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Upper Piney Falls Hike- Vail, CO

Upper Piney Falls is a beautiful and easy hike in Vail, CO. The hike meanders alongside Piney Lake and Piney Creek. The hike is relatively easy and stunning as you walk through blooming aspens and a mixed conifer forest. The hike details are listed below.

Piney Lake

Hiking Stats For Upper Piney Falls

Distance: 5.9 miles

Elevation: 731 feet

Difficulty: Easy

Type: Out & back

Permit: No

Bathroom: At Trailhead

Dogs: Yes

Trailhead For Upper Piney Falls

Getting to the trailhead is the “fun” part. The trailhead for the hike starts at Piney River Ranch.

The drive up to the trailhead from Vail, CO takes about 45 minutes (depending on your car and how slow/fast you drive).

To get to the trailhead you take North Frontage Rd off I-70, turn onto Red Sandstone Rd for about 1.5 miles to Piney River Rd (Road 700). You will continue on this dirt road for 11.5 miles. Piney River Road enters into the White River National Forest.

There are signs all along the road directing you up to Piney Lake.

The road changes from rough to flat dirt road many times along the drive. You should be able to take a small sedan up the road, but you will want to be extra cautious in the rougher areas.

There are a few spots you will want to make sure you don’t bottom out or run over large rocks sticking out of the dirt road. The roughest part of the road is the last ¼ mile to the trailhead.

If you have a small sedan, you will want to be very strategic and choose the best path for your car. The speed limit for the road is 20 mph, but if you have a small car, there are a handful of times you will be going under the speed limit.

Therefore, please be respectful and let cars going faster than you pass by.

Once you reach the end of Piney River Road you will notice Piney River Ranch. The Ranch sits in a picturesque alpine valley with the lake nestled below the Gore Range.

There are two separate parking lots for the trailhead. You will see one outside Piney River Ranch to the right. That parking lot is for overflow. There is another parking lot closer to the lake.

Start Of Upper Piney Falls Hike:

Start Of Hike

The trail for the hike begins to the left of Piney River Ranch. There are many signs stating to be respectful and stay off their property. Piney River Ranch is a privately owned ranch that people pay to stay at, therefore please abide. You will see a skinny dirt path along the left side of the lake, so begin the hike there.

Beautiful Aspen Trees In Fall
Beautiful Aspen Trees In Summer

Along The Upper Piney Falls Hike:

The trail goes straight for about a mile and then you will encounter a few switchbacks. Please don’t shortcut the switchbacks and make sure to stay on the trail! There will be a handful of small river crossings along the hike, but if you take it slow, you should have no problem crossing any spots.

Waterfall At Upper Piney Falls

The Waterfall

Right before getting to the waterfall, you will go down a few switchbacks. You then pass a larger boulder and the trail becomes less defined.

All paths should lead to the waterfall!

Once you duck into the lush forest you will see part of the river leading to the waterfall.

In order to see the waterfall, head right onto a large rock to get a better view. You will then be looking down onto the waterfall. If you want to get a better view, you can climb down even further, but be sure to take it slow and be very cautious!

To view the falls from below (like pictured above) requires a bit of scrambling.

Upper piney lake

Upper Piney Lake (Photo Cred: Adelya Max)

The hike continues to Upper Piney Lake but not very many hikers venture on. Upper Piney Lake is about 4 miles further up the trail from the waterfall. To continue the hike, head up river to the trail. The hike is an additional 1300 ft in elevation gain. Beware because the trail is not maintained after the falls.

Camping At Piney Lake:

There are a handful of free campsites very close to the trailhead, but they are first come- first serve. During the weekends or holidays, the campsites will be in high demand.

There is also free camping along most of Piney River Road. Although there is no camping allowed on the first 2.5 miles of Piney River Road.

There are also a few private properties along the road that don’t allow camping. There will be signs either stating no camping/campfires or no trespassing signs. As soon as you come to a “Y” in the road (intersection of #700 and #719), all the primitive camping begins.

You will notice many already designated campsites so please try to camp in those areas to preserve the White River National Forest.

Backpacking Upper Piney Falls:

Backpacking is allowed to Upper Piney Falls or Upper Piney Lake. You can contact the Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger Station for more information on permits. 

Swimming At Piney Lake:

Jake And I Floating In Piney Lake

Swimming is allowed in Piney Lake. If it’s a nice beautiful day out, it can be nice to take a dip in the water to cool off! But the water is fresh mountain snow run off, so it can be chilly!

Piney River Ranch:

Piney River Ranch is a privately owned ranch, but they do have yurts and cabins that they rent out to the public. They also have a public restaurant that you can enjoy after your hike.

Piney River Ranch also rents out canoes and paddleboards. If you are looking for a fun activity to do after the hike or for a different day, it’s a fun way to explore Piney Lake! They unfortunately don’t allow dogs in the canoes or on the paddleboards.

And if you bring your own kayak, canoe, SUP, etc you are allowed to launch it at a spot along the left side of the lake. Unfortunately, Piney River Ranch doesn’t allow personal equipment to be launched at their dock.

The public launch spot is about 150 yards from the parking lot, so it is best to have at least 2 people for carrying heavier things like canoes and kayaks.

Check out Piney River Ranch’s website for more information!

Takeaway | Upper Piney Falls Hike:

Upper Piney Falls is a beautiful hike that is great for all hiking ability levels. The elevation gain is rather moderate compared to most other hikes in the area.

And even if you choose not to go all the way to the Falls (or Upper Piney Lake) you will be treated to gorgeous views all along the way. We suggest sitting and taking in the view of Piney Lake with stunning mountain vista in the background!

Also hit up Piney River Ranch Restaurant for a quick drink and bite after your hike. Piney Lake is very special to Jake and I because it was basically in our backyard when we lived in Vail! We have camped up the road and hiked Upper Piney Falls numerous times. We hope you enjoy the hike!

If you happen to be visiting Vail in the winter, check out these fun things to do beside ski in Vail. Or find some other fun things to do in Vail during summer.

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Top 5 Best Hikes In Vail, Colorado - tworoamingsouls

Saturday 24th of July 2021

[…] most popular hike from the ranch is Upper Piney River Falls Trail.  The trail begins along the left side of Piney Lake, and immediately the views are stunning.  […]

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Saturday 30th of November 2019

[…] further up to Upper Piney Falls! The hike is rated easy but 6.9 miles. Check out our article “Upper Piney Falls” for more […]