…escaping the heat. As my thermostat slowly creeps towards the one hundred mark it seems to be the only goal on my mind. When seeking this kind of relief I find the best medicine is to head for the high country for the weekend. It’s time to go camping. Since the bustle of the 4th has finally slowed down I discovered that finding a descent campsite no longer involves me perching in a spot three days before everyone else arrives. Yet it is summer so arriving as early as possible on a Friday is always helpful in procuring the best spots with great views, unless you are traveling to Piney Lake.
Piney Lake is one of my favorite camping destinations. It is always free and seemingly empty, leaving you to discover your own campsite. Located just outside of the Vail Village you can reach the exit in just around two hours from downtown Denver.
The trick to finding Piney Lake is to be persistent in the drive. Take I-70 West towards Vail get off at exit 176. Take the North Frontage Road west to Red Sandstone Drive turn north and follow 0.7 miles to the fork. From here follow the dirt road to the left and continue about 2.7 miles, here you will hit a split, follow signs to Piney Lake continuing left. Stay the course down the dirt road for about 9 miles, I highly recommend having a four wheel drive vehicle as the road is all dirt and extreme in areas. Stop frequently for photo-ops as you pass the Gore Range and many other peaks along the way. If you follow the signs you will surely arrive at Piney Lake.
Once you arrive there are several large campsites that are along side of the road, but the best sites require slightly more effort. Since you are on National Park land you can backpack into the park as long as you follow the “No Trace” Policy and pack out food and trash. I hiked in about a mile and half from the trailhead parking lot to find a beautiful cliff overlooking the raging river. As we were setting up our tents three male deer bounded through our campsite, you are definitely out of touch with humanity and the view could not have been better.
Press on as far as you like, but keep in mind you will need to hike food back to the car before sleeping to keep wildlife and yourself safe. Note that camping near the lake is difficult because there is a private ranch but you can hike to the high cliff side and get a great view of the lake from an overlook. Beyond that you are your own guide. There are no rules at Piney Lake.
- 115 Miles West of Denver
Where to park?
- Piney Lake Trailhead or various side road campsites
- Ranges from 9,000-10,200 Ft. around the lake and campgrounds
- Hiking, Camping, Canoeing, Photo-OP
- Vail Village, Lost Lake, Piney Lake Ranch, Gore Range