About Devils Punch Bowl
Devils Punch Bowl (or Devil’s Punch Bowl) was perhaps the most attractive of the natural waterfalls in the vicinity of the famous Crystal Mill.
This particular waterfall gained some notoriety because the Schofield Pass Road that it was next to also happened to be one of the most dangerous roads in existence.
Quite frankly, I couldn’t believe that this was even a legitimate road to begin with, and I was very skeptical that it was even drivable (despite the signs suggesting otherwise).
However, when I saw two souped-up jeeps descending this “road”, I guess some people do chance it here, and it was quite interesting to witness.
But believe me, those jeeps needed all of their generous clearance to even crawl past some of the hairiest sections of the Schofield Pass Road next to the Devil’s Punch Bowl!
Nevertheless, as you can see in the photo above, this waterfall featured colorfully round pools that I’ve been told some locals might do cliff dives into during the warmer Summer months.
It consisted of a pair of drops each with these clear and colorful plunge pools, which we appreciated from the top as seen from the road.
However, upon descending further into the canyon, we also experienced this waterfall from the front where the two main drops appeared to fall in succession.
Hiking to Devils Punch Bowl
According to my GPS logs, the hike to the Devils Punch Bowl was about 2.6 miles round trip.
That said, there was a lot of uncertainty concerning whether we could drive to the actual trailhead at Schofield Park (see directions below) because access from Crested Butte via Schofield Pass was not guaranteed.
Indeed, in 2018, there was a landslide that wiped created a lot of debris on the Schofield Pass Road near Emerald Lake.
Hiking from there would have meant a roughly 9-mile out-and-back hike to reach the Devils Punch Bowl.
In any case, this page describes how we did the hike from the much closer Schofield Park Trailhead, which was as far as we could drive the Schofield Pass Road before it becomes impassable to just about all street-ready SUVs.
I’d imagine most low-clearance 2wd sedans would have difficulty driving the Gothic Road/Schofield Pass Road beyond the Judd Falls Trailhead.
Nonetheless, while the shorter hiking distance from Schofield Park may seem modest, I considered the hike to be moderate or strenuous because we had to lose nearly 500ft to get there.
So this meant that we had to gain back that nearly 500ft of elevation loss on the return hike to the trailhead.
Moreover, the terrain around Devil’s Punch Bowl was steep, uneven, and rocky, and it was the primary reason why I really doubted the ability of any vehicle to drive this section of “road”.
Overall, this hike took my wife about 2.5 hours in total. However, it would have taken me between 90-120 minutes round-trip if I only went as far as the Devil’s Punch Bowl.
Extending this hike is something I’ll discuss later in this page.
Wet and Dry Options for the Devils Punch Bowl Hike
From the parking area at Schofield Park (where there was an ominous sign warning of a “narrow steep road”), we then proceeded to follow the very rocky road downhill.
On the way down, there was a false trail veering right, which we ignored.
At about a quarter-mile from the trailhead, we reached a ford of the South Fork Crystal River, which turned out to be the first of two fords.
This ford also happened to be just downstream from an attractive two-tiered waterfall that many people on the interwebs have confused it for the Devil’s Punch Bowl.
Well, it’s not the Devil’s Punch Bowl, but it’s certainly worth checking out and getting close to this roughly 30-40ft waterfall.
Anyways, while continuing on the 4wd road would be the most obvious and straightforward way to do this hike, this ford obstacle presented a potential challenge when it came to keeping dry.
You see, in times of high water, crossing this ford would mean getting the feet wet (possibly ruining the boots without a change into sandals or water shoes).
When we saw this ford late in the season in mid-October 2020, the ford was low enough that we could get across without getting wet.
However, roughly 120ft backtracked from this obstacle, we backtracked and noticed a makeshift bridge that traversed a different branch of the South Fork Crystal River with a sign saying “Bridge to Terabithia”.
I’m not sure whether the forest service sanctioned this bridge since it didn’t look like a permanent structure, but it at least provided an option for keeping dry while hiking down to the Devil’s Punch Bowl.
Once we made it to the other side of this “Bridge to Terabithia”, we then followed a well-used single-track path as it followed onto a ridge before making a steep descent into the head of a small valley.
At the bottom of the steep descent (roughly 0.5-0.6-mile from the “Bridge to Terabithia”), we then reached the other side of the second fork of the South Fork Crystal River.
The trail then widened again as it resumed following the 4wd Schofield Pass Road downstream into the steep and narrow canyon containing the Devil’s Punch Bowl.
This descent was on a steep and very rocky terrain that made us question how a vehicle can drive this section.
Nevertheless, after about another 0.5-0.6-mile beyond the second ford of the South Fork Crystal River, we finally started to see the Devils Punch Bowl.
We managed to descend closer to the road bridge for a more frontal view of the roughly 60-80ft waterfall (and it was also possible to cross the bridge and scramble right up to the plunge pool of the waterfal’s lower drop).
However, this was the turnaround point if the Devils Punch Bowl was the primary goal of this excursion.
Descending Beyond Devils Punch Bowl to the Crystal Mill
Our ability to start at Schofield Park opened up the possibility of extending the hike beyond the Devil’s Punch Bowl to the famous Crystal Mill.
The “mill” (which was actually a former power station) was about another 2.5-3 miles further from the Devil’s Punch Bowl.
However, the kicker was that it lost an additional 700-800ft in elevation to get there (which I’d have to get back on the way out).
I delve into the details of doing that hike in a separate write-up since that hike was a much bigger deal.
It also had a couple of different options of accessing it.
Devils Punch Bowl resides in the White River National Forest between Schofield and Crystal near the towns of Crested Butte and Marble, respectively, in Gunnison 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.
Devils Punch Bowl was situated in a steep canyon next to the Schofield Pass Road between the “ghost towns” of Schofield and Crystal.
The way we accessed this waterfall was from the town of Crested Butte, where we drove about 16 miles from there to the trailhead parking at Schofield Park along the Gothic Road (Road 317).
The Road 317 becomes unpaved shortly after passing through the village of Mt Crested Butte, but it was quite doable by 2wd sedans (with care since there were some potholes, especially in the beginning).
After roughly roughly 25 minutes of driving (or around 6 miles from Crested Butte), we then reached the Judd Falls Lower Trailhead.
At this point, the road gets a bit rougher but still doable in a our stock SUV though I’d imagine it gets increasingly difficult for lower clearance passenger sedans.
At about 4 miles beyond the Judd Falls Trailhead, we then reached a fork in the road just past a pretty scary shelf road.
The rough road on the left went to Emerald Lake, but the Schofield Pass Road continued on the right, where after another mile, it reached the Schofield Pass (denoted by a pair of signs with stickers all over them).
Beyond the Schofield Pass, the road descended towards the small hamlet of Schofield (technically a “ghost town”), where we kept right at the major forks.
Eventually after 2.3 miles beyond Schofield Pass, we reached a parking areas in an opening that the maps on my Gaia GPS tool called Schofield Park.
We knew to park here because we were then greeted with an ominous sign warning of a steep and narrow road ahead that should only be attempted by experienced drivers with small 4wd vehicles with a narrow wheel base.
Overall, this drive between Crested Butte and Schofield Park took us around an hour.
For context, Crested Butte was about 28 miles (over a half-hour’s drive) north of Gunnison, 92 miles (under 2 hours drive) northeast of Montrose, 128 miles (about 2.5 hours drive) northeast of Ouray, 157 miles (over 3 hours drive) northeast of Telluride, 152 miles (about 3 hours drive) east of Grand Junction, 153 miles (about 3.5 hours drive) south of Marble, 199 miles (about 4.5 hours drive) south of Aspen, and 187 miles (about 4 hours drive) southwest of Denver.
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