The Cascades at the Grottos

Aspen / White River National Forest, Colorado, USA

About The Cascades at the Grottos

Hiking Distance: 1-mile loop total
Suggested Time: 60-90 minutes

Date first visited: 2020-07-25
Date last visited: 2020-07-25

Waterfall Latitude: 39.11853
Waterfall Longitude: -106.70081

Waterfall Safety and Common Sense

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.

The_Grottos_014_07252020 - The Cascades at the Grottos
The Cascades at the Grottos

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.

The_Grottos_037_07252020 - Looking into the foot of the slot canyon that were called 'The Ice Caves'
Looking into the foot of the slot canyon that were called ‘The Ice Caves’

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.

The_Grottos_006_07252020 - Julie and Tahia crossing a smaller footbridge on the short spur trail leading along the Roaring Fork River to the Cascades Overlook
Julie and Tahia crossing a smaller footbridge on the short spur trail leading along the Roaring Fork River to the Cascades Overlook

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.

The_Grottos_032_07252020 - Looking back at glacial erratics seen along the Grottos Loop Trail
Looking back at glacial erratics seen along the Grottos Loop Trail

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.

The_Grottos_062_07252020 - Looking down into the head of the slot canyon, where it wasn't hard to imagine how these slots can become ice caves in the Winter
Looking down into the head of the slot canyon, where it wasn’t hard to imagine how these slots can become ice caves in the Winter

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.

The_Grottos_103_07252020 - Semi-frontal look at the Cascades from the Grottos Trail
Semi-frontal look at the Cascades from the Grottos 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_001_07252020 - Julie and Tahia waiting for a vehicle to pass by before continuing down the hill to the Grottos Trail
The_Grottos_005_07252020 - Bridge over the Roaring Fork River at the start of the Grottos Trail
The_Grottos_008_07252020 - Julie and Tahia walking through a forest on the short trail leading to the Cascades
The_Grottos_010_07252020 - Direct look at the Cascades from the Cascades Overlook
The_Grottos_013_07252020 - Looking across Maroon Lake towards the Maroon Bells
The_Grottos_022_07252020 - Differently angled view of the Cascades with some people standing near the top for a sense of scale
The_Grottos_028_07252020 - Heading back towards the footbridge over the Roaring Fork River after having had our fill of the Cascades Overlook
The_Grottos_031_07252020 - Tahia and Julie walking by some glacial erratics just as the rain was starting to fall on the Grottos Trail
The_Grottos_033_07252020 - A signed trail junction where we went left towards the Ice Caves. We weren't sure where the other trail went along the Grottos Trail
The_Grottos_035_07252020 - Julie and Tahia continuing towards the Ice Caves as we went past some more signs and junctions along the Grottos Trail
The_Grottos_039_07252020 - Tahia looking back into the mouth of the Ice Cave
The_Grottos_044_07252020 - Looking down towards some people scrambling into the Ice Caves checking out what's inside
The_Grottos_046_07252020 - Julie and Tahia continuing to climb the Grottos Loop Trail on the way to the Cascades
The_Grottos_050_07252020 - Julie and Tahia following the Grottos Trail past the head of the so-called 'Ice Caves'
The_Grottos_074_07252020 - Looking downstream along the Roaring Fork at the Cascades towards the top end of the Grottos Loop Trail
The_Grottos_081_07252020 - Looking towards the uppermost tiers of the Cascades at the Grottos
The_Grottos_094_07252020 - Another look towards the context of the upper end of the Cascades with part of the Hwy 82 passing by on the opposite side of the Roaring Fork
The_Grottos_114_07252020 - Tahia and Julie continuing on the Grottos Loop Trail after having had their fill of the Cascades
The_Grottos_117_07252020 - Tahia and Julie negotiating a tricky obstacle as we continued on the Grottos Loop Trail
The_Grottos_122_07252020 - Julie and Tahia returning to the glacial erratics as we completed the looping part of the Grottos Trail
The_Grottos_124_07252020 - Tahia and Julie finally making it back to the main footbridge over the Roaring Fork just as we were getting quite cold and wet from being caught in the rain at the Grottos
Aspen_008_07252020 - A half-hour later, we were enjoying the cozy warmth of our condo in Aspen

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.

The_Grottos_003_07252020 - The parking situation at the Grottos Day Use Area
The parking situation at the Grottos Day Use Area

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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Slow deliberate sweep from the Cascades Lookout

Slightly angled view of the Cascades as the movie pans along the waterflow after starting from downstream

Panning from the top of the Cascades down towards a view over its course

Frontal view of the main drop of the Cascades before panning downstream across and over the remaining drops as seen from the side with the Ice Caves

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Tagged with: aspen, colorado, grottos, ice caves, the cascades, roaring fork river, independence pass

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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

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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