About The Cascades at the Grottos
The Cascades at the Grottos are waterfalls on the Roaring Fork River located in the Grottos Day Use Area just east of the city of Aspen, Colorado.
Given its location nearby the resort town, we found the Grottos area to be very popular.
As you can see in the photo above, the waterfall itself didn’t knock our socks off, but it was attractive and powerful.
However, the short walk at the Grottos area also encompassed other incidental scenic oddities like glacial erratics (i.e. boulders likely left behind by glaciers that were once here) as well as so-called “Ice Caves”.
When we made our visit in late July 2020, there were no ice caves in the literal sense of the word.
Nevertheless, we did see a narrow slot canyon where I’d imagine in the Winter months, the narrowness of these slots may have allowed snow and ice to fuse above the tops of these canyons thereby leaving behind “ice caves” beneath them.
There was also a picnic area by the Grottos Trailhead, which further enhanced this place’s popularity.
Experiencing the Cascades Overlook
From the Grottos Day Use Area parking lots (see directions below), we walked down towards the footbridge over the Roaring Fork River.
However, before crossing the bridge, we instead followed a forested trail that followed the river upstream towards the Cascades Overlook.
This out-and-back walk was less than a quarter-mile in each direction so it was worth checking out even if it deviated from the main looping Grottos Trail, which we’ll get to in the next section.
Anyways, at this overlook, we managed to get a frontal view of the Cascades, where the photos really didn’t do it justice as it made the falls seem smaller than it really was in real life.
Experiencing the Grottos Trail
Beyond the footbridge across the Roaring Fork River, we then embarked on a nearly 1-mile loop trail that started off by going past some glacial erratics.
Then, we continued hiking in a counterclockwise manner where at about a quarter-mile from the start of our hike, we arrived at the mouth of the so-called “Ice Caves”.
We saw some people do the steep scramble into the “Ice Caves”, which I’d imagine would have a rather unique slot-canyon-like experience.
We didn’t do this scramble due to the flash flood danger given the threatening thunderstorms forecasted for the area (which were eventually exacerbated by the rain that caught us just minutes after continuing the short hike).
The trail eventually went towards the head of the slot canyon, where we made sure to keep back from the slippery dropoffs.
Then, the Grottos Trail passed through a small grove of trees before getting onto the exposed rocky area flanking the Roaring Fork River.
From this sloping vantage point, we were able to get as far as the top of the Cascades, but this also let us have profile and downstream views of the tumbling waterfall.
At the bottom of this slope, we managed to get a nearly-frontal view of the Cascades, which we thought was surprisingly attractive and made us linger for a bit longer despite the intensifying rain during our visit.
After having our fill of the Cascades, we then completed the loop hike, which then followed the Roaring Fork downstream before going down a tricky scramble by another footbridge.
Then, the trail climbed a forested slope before descending back towards the glacial erratics thereby ending the loop.
At the end of it all, we wound up spending less than 90 minutes though our visit was hastened by the unrelenting intensification of the rain for more than half of our time on this trail.
Thus, we were pretty wet by the time we finally returned to the car.
The Grottos Day Use Area resides in the White River National Forest near the city of Aspen in Pitkin County, Colorado. It is administered by the USDA Forest Service. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.
The Grottos Day Use Area was about 9 miles east of Aspen along Hwy 82.
It took us a little under 30 minutes to drive there given the narrowness of the road and the slower traffic that’s not likely to use pullouts to let people pass.
Right at the turnoff was the day use parking area, but we also noticed that there were more parking spots closer to the bottom of the hill, where there appeared to be a campground in addition to the day use picnic area.
For context, Aspen was about 41 miles (under an hour drive) south of Glenwood Springs, 127 miles (over 2 hours drive) southeast of Grand Junction, 171 miles (3.5 hours drive) northeast of Ouray, 198 miles (about 3.5 hours drive) southwest of Denver, about 242 miles (about 5.5 hours drive) north of Durango, 238 miles (over over 3.5 hours drive) east of Moab, Utah, and 465 miles (over 8 hours drive) north of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
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