Adventure of the week: 12 things to know about King Solomon Falls
August 6, 2015
Steamboat Springs — If you haven't visited this iconic waterfall plunge epitomizing Steamboat in the summertime, put it on your list and heed the following. If you have been there and plan on going back, you'll still appreciate these finer nuances of one of town's best (until now) kept secrets.
Location, location, location. Despite borrowing its name from King Solomon Creek farther upstream, the main and most user-friendly falls are actually on the Middle Fork of the Little Snake River, which eventually flows by Three Forks Ranch downstream (where the South, Middle and North forks meet). It's nice to know what water is going up your nose.
Ode to the odometer. The dirt road leading to it is hard to find. It's a turn-off on the right exactly 10 miles after Routt County Road 129 turns to dirt, and you take the left fork just past Columbine Cabins. Once you reach the turn-off, it's about a half mile of moderate four-wheel-drive road to the parking lot at the trailhead (you can also walk this part). Bonus: the dust on your rear window lets your kids spell their names.
Squash the sandals. The very beginning of the hike involves a steep, loose dirt descent down to the valley floor. Sandals just don't offer enough traction and will send you skidding. Bring an old pair of tennies or full-on river shoes. Hint: don't be afraid to grab bush limbs when available.
Compass, schmompass. The trail leading from the parking area is easy to find. But stay to the left at the tiny creek at bottom of the first steep pitch, which leads to the main trail along the river; the right fork leads up to no-man's land.
Relish the guardrails. Don't worry about burning your coveted Man Card points: Grab onto the ropes on the traverses. They're there for a reason. You'll be more humbled (and scraped) sliding down the hill than you will from holding on.
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Forsake the foot rungs. Though well-intentioned, this new wooden rope ladder addition to the one rock scramble descent tends to squish your fingers. It's easier to stay to the well-positioned rock ledges to your right as you descend (a gaggle of four 12-year-old girls managed it just fine).
Not taught. Also well intentioned, a new hand line strung above the final log crossing helps escort balancers across the river to the falls. But don't rely on it; it has a fair amount of slack, meaning if you yank on it, you could end up in the drink.
Pack your pole. And some grasshopper flies. There's a reason Three Forks Ranch just downstream offers some of the best fly fishing in the country. Cast a hopper along the far cliff to right as you're looking at the falls and watch the magic happen. Just time your casts between people jumping so you don't snag someone's suit.
One for the money, two for the show really works. The huck is about a 20-footer, but your eyes, of course, are five to six feet above that. On the bright side, you're plunging into perfectly aerated water from the falls to break up the surface tension. Now, you just have to worry about the tension in your tummy. Hint: avoid the dreaded arm slap by bringing them into your chest upon landing.
You're not in Acapulco. Save your vertebrae — and Search and Rescue call — by sticking to the lower jump to looker's left. Plenty of people have gotten seriously hurt by venturing elsewhere, especially to another falls farther upstream. You're a long way from help, and Facebook posts from the hospital are out of style.
Sundial science. At 4 p.m at the end of July, the ledge you jump off is still in the sun — but just barely — while everything else is in the shade. And the water is goosebump cold. Plan your warm-bloodedness accordingly.
Follow the same route back. On our last mission, a threesome left 45 minutes before us but opted to bushwhack past the final steep climb. We each got back to our cars at the same time, much to the kids' delight. Lesson: the steep section is easier on the way up than the way down.
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