Hiking the Cascade Creek Trail in Colorado

When planning a quick post-holiday getaway to Durango, Colorado I had visions of snow-kissed mountains and frigid temperatures dancing around in my head.  However a mild season thus far meant that winter activities like snowshoeing were out of the question for our trip.  So instead we were in search of a wintery hike that would be both easy to get to from Downtown with varying terrain and moderate difficulty.  We found just that with the Cascade Creek Trail, which is located about 30 miles north of Durango in the San Juan National Forest, offering picturesque mountain peaks, aspen and pine forests, valleys and the biggest draw, waterfalls.

This hike took us just under 4 hours to complete (2 hours in to reach the waterfall and about 1.5 hours back), and made for an absolutely beautiful afternoon before heading home.  Read on for more details about how to get there and what to expect, including a map and more photos in the gallery at the end of this post.

How to Get There
From Downtown Durango head north on Main Avenue, which turns into US 550.  Shortly after you pass Purgatory Resort on the left, the highway will make a sharp hairpin turn to the right where you’ll want to make a quick left onto Forest Road 783.  From here drive about 3/4 mile on an unpaved road until you reach a parking area (note: when we were there the road looked really icy and we didn’t want to chance getting stuck in our rental car so we parked on the side of 783 and walked to the parking lot instead).  From the parking lot, head right towards the wooden bridge over a flume from an abandoned lumber mill.  If you have a vehicle with 4-wheel drive you can continue driving to the trailhead, otherwise it’s a relatively easy 3/4-mile hike on foot to a red metal gate that marks the start of the trail.

On the Trail
According to the U.S. Forest Service, the Cascade Creek Trail is 6 miles long with an elevation change of 9,200 to 11,200 feet, which eventually connects with several other trails.  I read here and here that the trail actually splits into 2 trails on either side of the Cascade Creek about 1/4 mile after passing through the metal gate.  The Cascade Creek Trail is completely unmarked but we read online that the path towards the left (west) crosses the creek and stays within earshot of the water for the majority of the hike, whereas the path towards the right (east) follows the creek for a short time before climbing 320 feet above the valley and through the forest.  We took the latter as there was only one visible track of footprints in the snow and were not disappointed.  After hiking about 3 miles from the parking lot, we came to a wooden bridge over Engineer Creek and towards the right is where you’ll find a waterfall, which was beautifully frozen in our case.  This marked the turnaround point for us after stopping for a quick lunch, however if we had continued further up the trail there is another, larger waterfall just past the Graysill Creek.

ON THE MAP

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