Mt. Princeton Area

I decided to take the girls hiking up around Mt. Princeton. There’s a waterfall there and the Arkansas River, both of which would make the dogs happy.
We departed Denver fairly early around 7:30 AM and arrived in the Mt. Princeton area around 9. The first stop of the day was the Agnes Vaille Falls. You reach the trailhead for the falls by turning west on Chaffee County road 162 from US 285 at Nathrop, CO. The parking area is about eight miles from US 285 on the north side of the road. Keep a sharp eye out for it as I missed it initially. The parking area is large enough for ten vehicles or so.

Once the girls unloaded and ran around a bit we headed up the trail.

Although the trail begins fairly flat it does get a bit steeper as you approach the trees. There’s also water to be found in the trees, too, as the creek which forms the falls shares the trailbed from time-to-time to a depth of 1-2 inches. Water-proof boots are recommended. The girls found the water quickly and were playing in it long before I caught up with them.

There are several historical markers along the trail describing the namesake of the falls (Agnes Vaille) and some of the area geography, including the old rail line that was carved into the side of the mountain on the opposite side of the valley.

Upon entering the slot canyon where the falls are located one is presented with several photo opportunities. While these are not the largest falls in Colorado they are easy to access.

I walked up closer to the base of the falls and found a spot to sit and watch the water cascading off of the cliff above. The spray was cool and chased me away after about fifteen minutes. The dogs were not too sure about the waterfall at first. Fearless Fabi was in the water first but preferred to explore the entire area. Lucy eventually checked out the falls, too, but wasn’t excited by them. They were more interested in the rocks and odors.

The canyon where there the falls are located gives a pretty nice view of the valley below. The dogs and I hung out there for a while before heading back down. Our timing was great as a small group of hikers was coming up the trail as we were leaving the immediate falls area, and another large group was about five minutes behind them.

After hiking back down to the truck we drove up road 162 a bit further west to the “ghost town” of St. Elmo. There are a few year-round residents in St. Elmo so it’s a bit hasty to call it a ghost town.

The main attraction in St. Elmo is the main street with partially-restored buildings, although the ATV rental at the general store seemed pretty popular, too.

On the edge of town is an unmarked trail that turns out to simply climb the hill to another forest service road — I was hoping for a good view of the town from above but was disappointed. There is decent access to a creek where the girls swam for a while.

St. Elmo also has an area where local chipmunks gather to be fed by tourists. These rodents are fearless and will climb right into your hand for some feed (happily sold at the general store). The girls were very interested in this chipmunk feeding area, as you might imagine, but I held them back. I did not want to be responsible for frightening several small children who were feeding the chipmunks. Think of the horror of Lucy gobbling up a chipmunk in front of the small kids!

After walking all over St. Elmo I loaded up the girls in the truck and headed back east on road 162. Just before the trailhead for the falls was a small parking area for Chalk Lake so I pulled in there for a while. Guess what the dogs did here?

I chatted with a fisherman on the shore while the dogs played in the lake. He had caught his daily limit of brook trout and was heading home to clean them.

We jumped back in the truck and headed back to US 285, stopping at the Fisherman’s Bridge area on the Arkansas river. This is a popular spot for rafters to put in during the summer but the rafting season was already over — we had the place to ourselves. Lucy was happy to lay in the water and supervise while Fabi dove for rocks and swam against the current.

An hour later I convinced the girls to get back in the truck so we could grab a late lunch in Buena Vista. Of course I headed for Eddyline Brewing. They have great beers and decent pizzas, as well as a patio where the dogs could join me.


By the time we made it back to the house late in the afternoon we were all tired but happy. I had not hiked in this area previously but I will definitely return: it’s close to Denver and had a lot to offer.

UPDATE: Yesterday, 30 September, this area was in the local news as a family of hikers from Buena Vista were killed at the falls by a rockslide. This hit me pretty hard as I had just been up there with the dogs a few weeks ago.