With one jaw-dropping scenic overlook after another, Trail Ridge Road, the highest elevation continuous road in the United States, gets all the attention in Rocky Mountain National Park. But Trail Ridge Road wasn’t the first road through the national park. That distinction belongs to Old Fall River Road, which opened in 1920.
Fall River Road, an 11 mile, steep, narrow, one way, 15 mph, dirt/gravel road, was the first road in Rocky Mountain National Park offering access to the park’s high country and alpine tundra.
Along the drive from Horseshoe Park and the Alluvial Fan to the Alpine Visitor Center in Fall River Pass, Old Fall River Road passes a gorgeous waterfall that you can access from the bottom or the top.
Visiting Chasm Falls
Sitting at 9,068 feet elevation, Chasm Falls is a 25 foot plunging waterfall about 100 yards off Old Fall River Road in Rocky Mountain National Park.
As you travel up Old Fall River Road, the first access point for Chasm Falls is nothing more than a wide spot on a hairpin turn that fits maybe three vehicles. From this roadside pullout below the falls, a short and rough trail travels uphill over and around rocks and boulders to the edge of Fall River and a distant upstream view of the waterfall.
The view from the bottom is mostly of Fall River tumbling downhill over rocks. But the view from the scenic overlook a bit farther up Old Fall River Road offers the perfect view of the plunging, 25 foot, Rocky Mountain National Park waterfall.
At the top of Chasm Falls, there is a parking area alongside the road for about 10 vehicles. This is also the trailhead for a 0.1 mile, out and back trail to an observation platform. The trail travels downhill and down some natural stairs to the observation platform near the base of the waterfall.
It’s a short and beautiful walk for all ages and totally worth the stop.
From here you can:
- See Fall River flowing toward Horseshoe Park downstream
- See Chasm Falls upstream as it bursts through a granite chasm in Fall River, funneling its waters into a narrow gorge
On the trail, if you look closely at the waterfall’s gorge, you’ll find a hole-in-the-rock. It was created by water rushing under the rock and causing rocks to swirl in a whirlpool and carved and smoothed this hole. Uplift later tilted this rock on its side.
After seeing this beautiful waterfall and Adams Falls, we were excited to have time to check out Alberta Falls and Copeland Falls too! I just wish we had even more time to see the rest of Rocky Mountain National Park’s waterfalls!
Know Before You Go
- Chasm Falls is a 25 foot waterfall off Old Fall River Road in Rocky Mountain National Park that emerges from a chasm in Fall River where the rock funnels its waters into a narrow gorge.
- Stop at the bottom of the waterfall for a short hike and beautiful view upstream at the falls, then drive further up the road to a roadside parking area for a short hike down to an observation platform overlooking the waterfall.
- Old Fall River Road, the first auto route in Rocky Mountain National Park offering access to the high country, is an 11 mile, steep, narrow, one way, 15 mph, gravel road that stretches from Horseshoe Park and Endovalley to the Alpine Visitor Center in Fall River Pass on Trail Ridge Road.
- Old Fall River Road is open to vehicles from July to October. Bikers and hikers with pets may use the road through November. The road is closed to vehicles in the winter, but open for snowshoeing and cross county skiing.
- When Old Fall River Road is closed, you can still reach Chasm Falls! Park at the West Alluvial Fan Trailhead and continue west along the road past the winter gate. The hike is 2.4 miles one way, 4.8 miles round trip.
- The road is safe for all normal vehicles, but is closed to trailers and large recreational vehicles because of the 16 tight switchbacks and and no guard rails
- Before driving Old Fall River Road, stop in one of the Visitor Centers and grab a copy of the Old Fall River Road Guide for $1.00. It will point out everything you need to know about the sights along the drive.
- Download the Fall River Area Trail Guide.
- Old Fall River Road was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.
- Leashed pets are allowed on Old Fall River Road.