Box Canyon Falls

Ouray, Colorado, USA

About Box Canyon Falls


Hiking Distance: less than 1/4-mile round trip
Suggested Time: 30-60 minutes

Date first visited: 2020-07-24
Date last visited: 2020-10-16

Waterfall Latitude: 38.01755
Waterfall Longitude: -107.67917

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Box Canyon Falls (or Box Cañon Falls) was the featured waterfall within the aptly-named Box Canyon Park right in the southern end of the town of Ouray, Colorado (aka the “Switzerland of America” apparently due to the cold here).

As the name suggested, the claustrophic canyon seemed to box itself into a narrow slot canyon headed by the 85ft waterfall tumbling loudly and mostly hidden before revealing its very bottom.

Box_Canyon_066_07242020 - Looking towards the base of the Box Canyon Falls at the head of the narrow Box Canyon itself
Looking towards the base of the Box Canyon Falls at the head of the narrow Box Canyon itself

Rather than being on a typical hiking trail, the forbidding nature of Box Canyon meant that we had to walk on ledge-hugging developed footpaths and catwalks.

Due to the popularity of this place, it also meant that social distancing was definitely tricky, especially with seemingly more than half the visitors defying the mask-wearing signs at the entrance area during our visit.

Experiencing Box Canyon

We began our visit by passing through a gate and checking in at the adjacent office where we surrendered payment and got a colored wristband as proof of payment.

As of our late July 2020 visit, we paid $13 total ($5 per adult and $3 per child). They were open from 8am to 8pm on that Summer visit, but when we attempted to re-visit in mid-October later that year, the hours changed to 9am to 5pm.

Box_Canyon_002_07242020 - Approaching the entrance of the Box Canyon Park
Approaching the entrance of the Box Canyon Park

After leaving the office and waiting area (featuring benches and some picnic tables), we then noticed a bunch of small squirrels feeding from some kind of dispenser.

Immediately afterwards, we encountered a fork where we could have gone left up steps to climb 200ft to the High Bridge Trail, or we could have kept right to continue to the Box Canyon Falls.

Given the number of people visiting the park, we only went to the Box Canyon Falls and didn’t bother with the High Bridge Trail.

So as much as that upper path piqued my interest, we noticed that the trail was so named because it spanned the top of the Box Canyon’s narrow gorge.

Box_Canyon_095_07242020 - Context of the trail leading to Box Canyon Falls with the High Bridge Trail spanning the Box Canyon up above
Context of the trail leading to Box Canyon Falls with the High Bridge Trail spanning the Box Canyon up above

In less than a quarter-mile, we walked onto a ledge-hugging catwalk that clung high above the Canyon Creek into the narrow canyon, where the path went past a series of interpretive signs towards a squared-spiral staircase.

This staircase provided the best view of the Box Canyon Falls before ending at the bottom of a tall, secluded alcove where people were waiting to take people shots besides the rushing Canyon Creek.

That said, we never really got a clean look at the falls from the canyon floor, which was why we spent more of our time on the steps than at the bottom.

After having gone back the way we came, we ended up back at the parking lot in about 45 minutes encompassing about 1000ft (less than a quarter-mile) round-trip.

Box_Canyon_029_07242020 - Context of the catwalk with the mostly-hidden Box Canyon Falls at the head of Box Canyon itself
Context of the catwalk with the mostly-hidden Box Canyon Falls at the head of Box Canyon itself

Had we gone up to the High Bridge Trail, I’d imagine that would have added an additional mile round-trip.

Due to the popularity and confined quarters of the Box Canyon Park, we definitely made sure to keep our mask on while we tried to avoid touching the railings, especially on the spiral steps.

We also made sure to sanitize our hands when we finished our visit in the off-chance that we might have picked up germs or inadvertently touched rocks or surfaces that may not be exposed to ultraviolet rays from the sun.

Authorities

Box Canyon Falls resides in the town of Ouray in Ouray County, Colorado. It is administered by the City of Ouray. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.

Box_Canyon_001_07242020 - Finally at the parking lot for the Box Canyon Park
Box_Canyon_009_07242020 - Julie getting started on the short walk to Box Canyon Falls after having paid the entrance fee
Box_Canyon_014_07242020 - Looking down at some of the squirrels gladly eating some feed from the dispenser near the picnic and waiting area at Box Canyon Park
Box_Canyon_097_07242020 - Shortly after getting beyond the waiting and picnic area for Box Canyon Park, we had this choice of going up these steps to the High Bridge Trail, or keeping to our right to head down to the Box Canyon Falls
Box_Canyon_016_07242020 - Tahia and Julie making their way down to the Box Canyon Falls on the developed walkway
Box_Canyon_021_07242020 - The narrow but developed walkway in Box Canyon Park made it difficult to maintain social distance, especially since most of the kids we encountered during our visit seemed to have an understanding of the concept given the pandemic
Box_Canyon_088_07242020 - Context of some cascades raging in Canyon Creek while the developed catwalk continued further into the Box Canyon itself
Box_Canyon_027_07242020 - Continuing ahead on the Box Canyon catwalk towards the Box Canyon Falls
Box_Canyon_031_07242020 - Context of the squared-spiral staircase and part of the Box Canyon Falls
Box_Canyon_032_07242020 - Descending the spiral steps to the floor of Box Canyon
Box_Canyon_034_07242020 - Some of the best views of Box Canyon Falls seemed to be from the steps as opposed to the canyon floor
Box_Canyon_037_07242020 - Trying to see as much of Box Canyon Falls as I could
Box_Canyon_041_07242020 - Descending closer to the floor of Box Canyon from still on the squared-spiral steps
Box_Canyon_042_07242020 - Tahia descending towards the floor of Box Canyon
Box_Canyon_045_07242020 - Looking towards the mouth of Box Canyon from its floor at the bottom of the squared-spiral steps
Box_Canyon_049_07242020 - Looking back at the context of the squared-spiral steps taking us down to the floor of Box Canyon
Box_Canyon_068_07242020 - Getting a parting long-exposure shot of Box Canyon Falls when the steps weren't shaking with footsteps while making our way back up
Box_Canyon_075_07242020 - Back on the catwalk at the top of the squared-spiral steps in Box Canyon
Box_Canyon_076_07242020 - Continuing to walk back towards the mouth of Box Canyon on our way out
Box_Canyon_078_07242020 - Looking down at why getting down to the level of Canyon Creek did not improve the views of Box Canyon Falls thanks to that protrusion blocking the views from down there
Box_Canyon_083_07242020 - Looking back at the context of Box Canyon and the catwalk hugging the narrow ledge within its confines
Box_Canyon_091_07242020 - Once I was out of Box Canyon, I took some time to explore some of the quieter parts of the Box Canyon Park by continuing downstream along this trail
Box_Canyon_093_07242020 - Looking further downstream towards some structures in the direction of Ouray

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Box Canyon Park resides right on the southern end of Ouray. You can easily get directions to this town using your routing app or software of choice.

However, once in the town of Ouray, finding Box Canyon Park can be tricky because it involves driving a one-way road. I recalled that our turn-by-turn directions on our Garmin device actually tried to take us to the parking lot by making us go the wrong way from the exit!

Box_Canyon_098_07242020 - The very busy parking lot for Box Canyon Park as seen from its entrance
The very busy parking lot for Box Canyon Park as seen from its entrance

Anyways, the way we ended up driving to Box Canyon from the main drag through Ouray (Main Street / Hwy 550) was by taking it south to the end of town, then starting to climb up the Million Dollar Highway (Hwy 550).

However, barely 0.4-mile south of 3rd Ave (which was the street that Box Canyon Road exited onto) and Main Street, we turned right onto the signposted turnoff for Camp Bird Road (Road 361).

Then, we continued to follow the signs for Box Canyon, which had us turn right at the first fork, then turn right again on the next fork.

Eventually 0.4-mile after leaving Hwy 550, the narrow road deposited us into the fairly spacious and busy parking lot for Box Canyon Park.

Box_Canyon_006_07242020 - Looking back across the busy parking lot for the Box Canyon Park
Looking back across the busy parking lot for the Box Canyon Park

When, we were done with our visit, we took the one-way road about a quarter-mile to the exit onto 3rd Ave, where we then turned right and followed that street back to Main St (Hwy 550).

For context, Ouray was about 50 miles (a little over an hour’s drive) northeast of Telluride (though it was far less distance as the crow flies). Ouray was also 71 miles (under 2 hours drive) north of Durango, 97 miles (about 2 hours drive) southeast of Grand Junction, 301 miles (under 6 hours drive) southwest of Denver, 150 miles (about 3 hours drive) east of Moab, Utah, and 286 miles (over 5 hours drive) northwest of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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Sweep looking both downstream and upstream at the falls as well as the full height of the slot above and below as seen from the steps


Video starting from a lower level of the steps and looking towards the alcove before walking up the steps for a more elevated and closeup look at the falls itself


Upstream to downstream sweep at the mouth of the slot canyon of box canyon

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Tagged with: ouray, colorado, switzerland, rocky mountains, waterfall, box canyon



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Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of the award-winning A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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