Cascade Falls, North Inlet Trailhead, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Cascade Falls - 6.8 miles

North Inlet Trailhead

Cascade Falls roaring down North Inlet Creek

Cascade Falls roaring down North Inlet Creek

Round-Trip Length: 6.8 miles
Start-End Elevation: 8,545' - 8,838' (8,850' max elevation)
Elevation Change: +293' net elevation gain (+708' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Easy-Moderate
Dogs Allowed: No
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: Yes
Related Trails:

Cascade Falls - 6.8 Miles Round-Trip

Cascade Falls is located 3.4 miles from North Inlet Trailhead on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park. This voluminous, multi-tier fall pours over large granite boulders along a wide section of North Inlet Creek.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

While Cascade Falls is the main attraction, the creek itself and large meadows along its path are equally compelling. Fishing is notably good on the North Inlet, and moose and elk sightings are fairly common.

The North Inlet Trail continues east with access to Lake Nokoni, Lake Nanita and Flattop Mountain on the Continental Divide.

While these destinations are typically tackled as an overnight, there are several features along North Inlet that can be reached comfortably in a day for those with more time to explore.

The Big Pool (9,080') is located 1.4 miles past Cascade Falls, a point where the powerful North Inlet is funneled through a narrow chute and slows into a large swirling pool. Ptarmigan Creek (9,345') is 3.25 miles from the falls, a major tributary of the North Inlet that can be traced via social trails and some moderate bushwhacking to Wardance Falls and its source at Bench Lake (10,120'):

The trail begins on a level dirt road across private property to the edge of Summerland Park (1.2 miles : 8,530’). It narrows onto single track and arcs NE around large meadows partially veiled by thin bands of timber - ideal habitat for seeing wildlife.

The trail undulates mildly into a lodgepole forest badly marred by pine beetles, though the herbaceous layer and creek corridor remain healthy and verdant.

It rises nominally to Twinberry Backcountry Campsite (2.93 miles : 8,740’), then high along the north valley wall before leveling back to the creek and a spur for Cascade Falls (3.4 miles : 8,845’).

Social trails branch down to viewing areas of the voluminous cascade; exercise caution when scrambling about this oft-slick area. Continue a few hundred yards past the falls into a large, luxuriant meadow fed by three major tributaries. This is an ideal place to find wildlife and solitude.

Illustration of bighorn sheep

The Afield Rocky Mountain app gives on-the-trail information on plants, geology, turn-by-turn-directions, and more. Install it for your next hike in Rocky Mountain National Park.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N40 15.393 W105 48.875 — 0.0 miles : North Inlet Trailhead
  • N40 15.378 W105 48.331 — .5 miles : Level dirt road through private property
  • N40 15.673 W105 47.717 — 1.2 miles : Summerland Park Group Campsite
  • N40 15.851 W105 47.322 — 1.65 miles : Summerland Park Backcountry Campsite
  • N40 15.993 W105 46.804 — 2.25 miles : Steady, mild rise in lodgepole forest
  • N40 16.167 W105 46.322 — 2.93 miles : Twinberry Backcountry Campsite
  • N40 16.292 W105 45.965 — 3.4 miles : Cascade Falls (8,838')
  • N40 16.746 W105 45.957 — 4.0 miles : Trail skirts edge of large meadow
  • N40 17.103 W105 45.526 — 4.8 miles : 'Big Pool' on North Inlet
  • N40 17.290 W105 45.026 — 5.5 miles : Moderate climb in healthy spruce-fir intervals
  • N40 17.214 W105 44.551 — 6.0 miles : Opening to large meadow with small pond
  • N40 17.141 W105 44.272 — 6.3 miles : Grouseberry Backcountry Campsite
  • N40 17.193 W105 44.149 — 6.4 miles : North Inlet Group Backcountry Campsite
  • N40 17.094 W105 43.927 — 6.65 miles : Cross Ptarmigan Creek | spur for Wardance Falls

Worth Noting

  • Grand Lake is the largest natural body of water in Colorado - its three primary tributaries are East Inlet, North Inlet and Tonahutu creeks. Each has a major trail artery along its path.
  • Fishing regulations and restrictions are specific on North Inlet Creek and can change without notice. Check with Park officials for up-to-date information.
  • Backcountry campsites fill up quickly during peak summer months. Plan ahead and arrive early for reservations.

Camping and Backpacking Information

  • A permit is required for all backcountry camping in Rocky Mountain National Park. Permits may be obtained from the Beaver Meadows Visitors Center Backcountry Office, or the Kawuneeche Visitor Center at Grand Lake. Day-of-trip permits may be obtained in-person, year round. Contact the Backcountry Office for details: 970.586.1242.

  • Reservations may be secured by mail or in person anytime after March 1 for a permit to be used in that calendar year. Phone reservations are accepted from March 1 - May 15, and anytime after October 1 for a permit in that calendar year.

  • Camping is permitted in designated sites only. Fires are not permitted. Gas stoves only.

  • Camp safely away from dead trees, as close as possible to the metal arrowhead posted at each site. Red flags on trees provide additional guidance to each campsite from the main trail.

Fishing Information

  • Fishing is permitted along the North Inlet and at Lake Nokoni and Lake Nanita with a valid Colorado fishing license. Specific rules may apply to each lake and various sections of the North Inlet. Consult the RMNP backcountry office for the latest rules and regulations.

  • Fishing is not permitted on the Lake Nanita outlet stream.

Rules and Regulations

  • There's a $20 entrance fee to Rocky Mountain National Park.
  • Dogs are not permitted on the North Inlet Trail.
  • Camping is not permitted at Cascade Falls.

Directions to Trailhead

North Inlet Trailhead is located on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park, just off West Portal Road on the north side of Grand Lake.

From Highway 34, turn east for Grand Lake on Highway 278 / West Portal Road. Drive approximately .75 miles and turn left up a steep, narrow dirt road at the sign for Tonahutu and North Inlet trailheads. In .2 miles take the quick right fork and continue another .25 miles to the trailhead parking lot.

The dirt roads off West Portal Road are narrow and steep in places. Drive slowly. The roads are suitable for all cars, though subject to flooding, ruts and mud.

Contact Information

Rocky Mountain National Park
Visitor Information:
970.586.1206

Backcountry Office
970.586.1242

Campground Reservations
800.365.2267

Emergency Dispatch
970.586.1203

Trip Reports

There are no trip reports on this trail.



Comments

"We went up yesterday, I came from Los Angeles the day before, I am 63, hiked with 80 y.o. Father. Beautiful day, started at the main trailhead, overflow parking, so 3.5 miles each way, another mile or so if starting from lowe, on Grand Lake. We did the round trip in 3:10, plus 10 min at waterfalls, and I stopped too often to stretch back, or sit for 2 min...that is included in hiking time...families with kids 5-8 y.o. were passing us. The sign for NO DOGS was very hard to see, so several groups were turned around early because they started with a dog. Spectacular, easy hike."
Rock  -  Grand Lake CO  -  Date Posted: June 12, 2016
"My boyfriend and I loved this hike! While the hardest part for us was making sure to keep slow so our bodies could handle the elevation (we come from St. Paul were the elevation is 702ft), the scenery is gorgeous! The first part of the hike has relatively minimal elevation gain, winding through an open meadow and into the forest. Once in the forest, the hike gains most of the elevation climbing to the falls! And Cascade Falls are amazing! We brought some snacks and enjoyed a break sitting near the falls. I would recommend this hike to all! Be sure to listen to your body if you are out of state and not used to the elevation change. And the trail is busier than a few other hikes we completed, so be sure to arrive early to find parking in the lot."
Anika T  -  Minnesota  -  Date Posted: July 16, 2015
"Its 5 miles to the falls. Tracked it with GPS today. Sign at the trailhead definitely needs to be updated, as well as this siite. FYI"
Jeff Keen  -  Colorado  -  Date Posted: July 6, 2013

 

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