About Fish Creek Falls
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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