With winter’s grip finally slipping on our trails, hikers, bikers and nature lovers of all stripes have started to dot the hillsides, moving higher and exploring deeper into the wealth of national forest that surrounds the Vail Valley. But those who venture farthest might still run into a blocked trail or two.”It’s still hard to go high on some of the trails because there’s snow, and the meadows haven’t woken up yet,” says Mary Ellen Gilliland, author of “The Vail Hiker.” “But this time of year is absolutely fabulous for waterfalls. Now is the time to see them really pouring down.”There’s something mystical about a watefall: Torrents of water pouring over a cliffside, sparkling like jewels in the sun, spark a primal connection to the fantastical – it’s hard not to feel young and in awe of their power. In the pantheon of hiking end-goals, waterfalls must surely land in the top five, somewhere behind summit views but perhaps before lakes. Luckily, this year we’ve been blessed with decent water flow, as anyone who’s seen the raging Gore Creek or Eagle River during the Teva Games knows. The Vail Valley has some of Colorado’s best waterfalls, and the current transition between spring and summer is the perfect time to seek them out – by mid-summer, some will have slowed to not much more than a trickle.
Piney River FallsGet there: Take exit 176 from I-70 and follow the North Frontage Road to Red Sandstone Road. Turn right on Red Sandstone and follow it until you reach a fork that goes left on County Road 700, which leads to Piney Lake and Piney Lake Ranch 11 miles down the road. The trail begins at the parking lot’s north side (Piney River Trail).The falls: “Piney River Falls is very dramatic,” says Gilliland. “It’s really exciting and quite dynamic.” These falls lie in the heart of one of the valley’s most-photographed locales. The trail gains a modest 560 feet over nearly three miles, so it’s a moderate hike for those who don’t want to break too much of a sweat. A bit of a scramble near the end will lead water watchers to an impressive, secluded waterfall known for spraying visitors. (For “Vail Hiker” owners, refer to p. 90).Booth FallsGet there: From exit 180 on I-70, drive almost a mile west until you reach Booth Falls Road off of the North Frontage Road. Turn right and drive to the end to park in the trailhead lot. The trail begins at the end of the lot.
The falls: The beloved Booth Falls area sports several waterfalls pouring out of the Eagle’s Nest Wildeness in the Gore Range, crowned by a 60-foot cascade that draws gawkers from across the state. The trail winds up a rocky path framed by aspen groves, with an angry Booth Creek tearing down the mountain on the left. “It’s a bit early (to hike) that altitude, but there should be flowers on that trail already,” Gilliland says. Look for columbines and mariposa lilies along the waterfall trail. “Booth Lake might still be frozen, but for flowers and falls, Booth will be gorgeous.” (For “Vail Hiker” owners, check p. 20).Gore CreekGet there: From exit 180 on I-70, drive east 2.3 miles on the frontage road to the signed Gore creek trailhead.The falls: Though it doesn’t technically have any named falls, Gore Creek sports several whitewater cascades in higher elevations before it winds its way through the heart of the ski village. Short side-climbs all along the trail will take hikers to viewpoints above several different falls, and the 5-mile trail ends at the grave of the Recen brothers, Swedish emigres and silver miners who survived Colorado’s silver boom and bust to continue hunting and trapping in the Gores for the remainder of their lives. “Hiking along Gore Creek is just wild – it’s tremendous in June,” Gilliland says. (For “Vail Hiker” Owners, check p. 32).
Cataract FallsGet there: From Dowd Junction (I-70 exit 171), drive south on U.S. 24 for 15.4 miles. Turn left at the North Entrance to Camp Hale and go right for a mile at the first fork. Go south on Resolution Creek Road (no. 702) half a mile to another fork. Turn down Eagle River Road (no. 714) for 3.2 miles until you reach the “Restricted Bridge” sign. The Colorado Trail is on the left of the road and follows it to a wood bridge and waterfall.The falls: For those with little ones, the Kid’s Hike at Cataract Falls offers the perfect chance to take apprentice hikers to a waterfall without trekking miles to get there. The gentle path rises and falls over 0.7 miles to a wooden bridge overlooking a waterfall. “It’s a little hike up Cataract Creek in Homestake to a beautiful waterfall,” Gilliland says. “It’s a little out of the way, but if you’re going that way it shouldn’t be missed.” (For “Vail Hiker” owners, check p. 86).Arts & Entertainment writer Ted Alvarez can be reached at 748-2939 or email@example.com.Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado
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