Devils Punch Bowl

Crested Butte / Schofield, Colorado, USA

About Devils Punch Bowl


Hiking Distance: 2.6 miles round trip
Suggested Time: 90-120 minutes

Date first visited: 2020-10-17
Date last visited: 2020-10-17

Waterfall Latitude: 39.04946
Waterfall Longitude: -107.07774

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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.

Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_177_10172020 - Looking down at the aptly-named Devils Punch Bowl
Looking down at the aptly-named Devils Punch Bowl

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.

Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_239_10172020 - More frontal look at the pair of drops comprising the Devil's Punch Bowl on the South Fork Crystal River
More frontal look at the pair of drops comprising the Devil’s Punch Bowl on the South Fork Crystal River

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.

Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_848_10172020 - Looking back at the Schofield Pass Road skirting around Emerald Lake near the Schofield Pass. In the past, this section suffered an avalanche, which prevented further access to Schofield and the Schofield Park
Looking back at the Schofield Pass Road skirting around Emerald Lake near the Schofield Pass. In the past, this section suffered an avalanche, which prevented further access to Schofield and the Schofield Park

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.

Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_013_iPhone_10172020 - Julie descending the Schofield Pass Road into a narrowing canyon that contained the Devil's Punch Bowl
Julie descending the Schofield Pass Road into a narrowing canyon that contained the Devil’s Punch Bowl

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.

Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_788_10172020 - Just to give you an idea about how steep and rugged the descent (and subsequent incline on the way back was), these souped up 4wd jeeps provide some of that context
Just to give you an idea about how steep and rugged the descent (and subsequent incline on the way back was), these souped up 4wd jeeps provide some of that context

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.

Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_072_10172020 - This was the intermediate waterfall on the South Fork Crystal River that many have mistaken to be the Devil's Punch Bowl on the interwebs
This was the intermediate waterfall on the South Fork Crystal River that many have mistaken to be the Devil’s Punch Bowl on the interwebs

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).

Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_102_10172020 - Julie crossing the makeshift 'Bridge to Terabithia' to avoid getting wet crossing any part of the South Fork Crystal River in pursuit of the Devil's Punch Bowl
Julie crossing the makeshift ‘Bridge to Terabithia’ to avoid getting wet crossing any part of the South Fork Crystal River in pursuit of the Devil’s Punch Bowl

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.

Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_820_10172020 - This as the second crossing of the South Fork Crystal River in low flow when we did it in mid-October 2020, but earlier in the season, it would be quite the challenge to keep dry trying to cross it without taking the 'Bridge to Terabithia'
This as the second crossing of the South Fork Crystal River in low flow when we did it in mid-October 2020, but earlier in the season, it would be quite the challenge to keep dry trying to cross it without taking the ‘Bridge to Terabithia’

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.

Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_750_10172020 - Context of the Devil's Punch Bowl with the very rough Schofield Pass Road going around it
Context of the Devil’s Punch Bowl with the very rough Schofield Pass Road going around it

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.

Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_594_10172020 - It was a long descent beyond the Devil's Punch Bowl to reach the 'ghost town' of Crystal and ultimately the famous Crystal Mill
It was a long descent beyond the Devil’s Punch Bowl to reach the ‘ghost town’ of Crystal and ultimately the famous Crystal Mill

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.

Authorities

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.

Schofield_Pass_Rd_011_iPhone_10172020 - Beyond Gothic and the Judd Falls Trailhead, the road became known as the Schofield Pass Road, which was still part of the Devil's Punch Bowl adventure
Schofield_Pass_Rd_015_iPhone_10172020 - Just before reaching Emerald Lake, the Schofield Pass Road approached a pretty narrow and scary-looking shelf where you definitely wouldn't want to fall off the road!
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_845_10172020 - Looking back at the Emerald Lake near Schofield Pass
Schofield_Pass_Rd_040_iPhone_10172020 - These heavily-stickered signs were the only indications that we had reached Schofield Pass while driving the Schofield Pass Road
Schofield_Pass_Rd_022_iPhone_10172020 - This was the West Maroon Trailhead #1970, which the forest service recommended to park the car since there seemed to be plenty of parking here
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_012_10172020 - Right before parking at the Schofield Park trailhead, we spotted this bushy-tailed fox, which was definitely wildlife that I had never seen before
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_040_10172020 - This was the ominous yellow sign by the parking area at Schofield Park
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_844_10172020 - Looking back at the parking area at Schofield Park, which was way busier in the afternoon than it was when we first showed up first thing in the morning
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_053_10172020 - Julie descending the Schofield Pass Road from Schofield Park after having passed the false trail on our right near the start
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_057_10172020 - Julie approaching another fork in the Schofield Pass Road which actually hinted to us that there was another way to get around the first obstacle that was coming up
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_058_10172020 - Julie looking at the first ford of the South Fork Crystal River, which would be a challenge to stay dry on if it was flowing higher
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_061_10172020 - Looking upstream from the first fording obstacle towards this intermediate waterfall that many had mistaken to be the Devil's Punch Bowl
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_078_10172020 - Julie checking out the intermediate waterfall on the way down to Devils Punch Bowl
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_089_10172020 - Close-up look at some interesting icicle formations in the South Fork Crystal River near the intermediate waterfall
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_094_10172020 - Another contextual look at the intermediate waterfall that was not the Devil's Punch Bowl
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_096_10172020 - Pursuing a side fork of the Schofield Pass Road to see where it went, and it ultimately helped me to find the 'Bridge to Terabithia'
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_098_10172020 - The side fork in the road eventually disappeared near this miscellaneous side cascade
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_103_10172020 - This was the 'Bridge to Terabithia' sign near the makeshift bridge that allowed us to stay dry without needing to cross any fords of the South Fork Crystal River over the Schofield Pass Road
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_106_10172020 - Julie on the single-track trail on the other side of the 'Bridge to Terabithia' as we continued to descend towards the Devils Punch Bowl
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_108_10172020 - Looking back towards the intermediate waterfall that was not the Devil's Punch Bowl as seen from the single-track trail on the other side of the 'Bridge to Terabithia'
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_117_10172020 - Julie going around a deadfall on the single-track trail in pursuit of the Devil's Punch Bowl
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_121_10172020 - Looking down into a small valley as the single-track trail descended right into it during our pursuit of Devils Punch Bowl
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_123_10172020 - Context of Julie making the steep descent from the ridge into the small valley on the opposite side of the South Fork Crystal River
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_133_10172020 - The single-track trail about to rejoin the Schofield Pass Road on the other side of the second ford of the South Fork Crystal River
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_150_10172020 - Julie descending into the steep canyon containing the Devils Punch Bowl
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_163_10172020 - Just to give you an idea of how crazy the Schofield Pass Road was, here's a protrusion that would conspire to tilt a vehicle with a high center of gravity towards the dropoff
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_167_10172020 - Julie descending deeper into the canyon containing the Devils Punch Bowl
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_175_10172020 - Julie continuing to descend the very rough Schofield Pass Road above the Devils Punch Bowl
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_180_10172020 - Looking down over the pair of drops and plunge pools comprising the Devils Punch Bowl
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_183_10172020 - Context of Julie continuing to descend the Schofield Pass Road to get a more frontal viewing angle of the Devils Punch Bowl
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_184_10172020 - Angled top down view towards the Devils Punch Bowl from the Schofield Pass Road
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_185_10172020 - Another contextual look down at Julie continuing her descent to get a more frontal view of the Devils Punch Bowl
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_186_10172020 - Looking back up at another very tricky part of the Schofield Pass Road should one attempt to drive it instead of hiking it
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_192_10172020 - Looking down across the lower drop of the Devils Punch Bowl
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_197_10172020 - The lower we descended on the Schofield Pass Road, the more we started to see the Devils Punch Bowl
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_208_10172020 - Another semi-frontal look at the Devils Punch Bowl but this time in context with the Schofield Pass Road
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_223_10172020 - The morning sun starting to peek through into the canyon so I'd imagine late morning would not be the best time to see the Devils Punch Bowl
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_230_10172020 - Frontal long-exposure look at the Devils Punch Bowl in the morning
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_236_10172020 - Looking back at the context of the morning sun piercing the top of the canyon at the Devils Punch Bowl just as Julie was heading back up the Schofield Pass Road
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_258_10172020 - Frontal angled look back at the Devils Punch Bowl as I descended towards the road bridge spanning the South Fork Crystal River
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_269_10172020 - Context of the road bridge spanning the South Fork Crystal River with the Devils Punch Bowl
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_685_10172020 - Approaching the base of the Devils Punch Bowl from the north side of the bridge over the South Fork Crystal River
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_714_10172020 - Direct frontal view of the Devils Punch Bowl from the fringe of the lower plunge pool
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_781_10172020 - Looking back down at the Devils Punch Bowl in the early afternoon as I was headed back up to Schofield Park
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_785_10172020 - Waiting for a couple of souped up jeeps making their way slowly down the really rough and dangerous part of the Schofield Pass Road right above the Devils Punch Bowl
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_787_10172020 - Looking closely at the first jeep that needed all of its generous clearance and rugged tires to get through the really rocky sections of the Schofield Pass Road next to Devils Punch Bowl
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_789_10172020 - Looking down at the last of the jeeps slowly making its way down the Schofield Pass Road around the Devils Punch Bowl
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_791_10172020 - Last look down at the last of the jeeps crawling past the really rocky descent next to the Devils Punch Bowl
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_798_10172020 - Looking at some cascades among the rocky debris upstream of the Devils Punch Bowl on the South Fork Crystal River as I ascended the Schofield Pass Road
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_813_10172020 - Approaching a choke point on the Schofield Pass Road that I'd imagine would be very tricky for wide 4wd vehicles to get through
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_822_10172020 - The South Fork Crystal River was low enough that I was able to head back on the Schofield Pass Road without getting the insides of my boots wet at these fords
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_826_10172020 - Context of some of the cliffs flanking the Schofield Pass Road while hiking back up to Schofield Park between the second and first fords
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_829_10172020 - The Schofield Pass Road getting a little muddy as it went alongside the South Fork Crystal River
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_832_10172020 - Making it back to the first of the fords over the South Fork Crystal River
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_835_10172020 - Early afternoon look upstream at the first of the fords of the South Fork Crystal River on my way back up to Schofield Park
Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_838_10172020 - Hiking back up the rocky terrain of the Schofield Pass Road near the end of the out-and-back hike to Devils Punch Bowl and beyond
Schofield_Pass_Rd_046_iPhone_10172020 - After returning to the car at Schofield Park, the adventure wasn't over yet because we still had to drive back to Crested Butte, which included scary stretches like this shelf road just south of Emerald Lake

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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).

Schofield_Pass_Rd_016_iPhone_10172020 - Driving the pretty scary shelf on the Gothic Road/Schofield Pass Road right before Emerald Lake
Driving the pretty scary shelf on the Gothic Road/Schofield Pass Road right before Emerald Lake

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.

Schofield_Pass_Rd_043_iPhone_10172020 - The fork in the Schofield Pass Road where going left would lead to Emerald Lake while keeping right would continue to Schofield Pass and ultimately Schofield Park
The fork in the Schofield Pass Road where going left would lead to Emerald Lake while keeping right would continue to Schofield Pass and ultimately Schofield Park

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.

Devils_Punch_Bowl_Crystal_Mill_034_10172020 - Context of the parking area at Schofield Park with the ominous yellow sign in the distance
Context of the parking area at Schofield Park with the ominous yellow sign in the distance

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.

downstream to upstream sweep along the partially frozen creek of this side waterfall easily mistaken for the devils punch bowl .


thorough examination of the side waterfall that's not devils punch bowl as it started with looking at frozen parts of the creek before going downstream for a more contextual look at the falls .


upstream to downstream sweep looking over the devils punch bowl .


angled look down at the devils punch bowl before descending the rugged 4wd 'road' for a more frontal look at the falls .


roaming around the base of the devils punch bowl .


sweep showing the devils punch bowl from its base from the other side of the river while also showing the surroundings .

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Tagged with: gothic road, gunnison, colorado, crested butte, rocky mountains, waterfall, marble, crystal



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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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