Rifle Gap and Rifle Falls State Parks – June 21st – 24th, 2020

Rifle Gap State Park and Rifle Falls State Park are two places we’ve never been before and didn’t know that much about. Our campground reservations were for three nights at Rifle Gap State Park, but Rifle Falls is only ten minutes away, so we spent time in both parks.

We reached Rifle Gap State Park around 3:30 pm. The dammed reservoir contains clear, turquoise water. Quite a few motor boats and skiers were enjoying the water. Our campsite is up on a hill overlooking the reservoir. Vault toilets and water spigots are near our camp site and a dump station is near the park entrance. The site is pretty level, with a picnic table under a shade structure and a metal fire pit. The site is gravel with plenty of room for a tent. It looks like the site was raked smooth and reminded us of a zen garden. As we were relaxing in our chairs, enjoying a Coke and the view of the lake, the wind picked up as a storm blew over. We watched a family a couple of sites down, holding on to their tent to keep it from blowing away until they could get it staked down better. We had fried cabbage for dinner and took a quick stroll down to the lake, then watched the sun set.

The next day we drove to Glenwood Springs to bike the Glen Canyon Bike Path. We’ll put the details of our ride in our next blog post. When we got back to Rifle Gap State Park, we had pasta for dinner to replace all the calories we had burned during our bike ride.

The second full day at Rifle Gap State park was much more relaxing. In the morning, we watched the blue birds dance between the trees and bushes and the chipmunks scurry around on the ground and in the bushes. The chipmunks seemed to like our neighbor’s campsite for some reason, despite the fact they had two large dogs. The chipmunks appeared to know the dogs were on leashes and took pleasure in pushing the limits.

Every time we leave the campground, the staff comes and rakes our site into a nice, zen pattern. It’s probably because we pack everything up in the van and don’t leave anything at the site to indicate it is occupied. Our reservation is for three nights, but the staff probably isn’t checking that when they go around to clean up.

We drove over to Rifle Falls State Park in the morning. According to a conversation with the people in our neighboring camp site, the park pass for Rifle Gap State Park is good to get into Rifle Falls State Park. Since we have an annual state park pass, that was not a concern for us. Rifle Falls State Park is pretty small. It has about 13 RV sites and a small group of tent walk-in sites. There is a small loop for day use vehicles to park in. However, by the time we got there, the loop was full and we had to park along the side of the road in-between RV camp sites. We would hate to see how hard it is to park there if you are visiting on a weekend.

The trail to the falls is pretty short. Despite the full parking situation, the trail did not seem overly crowded. The falls are definitely stunning. The area below the falls is very lush and green. There are also a few small caves to explore. It would be easy to see everything there is in the park in an hour to two. We were surprised to see that one of the three waterfalls is fed from a large pipe. The falls were originally one wide waterfall until the Rifle Hydroelectric Plant was built in the early 1900's which split the falls into three separate falls. The power plant was removed in the 1950's, but the waterfall remains split into three. There are two large holding ponds above the falls. We're not sure how much of the water flow is controlled if at all anymore. The falls are gorgeous regardless of how they are formed.

We drove back to Rifle Gap State Park to find a picnic area for lunch. There were picnic tables at Rifle Falls, but not too many of them were in the shade and we wanted to get away from all of the people. We found a great spot in Bluebird Picnic Area at Rifle Gap, right near the shore of the lake and under a large tree. It was in the Cottonwood Campground loop which had electric and water hook ups. The restroom there had flush toilets and a couple of coin-operated showers. Left Buddy (LB) didn’t want to leave that spot, but Right Buddy (RB) wanted to check out the swim beach area and take a dip. So LB reluctantly went along. We checked out the other campground loops along the way.

LB found a shaded picnic table at the beach to work from while RB went in for a quick dip in the lake. The beach was more rocks, gravel and mud than sand and the water was not very clear near the beach, probably because the swimmers stirred up the mud. The water was pretty shallow for quite a ways out from shore. An ideal spot for children to go swimming, and there were plenty of them there.

When we drove back to the Bluebird Picnic Area, our previous spot was taken much to LB’s disappointment. There was another table under a shade structure, so we set up there to work for an hour or two. At 4 pm, we headed back to our camp site. RB rinsed off using our outdoor shower, then we worked for another hour before making dinner. It was bacon and hash browns with applesauce. Then we sat and watched the sun set again.

We took our time packing up on the final morning. We started our drive home via Grass Valley Road to New Castle, the same way we went to Glenwood Springs a couple of days earlier. We stopped at the Vail Pass rest area again for lunch. There were lots of people riding bikes on the Vail Pass Bike Trail. RB thinks it looks doable. Is that our next biking challenge? Probably not, she’ll have a hard time convincing LB to do it.

We originally wanted a camp site in Rifle Falls State Park since it seemed to cater to hiking instead of boating like Rifle Gap, but there were no openings at Rifle Falls. After visiting both parks, we’re glad we stayed at Rifle Gap. It seemed like the campsites at Rifle Falls would have constant day-use traffic going by to visit the falls. Our campsite at Rifle Gap was more peaceful and had wonderful views of the lake and the sunset. Sometimes you just have to get out there and explore things for yourself. You might be pleasantly surprised by what you find.

Check out our related video: Rifle Gap and Rifle Falls State Parks

(RB)