Billed as “Ouray’s slot canyon,” Box Canyon Waterfall and Park is one of the most popular destinations in the area. Situated just outside southwest Colorado’s “Switzerland of America,” Box Canyon Falls is concealed in a dark, narrow gorge accessed only by a steel-reinforced walkway and staircase. Visit in spring, or after heavy rain, to see the falls in full force.
Start this very short hike—unfortunately not wheelchair-accessible—at the Nature Center, which serves both as the entrance ($4 per person) and information desk. Shortly past the center, the trail splits—a metal staircase takes visitors up the High Bridge Trail on the left (see post), while the main path heads right. Less than a minute later, take a left at the second junction, dropping down a flight of stairs en route to the Box Canyon. (Note: The Native Plant Loop heads right.)
At the foot of the staircase, the trail enters the narrow gorge, carved by Canyon Creek. The box canyon—and falls—owes its existence to the Ouray Fault, where a mix of sedimentary and metamorphic rock layers drop some 200 feet; the canyon has slowly whittled away at the exposed quartzite, here a charcoal color due to the presence of tiny iron oxide flakes. Putting the Mesozoic layers (deposited 252-66 million years ago) of southern Utah to shame, this Precambrian era-rock dates to at least 550 million years ago.
Entering the canyon, the metal walkway hugs the left wall for a couple of minutes, then drops down five flights of stairs to reach the canyon bottom. The falls, off to the left, are partly hidden from view by the dark bends and twists of the canyon, though the thunderous echo cannot be missed. Looking downstream, Canyon Creek squeezes through the narrow chamber, continuing to cascade.
In high season, this trail is sure to be teeming with people, making for a particularly awkward situation at the hike’s terminus, where the stairs effectively end at the slippery banks of the creek. (Note: In fact, the best thing that could have happened on the September morning we visited was rain showers, which scared away other visitors, leaving the entire trail to ourselves.)
After spending some time in the eerie slot, return the way you came. Allot about 20-30 minutes for the round trip. (Note: With some extra energy, climb the 200 feet in elevation on the High Bridge Trail for a bird’s eye view of the canyon and falls.)