South Willow Creek Falls via Mesa-Cortina

Distance9.45 mi
Elevation Gain1355 feet
My Time4 hrs 7 min
DifficultyModerate
Nearest TownSilverthorne
Food NearbyMurphys

The hike to the Willow Creek Falls through the Eagles Nest Wilderness is a long but not overwhelming hike. I went in the fall with some really nice leaf colors and a chance to see wildlife, mountains, a creek and a tri-level waterfall.

Starting Out

What I thought was odd of the bat was that this hike actually started in a small lot in the middle of a neighborhood in Silverton. You will start by walking on a narrow trail just off the back yards of some houses you can see through the trees.

This lasts for just under a mile before you open up onto a large field, tree lined on one side and open to views of the town and surrounding mountains to the other. It was a pretty good “wow” moment this early into the hike.

A large field with trees with yellow and gold leaves with a mountain in the background.

The Wilderness

After the field you will see the sign that you are entering the Eagles Nest Wilderness. After seeing the sign, you will hit the first of two main inclines for the hike. This first incline will have you climb about 300 feet in half a mile through the woods.

When you reach the top of the first small hill you will be on a narrow sandy trail that has a ton of Aspen trees. This was absolutely stunning on this fall day and made the entire trip for me.

There are plenty more pictures in the gallery but these were a few of my favorites. Honestly after seeing this I floated a bit down the trail, it seemed everywhere I looked there was more yellow, gold and auburn leaves.

Another mile down the path and you will cross over South Willow creek on a small bridge. After the bridge you will connect to the Gore Range trail. You want to take the Gore Range trail to the west to head to the falls.

South Willow creek running through the woods as taken from the bridge.

Gore Range Trail

Gore Range Trail is pretty flat to begin with and the trail widens out a little bit. You will begin to see some peaks and Buffalo Mountain ahead of you and there are also a couple of clearings on the left hand side as you head to the falls.

This portion of the hike has really nice views and is flat. It is nice to be in the open a bit after walking through the trees so much. The open fields also are a nice perspective. The fields were full of birds while I walked through and someone who was there earlier said they saw some moose.

A red leafed aspen tree in the foreground with a mountain peak in the background from the Gore Range Trail

To the Falls

The last push towards the falls is where you find your second major elevation gains. The trail also gets a lot rockier at this point. It almost becomes like a stone staircase that you need to get up to get to the falls.

You will end up gaining about 500 feet of elevation over a mile on this last push. Seven tenths of a mile from the falls you will see a signpost. The Falls aren’t officially on the sign but someone has scratched the way so you can follow that.

The Falls

Don’t be distracted by the fact that you stop hearing running water next to you. As you get closer to the falls the sound goes away until you are right next to them. The path right at the end gets a little tricky as there are a bunch of trees down that you have to walk around/over but don’t get discouraged.

The falls are some of the nice I have seen in awhile. It is a 3 tiered fall. It is easy to get to the bottom 2 tiers and there is a large rock that is accesable under the main fall. There is also a pretty good amount of space here. i spent some time enjoying the falls and eating some snacks.

Distance and Elevation

If you don’t have the AllTrails app you might want to check it out, I really love mine. It records your progress and is a great way to search for hikes that are nearby and gives you difficulty measurements. According to AllTrails today’s hike was around 9.45 miles and had a total elevation gain of about 1355 feet including undulations. That put the high point at around 10,048 feet. I was also moving for a total of 4 hours and 7 minutes.

Effort

While this is a long hike, nearly 10 miles, it doesn’t have a lot of huge elevation pushes. There are 2 steep pushes with a long flatter section in between so the effort isn’t too much. Here is the step count from the hike from my Fitbit. My Fitbit did break it down into 2 sections because I took a bit of a break at the falls.

Terrain

For the most this hike is on a dirt trail without a ton of rocks but there are some there. The first half of the hike before you cross the first stream the dirt was pretty loose and sandy. As you get closer to the Gore trail the ground hardens up and you will be on a pretty wide dirt path. Closer to the falls the path gets to be more of a stone staircase of sorts. It gets steeper and rockier. I would recommend a good pair of hiking shoes.

Access

While there are several ways to gain aaccess to the wilderness, the path I took had me parking in small lot on Aspen drive in the Wildernest neighborhood in Silverthorne. There is only room for about 8-10 cars in this lot and there are no restroom facilities. Also note that all the surrounding area is private property so make sure you stay on the path.

Wrap up

What an amazing trail and the perfect time of year to visit it. I keep wondering if the trail would have been as good if the leaves weren’t changing color and I think my answer would still be yes. While the amazing colors were a big factor to the enjoyment, I think the overall make up of the trail was also really nice.

While there was a lot of this trail in the shade, there is also a good portion that is in the open. The elevation gain is broken up so you aren’t just climbing straight up a hill and has a large flat portion in the middle of the hike to re-energize.

The falls are also amazing. Even late in the fall there was plenty of water and activity around the falls.

The length of the hike is on the moderate side but because of the makeup of the trail I think that it might be a good higher altitude hike that can be enjoyed by many. This is one of my favorites so far.

I have added this hike and all of my hikes to my interactive map that you can find here. If you have any suggestions for future hikes or any comments feel free to email me at fatmanlittletrails@gmail.com or you can follow me on any of the below social media platforms. Happy Hiking!

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