Fish Creek Falls

Steamboat Springs / Routt National Forest, Colorado, USA

About Fish Creek Falls


Hiking Distance: 1-mile loop total (encompassing both bridge and overlook)
Suggested Time: 60-90 minutes

Date first visited: 2020-07-26
Date last visited: 2020-07-26

Waterfall Latitude: 40.48137
Waterfall Longitude: -106.77122

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Fish Creek Falls was one of the more dramatic waterfalls that we visited in the state of Colorado with its reported 284ft cumulative drop.

Upon noticing someone doing a rope walk near the waterfall’s brink, I was able to use her as a sort of measuring aid to lend some credibility to this height figure.

Fish_Creek_Falls_112_07262020 - The full context of Fish Creek Falls
The full context of Fish Creek Falls

Nevertheless, it seemed like the main appeal of this waterfall was the chance to beat the Summer heat, especially since it was located just a few miles east of Steamboat Springs.

Moreover, it only took a quarter-mile walk to descend to the bridge downstream from the waterfall’s base, where it seemed like crowds of people were either on or below the bridge to cool off.

Some people even tried to scramble further upstream on Fish Creek to perhaps get a little closer to the falls’ main drop itself.

In addition to experiencing Fish Creek Falls from its bottom, I also took a wheelchair-accessible path to an overlook for a more contextual view of the waterfall with a lot fewer people around.

Fish_Creek_Falls_043_07262020 - View of Fish Creek Falls from the footbridge just downstream of the base of the falls
View of Fish Creek Falls from the footbridge just downstream of the base of the falls

Overall, it took me around an hour or so to experience Fish Creek Falls on an easy one-mile loop that combined both the bridge near the base and the overlook across the canyon from the waterfall’s brink.

However, with COVID-19 being a thing, it was a bit difficult to maintain social distance on the trail to the bottom, the Fish Creek itself, and especially on the bridge which yielded the best views from down there.

Hiking to the Bridge over Fish Creek

The most obvious way to experience Fish Creek Falls was to join the crowd and take the quarter-mile downhill trail to the footbridge right over Fish Creek.

With a combination of the high altitude and the climb on the way back to the trailhead, a lot of people had a hard time breathing through their masks or just refused to wear them entirely.

Fish_Creek_Falls_012_07262020 - Julie descending on the trail to the bottom of Fish Creek Falls while encountering quite a few people (some wearing masks and some refushing to wear them) going back up as well as passing us on the way down
Julie descending on the trail to the bottom of Fish Creek Falls while encountering quite a few people (some wearing masks and some refushing to wear them) going back up as well as passing us on the way down

So that caused some degree of anxiety given the volume of people we were sharing this part of the trail with.

Once at the footbridge, it seemed like the best views were from the start of the bridge itself.

Many people actually went past this footbridge so they could continue scrambling further upstream on Fish Creek or scrambling downstream on the stream.

Either way, these people were content to just feel the refreshingly cold water from the creek to beat the rather hot sunny day when we made our visit in late July 2020.

Fish_Creek_Falls_024_07262020 - Context of the busy footbridge over Fish Creek fronting the Fish Creek Falls
Context of the busy footbridge over Fish Creek fronting the Fish Creek Falls

Further beyond the footbridge, we could have gone another 2 miles to reach the Upper Fish Creek Falls, but that was something we didn’t do.

While my wife and daughter were enjoying Fish Creek, I had a choice of going straight back uphill to the parking lot or extending the hike by taking a detour to the Fish Creek Falls Overlook, which I’ll get into the next section.

Had I gone straight back to the parking lot, it would have been a half-mile round-trip hike.

Hiking to the Fish Creek Falls Overlook

As I hiked back up from the footbridge towards the parking lot, I encountered a fork in the trail on my right.

Fish_Creek_Falls_071_07262020 - A paved trail junction where keeping left went to the Fish Creek Falls Overlook while the path on the right descended to the picnic area as well as the connector trail to the base of the falls
A paved trail junction where keeping left went to the Fish Creek Falls Overlook while the path on the right descended to the picnic area as well as the connector trail to the base of the falls

The signs indicated that the Fish Creek Falls Picnic Area was there so I pursued it, which eventually joined up with a paved wheelchair-accessible trail leading to the sought-after overlook.

This trail had a mostly gentle grade even though it was moderately climbing.

But once I got towards the end of this overlook trail, there were actually a pair of overlooks.

The first one yielded more of a canyon view while also yielding a somewhat distant view further upstream towards the Fish Creek Falls.

Fish_Creek_Falls_077_07262020 - Distant look towards Fish Creek Falls from the first of the main overlooks on the overlook trail
Distant look towards Fish Creek Falls from the first of the main overlooks on the overlook trail

The last overlook was just in front of a shelter with some picnic tables and a viewing area with more of a direct view at eye level with the brink of the falls.

The nice thing about experiencing Fish Creek Falls from up here was that it was way quieter and far easier to socially distance.

When I had my fill of this spot and rejoined my wife and daughter at the parking lot, I wound up walking in a loop for about a mile.

I also could have gone straight from the parking lot to this overlook on that paved path, which would have been a quarter-mile each way.

Fish_Creek_Falls_137_07262020 - Context of some people enjoying this view of Fish Creek Falls from the end of the Overlook Trail
Context of some people enjoying this view of Fish Creek Falls from the end of the Overlook Trail

However, given the short distances involved with these trails, I figured that you mind as well do both trails to get the full experience and make the day use fee here more worth your while.

Authorities

Fish Creek Falls resides in the Routt National Forest near the city of Steamboat Springs in Routt 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.

Fish_Creek_Falls_002_07262020 - Lots of people about to start their short hike down to the Fish Creek Falls
Fish_Creek_Falls_007_07262020 - Looking back at the Fish Creek Falls Parking Lot from the very start of the short trail to the bottom of the waterfall
Fish_Creek_Falls_010_07262020 - On the short but rather moderately steep trail leading to the bottom of Fish Creek Falls
Fish_Creek_Falls_011_07262020 - Julie and Tahia descending the trail leading to the bottom of Fish Creek Falls
Fish_Creek_Falls_013_07262020 - Julie and Tahia continuing to descend the busy trail leading to the bottom of Fish Creek Falls
Fish_Creek_Falls_014_07262020 - Julie and Tahia going by this signposted fork on the way down to Fish Creek Falls, which I'd come back to on the way out
Fish_Creek_Falls_015_07262020 - It was kind of 50/50 regarding how many people work masks and how many didn't despite the heavy use that the Falls Creek Falls Trail was getting
Fish_Creek_Falls_018_07262020 - The Fish Creek Falls Trail descending alongside the Fish Creek itself
Fish_Creek_Falls_020_07262020 - Julie and Tahia still pursuing the Fish Creek Falls' bottom while we already noticed many people within Fish Creek keeping cool
Fish_Creek_Falls_022_07262020 - Approaching the footbridge over Fish Creek near the base of Fish Creek Falls
Fish_Creek_Falls_025_07262020 - Looking upstream towards the impressive Fish Creek Falls from the front of the footbridge
Fish_Creek_Falls_041_07262020 - Context of quite a few people scrambling in Fish Creek to get closer to Fish Creek Falls as seen from the footbridge
Fish_Creek_Falls_042_07262020 - Broad look upstream from the footbridge towards Fish Creek Falls
Fish_Creek_Falls_051_07262020 - Looking downstream from the footbridge at people enjoying themselves in Fish Creek
Fish_Creek_Falls_052_07262020 - Another look downstream at many people keeping cool in both the shade and in the water along Fish Creek on the hot Summer day that we showed up in late July 2020
Fish_Creek_Falls_055_07262020 - Looking across Fish Creek at my wife and daughter trying to find a suitable spot to play at while trying to maintain social distance as I was starting to hike up to the Fish Creek Falls Overlook
Fish_Creek_Falls_057_07262020 - Making my way uphill as I sought for a hopefully more peaceful Fish Creek Falls experience at the overlook
Fish_Creek_Falls_063_07262020 - Going past a restroom facility and picnic area while pursuing the Fish Creek Falls Overlook
Fish_Creek_Falls_064_07262020 - On the paved trail beyond the Fish Creek Picnic Area en route to the Falls Overlook
Fish_Creek_Falls_068_07262020 - This dead-end on the way to the Fish Creek Falls Overlook appeared to have once been part of a trail that went directly up to the overlooks
Fish_Creek_Falls_069_07262020 - Switching back on the way up to the Fish Creek Falls Overlook
Fish_Creek_Falls_074_07262020 - Making my way up to the first of the overlooks at the Fish Creek Falls Overlook
Fish_Creek_Falls_081_07262020 - View of Fish Creek Falls from that first of the overlooks on the way to the actual overlook itself
Fish_Creek_Falls_086_07262020 - Context of the remainder of the Fish Creek Falls Overlook walkway
Fish_Creek_Falls_087_07262020 - Closer look at a shelter fronted by some interpretive signs at the Fish Creek Falls Overlook
Fish_Creek_Falls_092_07262020 - Finally at the Fish Creek Falls Overlook, which was refreshingly quiet compared to the path to the bottom
Fish_Creek_Falls_096_07262020 - Focused look at Fish Creek Falls from the overlook
Fish_Creek_Falls_114_07262020 - Contextual look at Fish Creek Falls as seen from the end of the overlook trail
Fish_Creek_Falls_134_07262020 - Context of a couple and their dog at the Fish Creek Falls Overlook
Fish_Creek_Falls_139_07262020 - After having my fill of the Fish Creek Falls Overlook, it was time to head back to the parking lot where I passed by numerous families going the other way
Fish_Creek_Falls_142_07262020 - Continuing along the wheelchair-accessible paved walkway between the Fish Creek Falls Overlook and the Trailhead Parking Lot
Fish_Creek_Falls_144_07262020 - Looking back towards Fish Creek Falls as I was headed back to the parking lot
Fish_Creek_Falls_149_07262020 - Another contextual look back towards Fish Creek Falls with some obscure infrastructure in the foreground
Fish_Creek_Falls_150_07262020 - Still heading back along the wheelchair-friendly Fish Creek Falls Overlook Trail en route to the parking lot
Fish_Creek_Falls_151_07262020 - Finally approaching the busy Fish Creek Falls Trailhead Parking Lot to end our brief visit
Fish_Creek_Falls_153_07262020 - Looking back towards the the start of the Overlook Trail at Fish Creek Falls

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The Fish Creek Falls Trailhead Parking was a mere 3 miles east of the main part of Steamboat Springs.

From the Colorado State Highway 131 and the US40 junction just south of town, we drove north for just under 4 miles to the traffic light at 3rd Street.

Fish_Creek_Falls_004_07262020 - Looking back at the very busy parking lot at the Fish Creek Falls Trailhead
Looking back at the very busy parking lot at the Fish Creek Falls Trailhead

We then turned right onto 3rd Street and made another right onto Fish Creek Falls Road, where we then followed this road for the remaining 3 miles to the road’s end.

There was a large parking lot at the end of the road, but we also noticed lots of cars parallel parked along the Fish Creek Falls Road well before that parking lot, which attested to this place’s popularity.

Ordinarily, we were supposed to pay a $5 parking fee at this parking lot though we did have an Interagency Pass, which should be honored considering these were accepted in most National Forest areas.

However, it seemed like due to COVID-19 no one was enforcing nor collecting this parking fee during our visit in late July 2020.

Fish_Creek_Falls_154_07262020 - The fee collection booth at the Fish Creek Falls Trailhead Parking Lot, which was likely not operating due to COVID-19 during our late July 2020 visit
The fee collection booth at the Fish Creek Falls Trailhead Parking Lot, which was likely not operating due to COVID-19 during our late July 2020 visit

Overall, driving this stretch took us on the order of 10-15 minutes though most of that time was probably spent waiting at traffic lights in Steamboat Springs.

For context, Steamboat Springs was about 114 miles (over 2 hours drive) north of Glenwood Springs, 156 miles (about 3 hours drive) northwest of Denver, 192 miles (about 3.5 hours drive) northeast of Grand Junction, 187 miles (over 3 hours drive) west of Fort Collins, 173 miles (under 3 hours drive) southwest of Cheyenne, Wyoming, and 332 miles (about 6 hours drive) east of Salt Lake City, Utah.

Downstream to upstream sweep from the bridge beneath the base of the falls


Downstream to upstream sweep from the first of the overlooks


Main overlook before zooming in on the falls with someone walking near the top of the falls then panning to the bottom

Trip Planning Resources


Tagged with: steamboat springs, colorado, routt county, routt national forest, swimming hole, waterfall, fish creek canyon



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Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of 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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