I didn’t think we would see Copeland falls on our summer road trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. We planned one full day in the park bookended by two half days, and figured that stopping all along Trail Ridge Road, driving Old Fall River Road, exploring the Bear Lake Road area, checking out all of the visitor centers, and touring Grand Lake and Estes Park would take up all of our time. In no way did I think a drive out to the Wild Basin Entrance Station would fit into our family vacation, but it did, and it’s all because of park overcrowding. Silver lining!
Our last day in the park was going to be a half day, but instead it ended up being a very full day because when we stopped at the Moraine Park Discovery Center after exploring the Alluvial Fan waterfall and 3M Curve, we were told that Bear Lake Road was closed to all vehicles. Bear Lake Road is so popular that by 9:00 am, every parking spot at every trailhead is full and they close the road. After that, the only way to hike the trails and visit the beautiful lakes is to ride the free shuttle bus.
The rangers at the Moraine Park Discovery Center told us to go to the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center for shuttle information and those rangers told us that to catch the shuttle bus, you have to leave the park and go to the Estes Park Visitor Center.
Now we did consider riding the free shuttle for about five minutes, but abandoned that idea when we realized that:
- The entire time we had been in the park, we only saw the shuttle go by once.
- If we did ride the shuttle to a trailhead, we’d have to do A LOT of hiking and walking to the other trailheads or waste tons of time waiting for the shuttle to come back.
- We considered how crowded and loud the trails were going to be.
Luckily the ranger we spoke with told us that by 3:30 pm, the crowds dwindle and the road opens back up to personal vehicles. We extended our planned half day to a full day and then, because we had time to kill, we decided to head over to the Wild Basin area to hike to Copeland Falls and stop at the Chapel On A Rock along the way.
Wild Basin Entrance Station
The Wild Basin Entrance Station of Rocky Mountain National Park is located approximately 19 miles south of Estes Park between the towns of Meeker and Allenspark on Colorado Route 7 — the Peak to Peak Scenic Highway — in Boulder County.
Many Rocky Mountain National Park visitors never see the Wild Basin area of the park for two reasons:
- It isn’t connected to any other area of the park, so you have to leave the national park to get there.
- The Wild Basin Entrance Station is 30 minutes south of Estes Park.
The roughly 2.2 mile Wild Basin Road passes Copeland Lake at 8,300 feet elevation (which wasn’t very pretty) and a few picnic areas, then dead ends at a decent but not large parking lot where you’ll find vault restrooms, picnic tables, drinking water, a ranger station, and the Wild Basin Trailhead.
Wild Basin Trail provides access to:
- Copeland Falls
- Calypso Cascades
- Ouzel Falls and Ouzel Lake
- Finch Lake
- Bluebird Lake
- Thunder Lake
- Pear Lake
- Sandbeach Lake
Hiking To Copeland Falls
Copeland Falls is a series of waterfall cascades on St. Vrain Creek that pour and tumble over boulders. It is the first waterfall along the main Wild Basin Trail.
Copeland Falls is made up of two waterfall sections:
- Lower Copeland Falls
- Upper Copeland Falls
The hike to the cascading waterfalls is a fairly shady, easy hike that is really more of walk. It is 0.3 miles to Lower Copeland Falls, another 0.2 miles to Upper Copeland Falls, and a 0.5 mile walk back, making it a 1.0 mile round trip adventure.
From the parking area, the Wild Basin Trail starts out crossing a rustic wooden bridge over a babbling creek. Soon you’ll see signs for a spur trail that leads to the lower falls. You’ll then follow the spur trail along St. Vrain Creek to the upper falls. From here, you can turn around and go back the way you came or head back to the parking lot on the main trail.
We had a blast on this short, shady hike and enjoyed a yummy tailgate picnic lunch at one of the Wild Basin picnic areas. Copeland Falls was absolutely beautiful and I hope to come back again with time to hike all the way to Ouzel Falls.
Know Before You Go
- Copeland Falls is a series of waterfall cascades on St. Vrain Creek that plunge and tumble over boulders. To reach the falls, simply follow the Wild Basin Trail from the parking lot for 0.3 miles. This portion of the trail is easy and partially shaded.
- The Wild Basin Entrance Station for Rocky Mountain National Park is located approximately 19 miles south of Estes Park between the towns of Meeker and Allenspark on Colorado Route 7 — the Peak to Peak Scenic Highway — in Boulder County.
- The Wild Basin Ranger Station opened in 1932 and is located on Colorado Highway 115 in Allenspark, Colorado 80510.
- The Wild Basin Area is open spring through fall. In the winter it closes, and is only open for snowshoeing.
- The roughly 2.2 mile Wild Basin Road dead ends at a decent but not large parking lot where you’ll find vault restrooms, picnic tables, drinking water, a ranger station, and the Wild Basin Trailhead.
- The main Wild Basin parking lot fills quickly, which means that if you don’t arrive early in the morning, you may have to park at one of the road side pullouts up to a mile back down Wild Basin Road and walk in. If the parking lot and the pullouts are all full, the entrance station will close.
- Download the Wild Basin Area Trail Summer Guide or the Wild Basin Winter Trail Guide.
- Copeland Lake, Sprague Lake, and Lily Lake are the only lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park where you can get married (with a permit of course).
- No dogs or pets are allowed on the trail.