About Judd Falls
Judd Falls was perhaps the most accessible waterfall in the Crested Butte area, and so it didn’t surprise us that it also got a lot of visitation.
Considering how tiring high altitude hiking can be, I found this trail’s modest distance and fairly gentle elevation change to be a good introduction to the hiking in this part of the Rocky Mountains.
As you can see in the photo above, Judd Falls was basically a two-tiered twisting waterfall nestled within a canyon that was quite shadowy by the time we showed up on our mid-October visit in 2020.
So even though the larger lower half of Judd Falls was bathed in afternoon light, its upper tier was darkened out by the shadows.
I’d imagine that mid-day to early afternoon would be the best times to see this waterfall without as many shadows impacting the viewing and photographing experience.
The most strenuous part of the hike was pretty much in the first half-mile or so when we climbed roughly 200ft or so in elevation to reach the upper trailhead parking area for Judd Falls.
We noticed that some people have managed to drive to this upper trailhead parking area (including a sedan, which I’m sure he must have suffered some scrapes to the undercarriage of the car given how rocky the trail/road was).
People who have managed to drive up to here would shave off about a mile of the overall distance round-trip.
A gate and some trail signage marked the official start to the Judd Falls Trail, which traversed through private property that I’d imagine belonged to the nearby hamlet of Gothic down below.
Speaking of Gothic, there were other roads and trails that would have made for a much shorter walk to reach Judd Falls, but they’re unsanctioned given the off-limits nature of the trails coming up directly from the “ghost town”.
After the trail leveled out not long after surpassing the gate marking the official start of the Judd Falls Trail, it passed through some open terrain flanked by some aspen trees (most bare and a few still clinging to leaves during our mid-October visit).
Then, the trail descended for about 100-120ft or so before reaching an unpaved road where we had the option of continuing further upstream along the Copper Creek Trail (eventually leading to Copper Lake) or briefly going downhill to the right towards Judd Falls.
Right near the gate with warning signs about how the land was private behind the gate leading back down to Gothic, this was where we went left to a lookout bench peering right down at the falls.
Overall, we spent a little under 2 hours in total, but we really took our time, especially since we were still getting acclimated to the elevation (at around 9,800ft).
Judd Falls resides in the Gunnison National Forest just above Gothic and near the town of Crested Butte in Gunnison County, Colorado. It is administered by the USDA Forest Service, but the trail passes through private property (belonging to the Gothic). For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.
Judd Falls was near the hamlet of Gothic, which was roughly 6 miles north of Crested Butte 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).
It took us roughly 25 minutes to drive from Crested Butte to this trailhead, which gives you an idea of how fast (or slow) we had to go on the Gothic Road.
Once at the Judd Falls Lower Trailhead Parking Area (which was pretty obvious given the restroom facility as well as plenty of parking spaces), we had a choice of starting the hike here or reducing our hike by another mile round-trip.
We opted to start at the lower trailhead, which made the round-trip hiking distance about 2.4 miles round-trip according to my GPS logs.
However, we could have tested the clearance of our rental SUV and kept driving up part of the Judd Falls Trail to the Copper Creek Trailhead (or what I’ve called the Upper Parking Area for the Judd Falls Trail).
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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