Things To Do

Piney Lake is a simply stunning alpine lake tucked into the Gore Range between steep, rugged peaks, surrounded by alpine meadow, aspen groves, and conifers. To access the lake, take Upper Piney River Trail, which is a moderate seven-mile (one way) lightly trafficked out and back, in between Vail and Wolcott. The trail is accessible from June until October, and is a great location for a number of outdoor recreation activities: trail running, cross country skiing, horseback riding, birding, wildflower viewing, fishing, and of course taking in the views of the lake and the falls. At the beginning of the hike, the first few miles wind through flowing meadows that offer excellent spots for lunch, relaxation, and great views. The trail reaches a cascading waterfall about three miles in and becomes less distinct from there on. It then begins to climb through aspen groves and conifer forest with a smattering of small creek crossings, before becoming a more rigorous climb for the last 1.3 miles to the lake. The lower part of the trail to the falls is popular and more trafficked than the rest of the way to the lake, so it’s worth making the full trek for solitude on the shores of a beautiful alpine lake.

Pro Tips

  • As the Gore Range is famously a hotspot for aspens, come during the first week or two of September to catch the aspens turning golds and fiery reds and oranges.
  • This trail is fun to combine with a night or two of camping. There is a state campsite near the entrance to Piney Lake Ranch, with 6 great sites overlooking the mountains and Piney River. There are also a plethora of free campsites on pull offs from the road. There are also great camping opportunities after mile four in a section of alternating meadows and thick forests.
  • Recommended season(s): This trail can be used year-round, but to catch the wildflowers, come in May or June. To catch the aspens changing, come in early September. The trail is at a high elevation (the trailhead begins at 9,397′ and the lake is at 11,102′), so be prepared for a temperature drop no matter the season.

    –Annie Brewster


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