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Day Trips: Rifle Falls and Rifle Gap

Todd Hartley's picture

Located about an hour and a half from Aspen, the town of Rifle is home to two frequently overlooked state parks that provide a welcome getaway from the hordes who flock to the Roaring Fork Valley each summer. The first, Rifle Falls State Park, features a spectacular waterfall and interesting limestone caves set in a lush valley. The other, Rifle Gap State Park, boasts a 350-acre reservoir for swimming, boating, fishing and water-skiing. Both are fine destinations in their own right, but pair them together and you’ll have a great day trip from the Aspen area.

To reach Rifle, take Highway 82 to Glenwood Springs and get on Interstate 70 headed west. Travel about 30 miles to the Rifle exit (90), and then go north on Highway 13 (Railroad Avenue) through downtown Rifle. When the road comes to a Y, stay right on Highway 13 for about two miles. Take a right onto Highway 325 and go another six miles to reach Rifle Gap. When you get to the lake, stay right on 325 for another four miles or so to get to Rifle Falls.

Though Rifle Gap is closer to town, it makes sense to visit the falls first. This relatively small park has limited parking and can fill up fairly quickly, so try to get there early. Purchase your $6 daily vehicle pass at the entry gate, and park in a designated spot at the end of the road. From here it’s just a short walk along the Coyote Trail to the bottom of the falls, which drop off a large cliff in three scenic cascades. From the observation platform, the Coyote Trail makes a loop up and around the top of the falls, offering a closer look at the cascades themselves and the myriad small caves carved out of the limestone.

Once you’ve had your fill of Rifle Falls, head back down the road to Rifle Gap for a refreshing dip or a little fishing. This artificial reservoir warms up enough in the heat of the day to make swimming comfortable and offers miles of secluded shoreline. If you’ve already purchased your daily vehicle pass, there’s no need to do so again. Simply drive through the main entrance on Highway 325 and follow the road to the boat ramp and day-use area, where you will find a pleasant swim beach. This part of the park can become loud and crowded on busy summer weekends, so if you can go on a weekday, you’ll be better off.

A visit to both state parks is easily doable in just a few hours from Aspen, but if you decide you’d like to stay longer, camping is a definite possibility. Rifle Falls has 13 drive-in sites and seven walk-in sites, and Rifle Gap has 89 campsites situated on its five camping loops. Reservations are recommended and can be made online at coloradostateparks.reserveamerica.com.