If you like waterfalls and cascades, add the North Inlet Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park to your to do list. While Cascade Falls is a popular destination, there are actually several cascades and waterfalls along this trail including the Big Pool, North Inlet Falls and several unnamed cascades.
The North Inlet Trail is near Grand Lake. While it’s in the park boundaries, the parking lot is not, so there is no admission fee. (Directions below)
The North Inlet Trail starts on an old road that drops down to a meadow. For the first mile or so, you’ll be hiking a mostly flat trail past horse ranches, meadows and strands of forest.
At 1.2 miles, you’ll come to an impressive cabin. Look carefully from the trail (do not walk on the property) to find a water pump and an outhouse. Do you see the cabin stairs? The homeowner has figured out a way to cover the stairs so hikers don’t take a break here.
After passing the cabin, the path becomes more of a trail than a road. You’ll find yourself in the forest passing aspens, pine trees and yes, groves of dead trees, destroyed by the pine beetles.
Over the next 1.5 miles, there are two bridge crossings. Both bridges span creeks that can be lively and scenic during snow melt season. Watch your footing as the bridge areas can be slick.
The trail is full of variety. There are meadows in the beginning, thick forest along the way and as you get closer to Cascade Falls, you’ll find rocky cliffs next to the trail.
About 0.3 miles from the falls, the trail gets much steeper, but the impressive sound of the falls will motivate you. Look through the trees as you climb for glimpses of the cascades.
Near the falls, the trail splits. A sign directs hikers with stock animals to the left, everyone else to the right. Go right until you see the sign for Cascade Falls.
Now you have two options. Continue hiking to the top of the falls and look down on the cascades. Or leave the trail at the Cascade Falls sign and make your way to the cascades. There are several very easy to follow social trails to the cascades. Just don’t get too close. The rocks and branches are slippery, even if they don’t look wet.
After exploring and taking pictures at Cascade Falls, continue up the trail. While it’s another 1.5 miles to the Big Pool, you’ll pass at least two other cascades along the way.
My favorite is 4.5 miles from the trailhead. It’s in a spot where the trail makes a big left turn as it climbs some stone stairs. You may hear a cascade to your right, you’ll see there’s a small drop. However, take a moment to go off-trail to that cascade — it’s worth it. See the photos in the attached slideshow.
About 4.9 miles from the trail, you’ll arrive at the Big Pool. There’s “the Pool” on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park on the trail to Fern Lake, but this is called the “Big Pool.” It’s a granite basin with a small waterfall feeding it. It’s a very pleasant, calming place for lunch if you’re turning around here or a rest break before you continue on. After taking a few photos of the swimming pool-like basin, walk up the trail a few steps and you’ll come to a nice 15-foot waterfall right above the big pool. Another great photo stop.
While it’s another 2.8 miles from the Big Pool to North Inlet Falls, once again, there are at least two more small cascades and a pond along the way.
At about 7.7 miles from the trailhead, you’ll come to an important trail split. Hikers go left for Flattop Mountain, but they turn right for Lake Nokoni and Nanita. Turn right here for North Inlet Falls. The trail drops over the next 0.2 miles the a bridge over North Inlet and a view of the waterfall.
North Inlet Falls is a beautiful waterfall that has scoured out a canyon, creating a scenic spot. From the bridge you can take photos of the falls and the canyon. Walk a few more steps up the trail and you’ll find yourself right now to the top of the falls.
One of my hikers said North Inlet Falls was his favorite waterfall on the trail. From here, it’s another 2.25 miles to Lake Nokoni, or turn around here for a hike of about 15.8 miles.
In the area, don’t miss the East Inlet Trail to Lone Pine Lake, Lake Verna and 4th and 5th lake. Find more Rocky Mountain National Park hikes and Colorado hiking trails in this list of 400+ hikes across the state. Don’t miss any of my trip reports, sign up for an email alert by clicking on subscribe at the top of this page and follow me on Facebook.
Details: The hike to North Inlet Falls is 15.8 miles with about 1800 feet of elevation gain with all the ups and downs, including 275 feet of gain on the way back from the falls to the main North Inlet Trail and don’t forget that last 60 foot climb at the end of the trail to get back to the parking lot.
According to the Park’s website, the North Inlet Trail was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on March 5, 2008.
Directions: Take Highway 34 to Grand Lake. When you turn into town, you’ll quickly come to a fork in the road. Take the left fork, West Portal Road. Follow the road about 1 mile and look for a sign on the left side of the road that says “North Inlet Trail.” Turn left and take the road up to the Tonahutu Trailhead. Turn right to the North Inlet Trailhead. There are about nine spots at the trailhead and there is another parking lot above the main lot. The trailhead has bathrooms, trash cans and an information sign.