Upper Ames Falls

Ames / Telluride, Colorado, USA

About Upper Ames Falls


Hiking Distance: about 1.4 miles round trip (from power station to legal viewing spot)
Suggested Time: 1 hour

Date first visited: 2020-07-23
Date last visited: 2020-07-23

Waterfall Latitude: 37.86014
Waterfall Longitude: -107.88556

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Upper Ames Falls was an accidental waterfall where I stumbled upon it while searching for the more publicized Mystic Falls.

Apparently, this waterfall was more known as the “Ice Falls” (at least according to a sign I noticed at the nearby Ames Power Station) as it acted as an ice climbing challenge during the Winter months.

Mystic_Falls_055_07232020 - Partial look upstream at the Upper Ames Falls from a rough outcrop on the opposite side of the Lake Fork
Partial look upstream at the Upper Ames Falls from a rough outcrop on the opposite side of the Lake Fork

This waterfall was difficult to get a good look at primarily because it was flanked by private property on both sides of the Lake Fork.

So if ice climbers would climb this waterfall, I’d presume that they probably went upstream on the Lake Fork to reach the bottom of this waterfall as the watercourse itself was on public land.

Actually, when I stumbled upon this waterfall, I had originally thought that this was Mystic Falls, but upon further inspection, I realized that this falls was further upstream of the Mystic Falls, and thus it’s sometimes called “Upper Mystic Falls”.

As a result, I believe this waterfall had the formal name of Upper Ames Falls as indicated on GoogleMaps, which I’ve adopted in this write-up.

Mystic_Falls_003_07242020 - Sign in front of a door at the Ames Power Station possibly suggesting that the Upper Ames Falls was called the 'Ice Falls' and that 'roadrunner' sign might be a galloping goose
Sign in front of a door at the Ames Power Station possibly suggesting that the Upper Ames Falls was called the ‘Ice Falls’ and that ‘roadrunner’ sign might be a galloping goose

In order to get a view of the Upper Ames Falls, I’m aware of two ways to do it without trespassing.

A Sanctioned Way To View Upper Ames Falls From The Top

The first way I’m aware of to experience this waterfall is by walking along the 4wd road past the turnoff for the Mystic Falls Trailhead for about 0.4 miles.

There were spur trails leading closer to the Upper Ames Falls on the right, but they were all signposted as private property.

Therefore, the only way I was able to get a somewhat decent look at part of the Upper Ames Falls was to continue on the main 4wd road until I got a partial look down towards the profile of the waterfall between an opening in the foliage.

Mystic_Falls_088_07232020 - Looking down towards the Upper Ames Falls from a 4wd road just outside someone's private land
Looking down towards the Upper Ames Falls from a 4wd road just outside someone’s private land

The info box on the sidebar of this post describes that it was 1.4 miles round trip to experience the falls, and this was the manner that I had in mind when I filled in this section.

This consisted of the 0.4 miles to hike up the rough 4wd road between the Ames Power Station and the Mystic Falls Turnoff.

Then, I’d hike an additional 0.3 miles along the 4wd road towards the trail sign with the galloping goose and the side views of the Upper Ames Falls.

It wasn’t a particularly satisfactory view, but any of the better views of this waterfall would involve trespassing.

A Sanctioned Way To View Upper Ames Falls From The Bottom

Mystic_Falls_062_07232020 - Partial look upstream at the Upper Ames Falls from the banks of the Lake Fork where I decided not to wade any further since I wasn't prepared for it
Partial look upstream at the Upper Ames Falls from the banks of the Lake Fork where I decided not to wade any further since I wasn’t prepared for it

The second way to experience the Upper Ames Falls was essentially stream scrambling along the Lake Fork until reaching the base of the waterfall.

This was the way I almost managed to do it as I had unknowingly scrambled too far upstream from Mystic Falls and came upon intermediate cascades fronting the much wider Upper Ames Falls.

In order to make it all the way to the base of the falls for a cleaner look, I would have to wade into the Lake Fork, which was something I wasn’t prepared to do at the time.

So all I was left with were some awkwardly obstructed views as shown in the photo above.

Mystic_Falls_058_07232020 - An intermediate waterfall just downstream from the Upper Ames Falls, which was hidden behind the trees on the right side of this photo
An intermediate waterfall just downstream from the Upper Ames Falls, which was hidden behind the trees on the right side of this photo

This rough approach would require a roughly 1-mile round-trip scramble and stream wade along with an additional 0.8-mile round-trip hike on the 4wd road from the Ames Power Station to avoid potential damage to the car.

Thus, we’re looking at about a 1.8-mile round trip hike and scramble to reach the base of the Upper Ames Falls in this manner.

Private Property Concerns

The most satisfying views of the Upper Ames Falls actually would involve going through private property, which the owner had posted numerous signs to urge you not to do this.

Such views were best seen from an outcrop providing perhaps the most frontal look of the Upper Ames Falls from essentially the rim of the gorge.

Mystic_Falls_094_07232020 - This was as much of the Upper Ames Falls as I was able to see, but it involved scrambling around the boundaries of someone's private property, which is a questionable practice
This was as much of the Upper Ames Falls as I was able to see, but it involved scrambling around the boundaries of someone’s private property, which is a questionable practice

It’s probably because such views of this waterfall were elusive enough to otherwise not be attainable that this landowner took the trouble to post signs to keep people out of his property to pursue them.

Authorities

Upper Ames Falls resides near the town of Telluride in San Miguel County, Colorado. Although it’s surrounded by private property, it’s on the Lake Fork, which resides in the Uncompahgre National Forest. It is administered by the USDA Forest Service. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.

Mystic_Falls_001_07242020 - The narrow road leading to both Mystic Falls and Upper Ames Falls was climbing to the left just past the Ames Hydroelectric Generating Plant
Mystic_Falls_005_07242020 - This was the green cabin which was the first structure up the narrow road beyond the Ames Hydroelectric Generating Plant
Mystic_Falls_180_07242020 - This was the brown cabin which was the second structure up the narrow road beyond the Ames Hydroelectric Generating Plant
Mystic_Falls_012_07242020 - Walking up the narrow and rough 4wd road beyond the Ames Hydroelectric Generating Plant. I found it much easier to walk this nearly half-mile stretch than to try to drive it
Mystic_Falls_018_07242020 - Keeping straight at this unsigned junction on the way to the Mystic Falls Trailhead
Mystic_Falls_021_07242020 - Approaching the unsigned spur in the 4wd road where the road on the right led to the Mystic Falls Trailhead while the road on the left continued towards the Galloping Goose Trail
Mystic_Falls_023_07242020 - Even the final 0.1-mile stretch to the Mystic Falls Trailhead had some pretty deep ruts, which I also found easier to walk than to try to drive
Mystic_Falls_003_07232020 - This was the trailhead parking for Mystic Falls provided that the vehicle can make it this far without damage
Mystic_Falls_002_07232020 - This was an attractive waterfall seen right from the Mystic Falls Trailhead, but this one doesn't have a formal name
Mystic_Falls_015_07232020 - Scrambling towards the Lake Fork, but from here, I went upstream, which turned out to be the way towards the bottom of the Upper Ames Falls
Mystic_Falls_017_07232020 - Someone obviously tried to put some logs down across the Lake Fork to help people avoid getting their boots wet, but these were very questionable. In hindsight, I should have come prepared by wearing Keens so it mattered less whether I went into the water or not
Mystic_Falls_084_07232020 - Walking up the 4wd road leading to the Galloping Goose Trail and the upper views of the Upper Ames Falls. This happened after I decided to backtrack or scramble to the 4wd road instead of wading in the Lake Fork
Mystic_Falls_026_07232020 - Along the sanctioned 4wd road, this was the context of the partial view of Upper Ames Falls that I was able to get without trespassing
Mystic_Falls_027_07232020 - When the Galloping Goose Trail left the 4wd road, it was considerably narrower and more overgrown somewhere beyond the Upper Ames Falls' brink
Mystic_Falls_028_07232020 - The Galloping Goose Trail crossed the Lake Fork over this bridge
Mystic_Falls_031_07232020 - Beyond the footbridge over the Lake Fork, I actually continued along the Galloping Goose Trail in pursuit of a way to better experience Upper Ames Falls, but all the fencing around its ravine showed that all of it was private property
Mystic_Falls_035_07232020 - I continued to follow the Galloping Goose Trail to see where it ultimately led to and whether it might get me to a better way to access the Upper Ames Falls
Mystic_Falls_038_07232020 - Eventually, the Galloping Goose Trail got me to this wide open overlook at a former railroad with this view back in the direction of the Mystic Falls Trailhead backed by some impressive massif
Mystic_Falls_040_07232020 - Context of the former railroad section along the Galloping Goose Trail
Mystic_Falls_046_07232020 - Interpretive signposts at this overlook on the Galloping Goose Trail, which was as far as I went on this trail before backtracking to figure out how to get a better look at Upper Ames Falls
Mystic_Falls_047_07232020 - Heading back along the former railroad tracks on the Galloping Goose Trail en route to the Upper Ames Falls again
Mystic_Falls_050_07232020 - Scrambling down to this precarious outcrop with a partial view of the Upper Ames Falls
Mystic_Falls_054_07232020 - A slightly cleaner but still obstructed partial view of the Upper Ames Falls from a precarious outcrop
Mystic_Falls_070_07232020 - Doing some rough scrambling upstream besides the Lake Fork in pursuit of getting closer for a potentially better look at the Upper Ames Falls
Mystic_Falls_072_07232020 - This was the set of logs across the Lake Fork except one of them broke when I used it so I wound up soaking one of my boots
Mystic_Falls_089_07232020 - Partial view of Upper Ames Falls while trying to figure out a way to get a good look at it without trespassing
Mystic_Falls_093_07232020 - This was about as clean of a look of the Upper Ames Falls as I was able to get though I'm not sure if it's a sanctioned view
Mystic_Falls_097_07232020 - Walking back along the 4wd road from the Galloping Goose Trail to the Mystic Falls Trailhead and ultimately the Ames Hydroelectric Generating Plant

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For all intents and purposes, I think it is best to reach the Upper Ames Falls by way of the Ames Power Plant, which is near the small hamlet of Ames, Colorado. This hamlet is roughly a half-hour drive from the town of Telluride.

From Telluride, I drove west on the CO-145 for about 3 miles to the roundabout where I continued on the CO-145 south after taking the second exit.

Mystic_Falls_attempt_003_iPhone_07232020 - The unpaved County Road 63L on the way to the hamlet of Ames
The unpaved County Road 63L on the way to the hamlet of Ames

Then, I drove south on the CO-145 for about 7 mile to a sharp right turn onto the unpaved County Road 63L, which was just before the bridge over the Howard Fork.

I then followed the unpaved 63L Road for just under a mile to a sharp left turn onto the Ames Road.

Then, I descended the Ames Road for roughly 0.3 miles to the Ames Hydroelectric Generating Plant, where there was a lot of space for parking when I visited.

This is where I’d recommend parking the vehicle then walking the rest of the way because I’d argue that it would take almost as much time to try to drive the rest of the way than it would be to walk it.

Mystic_Falls_186_07242020 - The Ames Hydroelectric Generating Plant where I found it to be relatively safer to park the car here and then walk the rough road to access both Mystic Falls and the Upper Ames Falls
The Ames Hydroelectric Generating Plant where I found it to be relatively safer to park the car here and then walk the rough road to access both Mystic Falls and the Upper Ames Falls

Nevertheless, if you’ve got a vehicle rugged enough to handle it, you can drive the narrow road on the left just past this power plant.

This road ascends past a green cabin, then a brown cabin, before the road really gets rough as it climbs up some deep craters and protruding rocks on a 4wd track.

After another 0.3 miles, there’s an unsigned fork on the right, which leads the final 0.1-mile to an unsigned parking area that’s essentially the Mystic Falls Trailhead.

From here, you can walk upstream on the Lake Fork towards the base of Upper Ames Falls as described above, or you can walk back down the spur road then continue to the right on the 4wd road to the Galloping Goose Trail (also as described above).

Mystic_Falls_009_07242020 - Closeup look at the rugged 4wd road beyond the brown cabin where I found it much easier to walk this stretch than to attempt to drive it and risk damage to the vehicle
Closeup look at the rugged 4wd road beyond the brown cabin where I found it much easier to walk this stretch than to attempt to drive it and risk damage to the vehicle

For context, Telluride was 111 miles (over 2 hours drive) north of Durango, 126 miles (about 2.5 hours drive) southeast of Grand Junction, 330 miles (over 6 hours drive) southwest of Denver, 132 miles (under 3 hours drive) east of Moab, Utah, and 322 miles (about 6 hours drive) northwest of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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Obstructed view of Upper Ames Falls from the top of an intermediate waterfall but I didn't inundate my feet to cross in front of the falls


Awkward sweep trying to get the literature view of Upper Ames Falls (which I had thought was Mystic Falls), but somehow it doesn't seem to be right


Short sweep from some kind of foundation of a cabin looking towards an elevated but obstructed view of Upper Ames Falls from above the steep canyon


Sweep of Upper Ames Falls from a bluff near some private property

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Tagged with: telluride, colorado, ames, san miguel county, rocky mountains, private property



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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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