Fourmile Falls, worth the price of admission

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Fourmile Falls, worth the price of admission

Fourmile Falls
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I’m not sure what it is about waterfalls that draw us to them. The sound? The power? The beauty? Perhaps it is our connection with water in general?  We need it to live and waterfalls seem to have an inexhaustible supply, falling from the edge of a cliff like a huge, magical tap that remains open forever.

While I can’t really put my finger on what draws us to them, I can say what doesn’t: people. Or rather, the things that people bring with them. On a trip to Hawaii’s Big Island a few years ago, Suzy and I stopped at a couple of “must see” waterfalls. Based on the photos we had seen in the tour books and on tourism web sites, we expected a scene mixed with peace and rugged beauty. What we got was a little closer to chaos.

The parking areas were littered with tour buses, rental cars, and people moving in all directions at once. The viewing areas were full of strollers, cell phones, and tripods. Everyone’s objectives appeared to be seeing what the tourism bureau and companies wanted them to see and getting that perfect photo for their albums or, more likely, a post on a Facebook page that will garner the most “Likes” for 12 hours or so. Of course, we fell in line like everyone else. After all, we were in Hawaii. Right?

Fourmile Falls, located just North of Pagosa Springs, CO offers a completely different experience.

First, you have to go looking for it. They do talk about it on their tourism website under Hikes >> Waterfalls but there is no photo and the description reads like this:

The trail is bordered by dense stands of aspen and spruce. At mile three you will reach the waterfall, which drops 300 feet from the cliff above.

Talk about understatement. The only indication that you might see something cool is the part that says it is 300 feet tall. They could have at least thrown in a few cliché words like “breathtaking” or “awe inspiring.” Of course, if that’s what they need to do to keep the tour buses away then I’m all for it. In other parts of the country they would have paved road all the way to the base of the falls. The beauty and my own appreciation of the falls would have been lost to blacktop and diesel fumes.

Second, you have to work for it. The only way to get there is to hike the six miles, three there and three back. And that is really the most beautiful part. There is something about making you work for it, even if the work isn’t all that hard, that makes the whole experience. It is the time to unwind, the anticipation, the feeling of discovery, the feeling that you, and the handful of people you see on the trail, have earned the right to be there.

Before you get to the base of the falls you hear the thunder of water hitting the rocks. As you get closer you can feel the power of the water tearing down the mountain, the mist blows up in your face, and the smell of minerals and dampness fill the air. There are no viewing platforms, no railings, no tour guides. You can walk right up to the falls, sit down next to them for a minute, an hour, or longer. There is no agenda, no pressure to move on to the next “must see” attraction.

Of course there is the three mile hike back to the car and then the drive home but those are small prices to pay. Small for us but still too large for most people and that feels just fine to me.

About Author


I'm currently the Interim Director of Web Services at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. I enjoy traveling, hiking, camping, gardening, reading and more.