10 Interesting Facts About Cornet Falls

Cornet Creek Falls

Cornet Falls is a breathtaking 80-foot waterfall located just north of Telluride, Colorado. This stunning natural wonder is one of the most iconic sites in the area, attracting nature lovers, photographers, and adventurers from around the world.

Though it only requires a short hike to reach, Cornet Falls rewards visitors with mesmerizing views and a cool mountain mist. Beyond its beauty, the waterfall has a fascinating history and geological story.

Here are 10 interesting facts about Cornet Falls that make it such a special destination:

1. It Cascades Down Bright Red Cliff Faces

One of the most striking features of Cornet Falls is its vivid red cliff backdrop. The waterfall plunges over cliff faces composed of red sandstone and shale of the Cutler Formation. This bright red rock provides a vivid contrast to the white cascading water. The combination creates a photographer’s paradise.

2. It Was Carved by Ancient Glaciers

The rock layers and basin surrounding Cornet Falls show evidence of being carved by ancient glaciers. As glaciers moved through the region, they excavated the rock and created the steep cliffs and U-shaped valleys that now frame the waterfall. The glaciers created the perfect setting for the falls to form.

3. Cornet Falls Flows Year-Round

Unlike some waterfalls that dry up during certain seasons, Cornet Falls flows consistently throughout the year. Winter visitors can see the waterfall transform into a frozen wonderland, while summer brings lush greenery and wildflowers to the cliffs around it. The year-round flow makes it possible to enjoy the falls in all seasons.

4. It Has a Unique Underground Origin

Unlike most waterfalls, Cornet Falls emerges from an underground cave system rather than flowing over a cliff above ground. Meltwater from the snowpack above percolates down through sinkholes in the soluble limestone rock. It travels underground through caves for over a mile before reemerging as Cornet Falls.

5. The Height Varies by Season

Depending on snowmelt and rainfall, the height of Cornet Falls can range from a trickle to a thundering 80-foot torrent. In especially wet years when runoff fills the basin, the falls reach their maximum flow. In drier years, an engineered dam prevents the basin from fully draining. This seasonal variation changes the falls’ appearance.

6. It’s Easily Accessible from Downtown Telluride

Telluride in the fall
Telluride in the fall

The short hike to Cornet Falls begins right in downtown Telluride, making it the town’s most convenient waterfall1. Visitors can walk from their hotel to the trailhead in less than 10 minutes. The falls can be reached in well under an hour, even for novice hikers.

7. It Has a History of Destructive Flooding

In 1914, heavy rains caused severe flooding of Cornet Creek, which feeds the falls2. The flood-ravaged downtown Telluride, causing extensive damage. To prevent future floods, the creek was rerouted away from the town center. But the altered drainage can still cause flash flooding during extreme weather.

8. It Offers Stunning Views of Telluride Ski Resort

The hike to Cornet Falls ascends alongside the creek, providing beautiful views overlooking Telluride Ski Resort. Hikers can take in panoramic vistas of the ski runs and surrounding peaks as they make their way to the falls. It’s a scenic preview of the terrain visible from the lifts in winter.

9. It Attracts Ice Climbers in Winter

When Cornet Falls freezes over in winter, the towering 80-foot ice curtain becomes a popular spot for ice climbing. The frozen waterfall presents an exciting vertical challenge for experienced climbers. Ice axes and crampons are necessary gear to ascend the frozen cascade.

10. You Can Stand Behind the Waterfall

One of the most unique aspects of Cornet Falls is the ability to walk behind the cascade. During high flow, the falling water creates a natural curtain in front of a recessed alcove on the cliffside. Adventurous hikers can scramble up boulders to stand behind the waterfall and enjoy its power up close.

Frequently Asked Questions

How tall is Cornet Falls?

Cornet Falls has a maximum height of 80 feet during peak flow seasons. Its height varies throughout the year ranging from a small trickle to a thundering 80-foot tall torrent.

What causes the red color of the cliffs?

The bright red cliff faces surrounding Cornet Falls consist of red sandstone and shale rock layers. This vivid red rock provides a striking contrast to the white cascading waterfall.

Does Cornet Falls ever run dry?

No, Cornet Falls flows consistently year-round. An engineered dam prevents the creek from fully draining even during drier seasons when runoff decreases.

Can you hike to Cornet Falls in winter?

Yes, it is possible to hike to Cornet Falls during the winter months. The trail and waterfall may be icy or snow-covered requiring crampons or microspikes for traction. The frozen waterfall also attracts ice climbers.

Where does the water come from?

Unlike a typical above-ground waterfall, the water emerges from an underground cave system. Meltwater filters through sinkholes in the soluble limestone above, travels underground, and then reappears as Cornet Falls.

Is it safe to swim at the base of Cornet Falls?

No, swimming at the base of the waterfall is extremely dangerous and has resulted in fatalities. The rocky terrain, slippery slopes, and strength of the cascading water create hazardous conditions.


With its vibrant cliffs, year-round flow, and ease of access from downtown Telluride, Cornet Falls has captivated visitors for over a century. Beyond its picture-perfect views, the waterfall played a pivotal role in Telluride’s early days.

From fueling the founding of the town to causing devastating floods, Cornet Falls is intertwined with regional history. The waterfall also transforms into a frozen climb and ski run lookout during the colder months.

We hope the 10 fascinating facts shared above inspire you to visit this incredible waterfall for yourself. Witnessing the 80-foot cascade set against the red rock cliffs of Colorado is an experience not to be missed.

  1. https://www.uncovercolorado.com/activities/cornet-creek-falls/ []
  2. https://history.denverlibrary.org/news/101-years-ago-cornet-creek-flood []

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