"They’re just wowed by the waterfalls," said Brian Palcer, senior ranger at Rifle Falls State Park. "Who wouldn’t be wowed by this?”
Visitors have been flocking to Rifle Falls for over a century. As Palcer explains, many may be surprised to know that this trio of falls may have had humble beginnings as a beaver dam.
“There’s a lot of sediment and a lot of minerals in this water. And that helped form some of these limestone cliffs that are constantly evolving as the water goes over it.”
Early settlers recognized the area's tourism potential.
“In the 1880s, it was open to ranching," said Palcer. "And with ranching, a hotel was put in just north of the falls here. And to help power the hotel, a hydroelectric plant was put in and that kind of changed the face of these falls.”
Over time, the shape of the falls has changed, forming three, distinct seventy foot plunges.
In the wintertime, the area is very popular with photographers and fisherman. During the summer, it's a great place to cool off, camp or just have a picnic.
“Summertime, we are very busy," Palcer said. "We only have twenty campsites at this park and every weekend we’re booked solid.”
Even in dry years, Palcer says the falls are drought-resistant.
“When we have a dry year, falls are still going. They’re still going to be going this strong year-round.”
The park also offers plenty of educational opportunities, many of which are presented at the remnant of the old hydroelectric plant.
"Today, we use that as an amphitheater on giving talks on bats, the environment, the park itself.”
The spot is also popular for weddings.
Beyond the falls, there are trails to hike and even some caves to explore. We dipped into a couple caves to take a look. Then, we found one that was a little deeper. We turned our lights on and climbed in. After a little ducking and scrambling, we found our way to a large chamber lined in colorful limestone.
So, towering waterfalls and colorful caves-- is this one of the wonders of the Western Slope?
“If you live in this area, this is something you have to see. It should be on your bucket list," Palcer said.
“Oh, it’s beautiful, yeah," said Nick Arnold, who was having good luck fishing below the falls. "It’s pretty vigilant up here, you know. I love the serenity. It’s awesome.”
Rifle Falls State Park is open daily during the winter including for camping and fishing. The park is located about thirteen miles north of Rifle on Colorado 325. There is an entrance fee to visit and to camp.
For more information, you can check out the park's website here: