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Waterfall Hike at Piney River Ranch Near Vail, Colorado

Piney River Ranch sits at 9,350 feet at the foot of the Gore Range. Part of the fun is getting there as you drive Red Sandstone Road. It’s 12 miles up a twisty dirt road. The 40-acre Rocky Mountain Retreat is picturesque. You can stay overnight in a cabin or glamping tent, or just go for the day to enjoy the lake or hike to a waterfall. My friend Kristen and I went to hike to the cascading falls on Piney River.

The trail gently undulates along the edge of the lake and climbs above the meadow and into the aspens where you climb a series of switchbacks. There are great views looking back at the lake and down to the river. Keep an eye out for wildflowers. Kristen showed me some wild roses and I went on a hunt for more of the delicate flowers throughout our hike.

As the aspen and conifer forest thickens, you cross a couple of creeks. These water crossings are easy. When they get more numerous, the scenery changes to craggy rocks towering above you as you traverse slick rock. There are also a few view spots if you need a hiking break.

There’s a short stretch of moderately steep switchbacks before arriving at the falls. There’s plenty of shade and space to relax with a picnic or snack as you listen to the water rush over the cascading falls. Even if there are others there, you can find a spot for solitude and serenity. This hike is fun and doable for families.

We hiked the 3 miles back pretty quickly because we were hungry. The Lodge Restaurant serves barbecue fare. For summer of 2020, it’s all to go. Since I don’t eat meat, I opted for three sides – pasta salad, beans and potato salad – paired with an iced tea. Kristen went for a wrap. We sat out at one of the picnic tables close to the lake.

I was wishing we would have had time to rent paddle boards or a canoe and paddled the afternoon away on the lake. My advice is go early morning so you can enjoy a full day of hiking, eating and paddling. Better yet, stay overnight. Staying in one of the glamping tents is on my list!

This was author Jennifer Broome‘s second visit to Piney River Ranch. This visit was part of a 48 hour stay in Vail at the Sonnenalp. Check out the Explore Colorado section for more adventures in the Centennial State.

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