When we go to Vail we eat. Oh, and we drink. Seriously, this is a wonderful town for food and the best time to experience the scene is during Taste of Vail.
However, Vail is located in a truly dazzling part of Colorado. In fact, one of my favorite food photos I snapped is a plate of lamb in Vail Village taken with the Gore Range soaring in the background. See? I am not kidding when I write that I come here to eat.
On our most recent trip, we ate great food, but we also got out of Vail proper and on to the trail, but not before a rough ride.
Piney River Ranch, the setting of the Upper Piney River Falls Trail, our destination, is only about 12 miles from Vail. However, the drive takes 45 minutes and when you hit the first bump, you’ll know why.
Despite the bouncing and shaking, the landscape is gloriously green. Especially in late June, when we ventured up the road. Ryan was happy to do a little “rough driving” while I was glad we’d brought his Toyota Tacoma and not my decade-old car.
We arrived around 10 a.m. and this was not too early. In fact, we were running late for our hike (we had wanted to hit the trail earlier), but we got a slow start in the morning. My bed in our Antlers at Vail condo was just a little too comfy for me to rise early.
In fact, when we returned to our truck in the afternoon, folks had parked down the road. We got to park in the lot so I guess 10 a.m. is sort of early.
We decided to hike first and lunch at Piney River Ranch afterward. The ranch is a collection of buildings located on Piney Lake, a picturesque, high altitude lake with the Gore Range as a backdrop. Let’s just say that the view is exactly like a Colorado postcard.
The hike is about six miles round trip and heads up the Piney River towards a scenic waterfall, thus the name, Upper Piney River Falls Trail. It’s dog-friendly, and with the Gore Range often in view, it’s rather like hiking in a postcard, but much more real.
Fritzi, our one-year-old German Shepherd was excited to be on the trail. She hadn’t like the bumps on the way up and had stayed alert all the way to the trailhead. She was ready to go. We slathered on sunscreen and headed up the trail, water bottles (even one for the dog) piled in our backpack.
While we used to hike a lot and have been known to do some 14ers and 12ers around Colorado, I’ve gotten a bit lazy. A new, young dog has gotten us out on the trail a lot but let’s just say I’m not in ideal hiking shape.
The trail heads up the valley and then starts to climb, switching back and forth as it ascends, crossing small waterfalls along the way. It is supposed to take about three hours to do the entire trail, and that is probably true for some but Ryan had me and the dog to contend with.
Ryan probably would have made it to the falls, but as the clock passed noon, I started to worry about the time. We passed a fellow hiker who informed us that we were still a mile from the waterfall so we ended up turning back.
Standing in line to order lunch, I found out the two little girls in front of me wearing skirts and looking a little wiped out had just completed all six miles of the trail. Showoffs!
I won’t lie, we passed a lot of hikers on the way back. The trail is narrow and getting off trail to let someone by (or six humans and two dogs) isn’t easy with a pup in tow. If you can go on the weekday, it will cut down the crowd by a lot. If you can make that work, do it.
Back at Piney River Ranch, we ordered lunch and sat down at a picnic table. This restaurant used to have table service but this summer, with COVID-19, things are a little different. Guests order at the window and pick up at the next window and then find a socially-distance seat at one of the tables.
Our sandwiches and iced tea hit the spot after a hike. My one tip is to bring water for you and your dog. We did and the three of us were still thirsty when we got done.
In addition to a wedding venue, with breathtaking mountains as a backdrop in every photo, Piney River Ranch has lodging, water sports, and stables.
There are cabins as well as glamping tents. Rentals are hard to come by on the weekends during the season which runs June 21 through September 27. However, if you travel during the week you’ll have no trouble finding lodging.
You can make a day trip as we did. It can include renting canoes or stand-up paddleboarding, fishing, hiking, or horseback riding. Hiking is free.
The beauty is extraordinary and no matter if you stay for a week or a day, it’s worth it. It’s odd to think that this is just a stone’s throw from Vail made me feel a bit guilty for not having visited before.
Thank you to Vail Summer and Antlers at Vail for hosting this trip.