Waterfalls Hike: Take a Stroll to Rainbow Falls
Trail level: easy
Round trip distance: .3 miles
Swimming is allowed
Dogs are allowed
By Gillian Sheehan
Last weekend, I decided it was time to check out local waterfalls that were recently reopened to the public: Rainbow Falls. Located just off Hwy 24 near Manitou Springs, Rainbow Falls is part of a five-acre recreation area. El Paso County gained ownership of the area seven years ago and embarked on a plan to restore this beautiful spot, and in December 2016 it was designated an El Paso County historic site. Rainbow Falls has historic significance for the town of Manitou Springs and for the Ute tribe that inhabited the area years ago, so the restoration coalition is anxious to preserve and celebrate those features of the recreation area.
From the small parking area off Serpentine Rd, the easy stroll to Rainbow Falls is less than a tenth of a mile. You don’t immediately see the main event, but there are some smaller waterfalls along the path that hint at its proximity. The trail bends left around a large rock and suddenly the Rainbow Falls Bridge is in view. A few more strides lead you under the bridge and to the majestic waterfalls, tucked between the rocks.
Although I was delighted to see many families and youth enjoying the area and cooling off in the water at the base off the falls, I couldn’t help but focus on the extensive graffiti on both the bridge and rocks surrounding the falls… Wikipedia even claims “Graffiti Falls” is the alternate name for the area. While some may consider graffiti a form of art, the majority of defacement at Rainbow Falls presently consists of tags and scribbles, and it’s clear that a full restoration of this site will take time. El Paso County also plans on incorporating graffiti art into the reclamation of the falls, likely through coordination of an offsite location with the City of Manitou Springs.
Renovation will be no small task. An El Paso County Park staff member described the extensive cleaning process to me: Fountain Creek needs to be covered and particular cleaning products must be used to remove the spray paint from the rocks in order to protect the water from harmful chemicals and collect the debris. As for the historic bridge, built in 1932, some re-painting has already begun. The challenge of preventing further vandalism of the area remains a concern and features in the restoration plan as well.
Despite the remaining graffiti, Rainbow Falls is most definitely worth the visit. The Recreation Area is presently open from 10:00am – 4:00pm on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays through the month of August. In September and October, open days will be restricted to Saturdays and Sundays.