the falls. It’s a good spot to rest before the push to the lakes.
Continental Falls is the largest waterfall around Breckenridge, tumbling through three chasms in its deeply eroded gully down the rocky face. On several switchbacks, small side trails lead to the edge of the falls for not-to-miss views of the white water and cliff faces.
Hike 2b: Mohawk Lakes – Between the Lakes
Once you crest the hill and see Lower Mohawk Lake at eye level, you’ll realize it was worth the uphill slog. Walk around the lake to its other end and find a trail ascending the rock, following the water to the upper lake, the true Mohawk Lake. Spruce Creek churns into a skinny whitewater cascade as it hurls down over the rocks from the upper lake.
Gilliland mentions that the Forest Service requests you walk on the rocks here to avoid disturbing the fragile alpine tundra.
This is also a high-elevation area, the upper lake 12,100 feet. In most years the hike clears of snow in July.
Hike 3: Blue Lakes – Monte Cristo Gulch
From Blue Lakes Road (CR850) you can continue straight instead of turning right into McCullough Gulch, and access Monte Cristo Creek. Upper Blue Lake is a reservoir water source for Aurora and Colorado Springs, and the gulch is spectacular. There’s more hiking above the upper lake too.
Keep your eye out for a small waterfall visible from the road as you drive up through Monte Cristo Gulch. You can explore the Granite cliffs and wildflower meadows between the lakes after parking in the lot below the upper dam.
These three zones south of Breckenridge offer some great waterfall viewing and hiking after the snow melts.
Breckenridge Hiking & Trail Resources
- For more details and other great hikes, get the latest edition of The New Summit Hiker, available at the Breckenridge Welcome Center.
- Visit BreckenridgeTrails.org for information, maps and updates on town trails.
- Check out 3 easy hikes from town or top Breckenridge hikes for more trail ideas.
- Stop by Mountain Outfitters for maps, books, gear and more.