South Fork Mineral Creek Falls

Silverton / San Juan National Forest, Colorado, USA

About South Fork Mineral Creek Falls


Hiking Distance: about 1-mile round trip (to base of both falls; stream crossings)
Suggested Time: 1 hour

Date first visited: 2020-07-24
Date last visited: 2020-07-24

Waterfall Latitude: 37.805
Waterfall Longitude: -107.77761

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South Fork Mineral Creek Falls was a pleasant two-tiered waterfall each dropping about 40-50ft with a colorful plunge pool, especially when the run strikes its crystal clear waters.

The nice thing about this waterfall was that I was able to access the base of each tier, which seemed conducive to wading or even swimming.

South_Mineral_Creek_Falls_011_07242020 - Both drops of South Fork Mineral Creek Falls
Both drops of South Fork Mineral Creek Falls

However, as you can see from the photo above, I thought it was the color of the water contrasting with the surrounding cliffs that seemed to have a tinge of purple and red that really made this place photogenic to boot!

As if that wasn’t enough, there was also an idyllic campsite called the South Mineral Campground, which was surrounded by tall cliffs in an open setting.

In addition to a pretty short 1-mile round-trip hike to the South Fork Mineral Creek Falls (which involved a stream crossing), there was also the option of hiking up to the Ice Lake Basin for something more ambitious.

Accessing South Fork Mineral Creek Falls

This brief excursion began from a busy day use parking area across from the South Mineral Campground (see directions below).

South_Mineral_Creek_Falls_078_07242020 - Looking back towards some colorful mountains in the distance as seen from the idyllic South Mineral Campground
Looking back towards some colorful mountains in the distance as seen from the idyllic South Mineral Campground

I suspected that this parking lot was meant to be the trailhead for the Ice Lake Basin, it was also fine as a trailhead for the South Fork Mineral Creek Falls.

Although there were no signs indicating the target waterfall, I pretty much followed the looping camp road for roughly a quarter-mile until I saw a use-trail that crossed Clear Creek (a side creek that merged with South Fork Mineral Creek further downstream).

Since I came prepared with Keens, I had no trouble getting across the shin-deep stream.

However, I’d imagine that it would be non-trivial trying to keep a pair of hiking boots dry on such a crossing.

South_Mineral_Creek_Falls_006_07242020 - A trail from the South Mineral Campground that led me across this crossing of Clear Creek on the way to South Fork Mineral Creek Falls
A trail from the South Mineral Campground that led me across this crossing of Clear Creek on the way to South Fork Mineral Creek Falls

Anyways, on the other side of the creek, I saw an even more obvious trail that turned to my left and then started going uphill from the confluence of South Fork Mineral Creek and Clear Creek.

Barely a couple minutes into this climb, I started to hear and then see the context of the pair of drops comprising the South Fork Mineral Creek Falls.

Accessing the Base of the Lower Drop of South Fork Mineral Creek Falls

Near the view that revealed the entirety of the South Fork Mineral Creek Falls, I noticed there was a narrow and eroded ledge trail that went precariously towards the bottom of the lower waterfall.

There was a bit of a precarious first step to get by the first eroded part of this ledge on the descent.

South_Mineral_Creek_Falls_050_07242020 - Context of the final few steps of the somewhat eroded ledge trail leading to the bottom of South Fork Mineral Creek Falls
Context of the final few steps of the somewhat eroded ledge trail leading to the bottom of South Fork Mineral Creek Falls

Then, there was an even more crumbly and steep final few steps to get to the banks of the South Fork Mineral Creek itself.

From down here, I felt that the water was rather painfully cold (owing to its snow-fed source), but the closer I got to the waterfall, the harder it was to see the upper drop.

I also noticed that there was somewhat of a little alcove here, which can play tricks with the acoustics as it can make me think that there was rushing water coming from the alcove itself instead of the waterfall!

Accessing the Base of the Upper Drop of South Fork Mineral Creek Falls

When I noticed that there appeared to be a continuation of a trail that went further uphill from the contextual viewing spot of the South Fork Mineral Creek Falls, I pursued it to see where else it went.

South_Mineral_Creek_Falls_022_07242020 - Following a wider and more tame trail to the base of the upper drop of South Fork Mineral Creek Falls
Following a wider and more tame trail to the base of the upper drop of South Fork Mineral Creek Falls

Not long after starting this pursuit, I spotted another ledge trail that led directly to the base of the upper drop of the waterfall.

Unlike the scramble to the lower drop, this ledge trail was a bit more tame and less eroded.

The use-trail was slightly longer than that of the lower waterfall, but it was less steep.

At the base of the upper waterfall, the plunge pool here seemed to be a bit deeper though there was less real-estate to move around without going into the creek.

South_Mineral_Creek_Falls_031_07242020 - Angled view of the upper drop of South Fork Mineral Creek Falls
Angled view of the upper drop of South Fork Mineral Creek Falls

So overall, I wound up hiking about a mile to experience the base of both waterfalls from the day use trailhead parking, and I did this in a span of around an hour.

It turned out that I was pretty much all alone for both of the South Fork Mineral Creek Falls though there was an angler leaving the lower waterfall when I showed up.

When I headed back to the campground and then the trailhead, I encountered one woman seeking the waterfalls asking me if there were lots of people there.

Thus, I got the sense that this place wasn’t exactly neither hidden nor unknown, but it didn’t feel overrrun either.

South_Mineral_Creek_Falls_068_07242020 - Descending back down the trail from the South Fork Mineral Creek Falls towards the South Mineral Campground
Descending back down the trail from the South Fork Mineral Creek Falls towards the South Mineral Campground

Then again, maybe that had something to do with the threatening bad weather that seemed to dominate the forecast though it didn’t really deliver on the day of my visit.

Authorities

South Fork Mineral Creek Falls resides in the San Juan National Forest near the town of Silverton in San Juan 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.

South_Mineral_Creek_Falls_071_07242020 - Looking back at the context of surrounding mountains at the South Mineral Campground as I was pursuing the South Fork Mineral Creek Falls
South_Mineral_Creek_Falls_008_07242020 - After crossing Clear Creek, I followed this pretty obvious trail further downstream in the general direction of the South Fork Mineral Creek Falls (towards the confluence of Clear Creek and South Fork Mineral Creek)
South_Mineral_Creek_Falls_010_07242020 - Looking towards the context of part of South Fork Mineral Creek Falls and the precarious narrow ledge trail leading to its base
South_Mineral_Creek_Falls_014_07242020 - Contextual look at the South Fork Mineral Creek Falls as I looked for a good way to see its entire context
South_Mineral_Creek_Falls_019_07242020 - Portrait view of the context of both drops of South Fork Mineral Creek Falls
South_Mineral_Creek_Falls_023_07242020 - Following a fairly tame ledge trail leading to the base of the upper drop of South Fork Mineral Creek Falls
South_Mineral_Creek_Falls_026_07242020 - Descending to the plunge pool and base of the upper drop of South Fork Mineral Creek Falls
South_Mineral_Creek_Falls_028_07242020 - Broad look across the colorful plunge pool at the base of the upper drop of South Fork Mineral Creek Falls
South_Mineral_Creek_Falls_041_07242020 - Portrait view of the upper drop of South Fork Mineral Creek Falls
South_Mineral_Creek_Falls_049_07242020 - After having my fill of the base of the upper drop of the South Fork Mineral Creek Falls, I then scrambled back up the ledge trail and tried to do the same thing for the lower drop of South Fork Mineral Creek Falls
South_Mineral_Creek_Falls_051_07242020 - Looking upstream towards the base of South Fork Mineral Creek Falls once I got down to the bottom of its somewhat eroded use-trail
South_Mineral_Creek_Falls_053_07242020 - Broad contextual view of the South Fork Mineral Creek Falls as I approached its base
South_Mineral_Creek_Falls_054_07242020 - This portrait view of the South Fork Mineral Creek Falls came from the overhanging alcove that was playing some acoustic tricks with my hearing
South_Mineral_Creek_Falls_066_07242020 - Looking back at the red dirt from the eroded part of the last bit of the ledge trail and scramble to the very bottom of South Fork Mineral Creek Falls
South_Mineral_Creek_Falls_067_07242020 - Closer look at the alcove adjacent to the bottom of the ledge scramble to the bottom of South Fork Mineral Creek Falls

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To access the South Fork Mineral Creek Falls, the key was to reach the trailhead parking lot by the South Mineral Campground.

While we can drive north to the falls from Durango, we came from Ouray so that’s how I’ll describe the driving directions in this section.

South_Mineral_Creek_Falls_001_07242020 - The Ice Lake Basin Trailhead Parking by the South Mineral Campground
The Ice Lake Basin Trailhead Parking by the South Mineral Campground

So from Ouray, we drove south on the Hwy 550 (also called the Million Dollar Highway) for about 21 miles towards Silverton.

However, before reaching Silverton, we then turned right onto the Forest Road 585, which was an unpaved road reasonably doable by 2wd passenger vehicles.

We then followed this unpaved road for about 4.5 miles to the Ice Lakes Trailhead Parking, which was directly across from the South Mineral Campground.

Overall, this 25-mile drive took us a little under an hour.

South_Mineral_Creek_Falls_076_07242020 - Looking back at the context of the Ice Lake Basin Trailhead from the South Mineral Campground
Looking back at the context of the Ice Lake Basin Trailhead from the South Mineral Campground

For context, Silverton was about 23 miles (about 45 minutes drive) south of Ouray, about 48 miles (over an hour drive) north of Durango, 73 miles (under 2 hours drive) south of Telluride, 120 miles (about 2.5 hours drive) southeast of Grand Junction, 324 miles (over 6 hours drive) southwest of Denver, 173 miles (over 3.5 hours drive) east of Moab, Utah, and 263 miles (over 4.5 hours drive) north of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Checking out both tiers of the South Fork Mineral Creek Falls from an elevated area above the scramble to the lower falls


Downstream to upstream sweep from the base of the upper drop of South Fork MIneral Creek Falls


Long video exploring pretty much the area at the base of the South Fork Mineral Creek Falls while the sun had broken through the clouds momentarily

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Tagged with: silverton, colorado, million dollar highway, san juan national forest, rocky mountains, durango, waterfall



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