Upper Piney River Falls Trail

Difficulty
This reflects the 10Adventures difficulty rating for each route. We aim to keep ratings consistent across regions.
Moderate
Duration
This reflects the estimated time the majority of users will take on this trail. If you are slower, add time to the top-end figure. If you are fast, then you may complete this route faster than this time range.
2-3h
Distance
This reflects the return distance of this route as measured by the GPS file.
9.3 km
Elevation
This reflects the total elevation gained throughout this route as measured by the GPS file. This includes all ascents and descents, and is higher than what is quoted in most route guides, which simply measure the distance between the starting-point and high-point of the route.
213 m
User Ratings
These ratings are completed by users who have completed this trail and not subject to reviews by 10Adventures.
Overall Rating
This is the average user-submitted overall rating on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest.
9.8
Physical Difficulty
This is the average user-submitted rating on the physical difficulty of this route. In general, green is beginner, blue is intermediate, black is advanced/most difficult and double-black is expert-only. It is recommended that users build up to black and double-black routes.
Easy (Circle)
Suitable for beginners, families, young children, and those looking for a casual adventure.
Technical Difficulty
This is the average user-submitted rating on the technical difficulty of this route. In general, green is beginner, blue is intermediate, black is advanced/most difficult and double-black is expert-only. It is recommended that users build up to black and double-black routes.
Easy (Circle)
Suitable for beginners, families, young children, and those looking for a casual adventure.
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Directions to Trailhead
Panorama from the Upper Piney River Falls hike near Vail, Colorado

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 213 m, spread over 4.6 km, to a cascading waterfall. This trail is commonly used as the approach to Mt. Powell - the highest summit in the Gore Range at 4,141 m.

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Route Description for Upper Piney River Falls Trail

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.

0.8 km 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 2.0 km 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 1.0 km 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.

4.0 km in, you'll start to gradually descend towards the river. The last 1.0 km 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 for Upper Piney River Falls Trail

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

Getting to the Upper Piney River Falls Trail Trailhead

From the I-70, take exit 176 for Vail Village. Take roundabout exit to North Frontage Road west. Drive 1.6 km to Red Sandstone Road: turn right. Drive 1.3 km 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.

Route Information

  • 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

Upper Piney River Falls Trail Elevation Graph

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