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Upper Piney Lake Trail
hiking in piney lake
Water cascades swiftly over rocks surrounded by greenery at Piney Falls near Vail.
Upper Piney Lake
Piney Lake near Vail glimmers in shadows with rugged mountains all around it. The sky is cloudy with just a hint of blue peeking out.
A group of people riding horses in a grassy area.
A paddleboarder floats on sapphire Piney Lake. A grassy, tree-covered landscape is behind it and mountains tower above.

Upper Piney River Trail

Distance
3 miles (one way)
Difficulty
Intermediate
Crowds
Very high

Upper Piney Trail, located near Vail, Colorado, is a 6-mile out-and-back route that offers a moderately challenging hike with diverse scenery. Starting at Piney Lake, one of Vail’s most picturesque spots, provides a gradual 3-mile ascent to a beautiful cascading waterfall, making it a perfect destination for an afternoon hike.

The trail’s path weaves through rivers, meadows vibrant with wildflowers, rocky stretches, and shady aspen groves that turn brilliant colors in the fall. It features smooth ascents, a few steep switchbacks, and stream crossings on log planks, offering stunning views of the rugged Gore Range.

Dogs are allowed but must be leashed to protect the area’s wildlife and enhance the experience for all users. Visitors are required to stay on the trail to avoid damaging sensitive vegetation and to prevent soil erosion. Due to its popularity, hikers may encounter others on the trail, so an early start is recommended for those seeking solitude. Be prepared for varying trail conditions and bring bug spray during warmer months.

Show Your Love for Vail Trails

Hiking in Vail goes hand in hand with caring for our pristine natural environment. Here’s how you can do your part!

Stay on the Trail

No shortcuts - going off trail compromises trail construction, kills the vegetation, increases soil erosion and may result in reduced water quality.

Pack Out Trash

Stash it until you can trash it - anything you bring with you, you must pack back out! Trash can hurt wildlife and contaminate water ways.

Dog Do's and Don'ts

Do pick up the doo – pack out all dog poop. Don’t let dogs off leash – this is to protect them from wildlife and wildlife from them.

Respect Wildlife

Give them space - observe wildlife from a distance and do not follow or approach them. Never feed animals as it can alter their behavior.

Plan Ahead

Take the trail less traveled - there are over a hundred miles of hiking trails in the Vail area! Use the trail guide to discover area trails and whenever possible ride a bike or take a FREE Town of Vail bus to the trailhead.

Driving Directions

Access: From I-70, take Exit 176 for Vail. Take the North Frontage Road west to Red Sandstone Road. Turn north here and follow the paved road about 0.7 miles to a fork with a dirt road on the left. There should be a Forest Service sign indicating this is Red Sandstone Road #700 (Reset your odometer here). Continue up this road about 2.7 miles to an intersection with the Lost Lake Road (#786) and continue left. At mile 6.5 you will pass Red and White Mtn Road-FSR 734. At mile 6.7 you will pass the Lost Lake Trail parking lot on the right and then reach an intersection where the Muddy Pass/Moniger Road goes left. Stay right here. (Some maps show the Red Sandstone Road changing number from FSR 700 to FSR 701 at this point, and some don’t, but regardless, you stay right to get to Piney Lake and the Upper Piney River Trail). At mile 9.1, you will cross the Piney River and see a trailhead for Lower Piney River Trail – FDT 1885 on the left. Stay right and reach a Forest Service parking lot on the right at mile 10.65 before the entrance to Piney River Ranch (private property). The trailhead is on the north side (left side of the parking lot as one faces the Piney River Ranch entrance) of the parking lot. If visiting the ranch, you can drive further to their parking lot. Parking is very limited at this trailhead.

Dogs & Leashes

On all trails that enter the Eagles Nest Wilderness, as well as on the North Trail, DOGS ARE REQUIRED TO BE ON A PHYSICAL LEASH. If you would like to hike with your dog off leash, there are several areas you can go, such as any trail, aside from the North Trail, that does not enter the Eagles Nest Wilderness, as well as dog parks within the Town of Vail. Remember that, no matter where you are, when in public, your dog needs to be under verbal control. Also, if you use a provided dog waste bag, please remember to carry it out with you. The bags are not biodegradable.