Upper Piney River Falls Trail

Vail
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Upper Piney River Falls Trail

Distance: 5.8mi
Elevation: 699ft
Time: 2.5-3.5h

Difficulty Rating:

Upper Piney River Falls Trail is one of the most popular hikes in the Vail Region. The trail, which rewards hikers with stunning views of the Gore Range, slowly climbs up 213m, spread over 4.6km, to a cascading waterfall. This trail is commonly used as the approach to Mt. Powell - the highest summit in the Gore Range at 4141m.

Getting there

From the I-70, take exit 176 for Vail Village. Take roundabout exit to North Frontage Road west. Drive 1.6km to Red Sandstone Road: turn right. Drive 1.3km to the dirt Forest Service Road #700. This is a bumpy road and a bit of ground clearance helps. Take this road to the parking lot.

About

When to do

Summer/Fall

Backcountry Campsites

Yes, in Eagle's Nest Wilderness

Toilets

Yes, at Piney River Ranch

Family friendly

Yes

Route Signage

Average

Crowd Levels

High

Route Type

Out and back


Elevation


Detailed Description

The trail to Upper Piney River Falls starts at Piney River Ranch, a privately-owned ranch that shares land with the US Forest Service. Parking is located in a dirt parking lot right before the entrance to the Ranch. You will see the dirt trail on the left and slightly uphill of the ranch welcome sign.

The trail briefly passes through an aspen stand before opening up to a stunning view of Piney Lake and the Piney River drainage with the highest peaks in the Gore Range proudly standing in the background. It is a breath-taking view and one of the best of the Gore Range.

0.8km into the hike, you’ll come across another trail sign welcoming you to the Eagles Nest Wilderness. From here, continue to follow the trail along Piney River towards the mountains.

Roughly 2.0km in, the trail forks. The left (upper) trail leads to Marugg Creek, while the right (lower) trail continues through the Piney River drainage to the cascading waterfall. You’ll want to take the left (upper) trail.

The trail continues for another 1.0km on the hillside and then begins to gain elevation through the aspen and pine forest. Look down into the valley to see the mesmerizing, meandering Piney River as it feeds into Piney Lake. Pines slowly replace the aspen trees as you encounter two creek crossings, both with small trunk bridges to guide you across.

4.0km in, you’ll start to gradually descend towards the river. The last 1.0km will take you along a massive granite slab to a small, forested area where you will once again hear the rushing waters of Piney River. Once you get to the river, head right to a big granite slab that offers beautiful views of the cascading waterfall and the river below. There are multiple flats spots along the river that are ideal for a picnic.

Follow the trail back to Piney Lake to finish your hike!

Insider Hints

  • To get an early start, camp at the free National Forest sites (4) located 100m from the trailhead.

  • Keep an eye out for groundhogs on the creek side of the parking lot and moose near the lake.

  • If you're looking to take a dip into the refreshing Piney River waters, venture upstream or downstream of the falls to find a secluded pool.

  • Piney Ranch Restaurant is open from 11a.m. - 6p.m. to help re-energize you post-hike (Summer 2018 hours).

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