More popular with hunters than with hikers, Cascade Creek is less traveled than other hikes along the 550 corridor between Silverton and Durango like the hikes to Highland Mary Lakes or Crater Lake. Relatively long and difficult to access, the quiet meadows and aspen forests along the flanks of Cascade Creek don’t draw the same kind of allure as alpine lakes in the area. Likewise, it doesn’t boast the same kind of high-rising beauty that those hikes have to offer, but it does provide a quiet respite and, most notably, a beautiful waterfall and the opportunity to dip into a glacial stream.
The access route is rocky and difficult, so high-clearance vehicles are recommended, though not required. From the parking lot, the trailhead is roughly a mile away, and the route there, which follows Route 783, is not marked. Follow the road upland to a viaduct about 50 feet from the parking lot and continue onward to several forks in the road. Don’t panic; most of these forks lead to houses, backcountry campsites, or dead ends, nearly all of which are visible from the road. When in doubt, keep to the right unless signs warn otherwise or the route is an obvious cul-de-sac. Those with four-wheel drive and high clearance can drive straight up to the trailhead, which is marked by cattle fences and a small information panel.
The trail flanks both the west and east banks of Cascade Creek, which gives hikers options, but be forewarned that there are no bridges, and water crossings are necessary in order to complete a loop of the trail. The trail splits a half mile past the trailhead: the west trail crosses Cascade Creek and remains more level than the east trail, which ascends the valley wall more aggressively before it converges with the west trail several miles up the valley. When runoff is high in the spring, crossing will be difficult; use good judgment. In the summer, the volume is considerably lower and the creek crossings are relatively straightforward.
Three miles from the parking lot, on the north trail, hikers will come to a bridge over Engine Creek and an unnamed falls, a great place to pause for a bite to eat. In another three-quarters of a mile, the confluence of tributaries to Cascade Creek form a short 15-foot cascade, at the base of which are short cliffs and a deep pool that, should hikers decide to brave the frigid temperatures, is suitable for cliff diving. It should be stressed, however, that temperatures are very, very cold and should be reserved for the hottest summer afternoons.
Otherwise, the meadows along Cascade Creek offer backcountry campsites or a charming, quiet, flat place to spread out a blanket and lunch.