Bridal Veil Falls
Rocky Mountain National Park, east side, northeast of Estes Park, Colorado
Access: The most direct access is from the Cow Creek Trailhead. From the intersection of Hwys 34, 36 and 7 in Estes Park, head northwest on East Wonderview Ave (Hwy 34) past the Stanley Hotel 0.4 miles, then head north on McGregor Ave (Devils Gulch Rd) 3.4 miles and watch for a brown sign for the Cow Creek Trailhead on the left (this has a parking status sign, but it is not updated very frequently…sometimes it says it’s full when it’s not, and vice versa). Turn north at the sign on McGraw Ranch Rd and follow it 2.2 miles to the trailhead which lies at the end of the road.
Maps: USGS 1:24K Estes Park / Trails Illustrated 1:59K Rocky Mt National Park #200
Trailhead: UTM NAD83 z13 457510e 4475756n; elevation=7839’
Trail: 3.2 miles one-way to Bridal Veil Falls with 1,020’ elevation gain on a very –well marked trail through pine-dotted meadows and wet aspen canyon-bottom.
Dogs: No pets allowed on National Park trails
Fees: There is no Park Service fee station at this trailhead
Webcam: 1.5 miles south in Estes Park
Weather: Snow Conditions Local Forecast
July 14, 2009
The first time Andra and I attempted to hike to Bridal Veil Falls via Cow Creek, we arrived at the trailhead around 9:30 with Dave, Malia and Sydney on a Saturday morning to find that all of the 15-or-so parking spots were full. Private property lines the road all around the trailhead, so once the lot is full, there is no other place to park for miles, and we had to head somewhere else. Today is Tuesday, and we planned on arriving well before 9:30, both factors that allowed us to park our car in one of the remaining spots around 8:45. We slathered on sunscreen under a perfectly clear sky, and began our hike.
The trail started out heading past the old McGraw guest ranch, bought by the Park Service in 1979 and apparently now used for employee housing and offices. The two track that heads west through an open meadow soon condensed to a single track that ran along the north bank of the romantically-named Cow Creek, which was flowing well and talking quite a bit as it slurped and riffled around rocks and logs. A wet June brought on gads of wildflowers: Penstemmon, aspen daisies, Eriogonum, Astragalas and black-eyed Susans, to name a few. All of these were mixed in with very tall needle-and-thread grass that waved like ocean foam in the steady breeze. Ponderosa pines and aspen dotted the meadow, especially thick right along the creek, and up the slope to the north, craggy granite ridges, almost barren, reflected the bright sunlight. It was quite a scene, and I was more than impressed with the trail almost right away.
We walked along the gentle grade, enjoying the breeze that kept the mosquitoes at bay and our skin cool. We passed the turnoff for Gem Lake and Lumpy Ridge, and continued west towards Bridal Veil Falls. After a couple of miles, the trail entered thicker forest, composed mainly of aspen, and this was the nicest section of trail, and a section I immediately planned on revisiting come September when the aspen bronze up in the chill fall nights.
The trail steepened up, and for the last ¼ mile, we were hiking up the narrow rocky canyon by way of quarried stone stairs and blocks. I’m always impressed by the amount of work done on trail building in this national park. Think of all the time required just to put in a 20-foot section of rock stairs, then multiply that out across ¼ mile. There were several nice spots along the way to view cascading white water as it sheeted down a smooth granite face or tumbled over a large boulder, but the main attraction was the 15-foot free-drop Bridal Veil Falls, running very nicely. We walked around to the face of it after approaching from the side, and enjoyed the cooling mist thrown up by the water pounding on rocks below. Very enjoyable.
The trail seemed to end at that point, with no option to continue easily even off the trail up that steep canyon, so we turned around and walked back through the aspen again, enjoying the sound of the rustling water in the creek just a few feet away. An elderly couple, at least in their 60’s, sat in the shade enjoying a picnic, reminding me that I’ve got plenty of years to enjoy the great woods of the world as long as I don’t get too lazy. Back in the meadow, the wind at our backs continued to keep us cool, even though it was a very open trail under full mid-day sun. We stopped near the Gem Lake turnoff and found a large aspen log in a quite shaded spot by the creek to sit on for lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The candy bar I had brought along was a gooey liquid mess, but after setting it in the cold water of Cow Creek for 5 minutes it was firm enough to unwrap and eat. It was delicious. Chocolate tastes so much better at altitude, I’ve found.
We hit the trail again, and leisurely walked back to the car, fighting the post-lunch lethargy, and arrived around noon, taking just a little over 3 hours to complete the round trip.
September 19, 2009
Two months after first hiking Bridal Veil Falls, Andra and I returned, this time with our friend Christine, to enjoy the fall colors along the trail. We had a fantastic fall day to hike on, with clear blue sky and a nice cool morning temperature, just enough to keep the edge off the heat from the blazing sun. We left the car at 8:30, and hiked briskly through the initial shady section of trail to get into the sunlight. There’s just nothing better than hiking on a cool, sunny fall morning in the mountains. The aspen, willows and other broadleaf shrubs and trees had all begun to change, and though the color wasn’t at peak at this lower elevation, there was plenty of color to catch the eye and lend a whole new look to the trail we saw 2 months ago. We made it to the falls around 10:00, by which time the tables had turned and we were actively seeking out shade to get out of the heat. We enjoyed the cool rocks by the falls in the shade of several large pines for a bit before heading back down.
Just as before, we stopped along
Cow Creek on the walk back to have lunch along the rustling water. Something
always nice about having lunch by a river or a stream, helps the digestions
it seems. On we went back down the trail, where crowds of late-morning
hikers were passing us on their way up through the meadow. Back at the
parking area, not a spot was open until we pulled out onto the road and
headed for town.
Andra and Christine on the trail
Nice early fall color along Cow Creek
Nice fall color in the thick stretch of aspen
The meadow at the beginning of the hike in June
The first part of the trail is an old 2-track road
A nice bald mountain to the north of the
valley looks like a nice place to scramble someday.
Lots of red-barked ponderosa pines dot the meadow
Andra on the trail
Bridge over Cow Creek
Nice small falls along Cow Creek
Wonderful stretch of thick aspen
Quarried steps up the hillside
Bridal Veil Falls
Bridal Veil Falls
Rushing water near Bridal Veil Falls
More nature pics at:
Page created 12-15-09