Bridal Veil Falls via Cow Creek Trail | Rocky Mountain National Park
Estes Park, CO | 02/29/20| 6.57 miles | 993′ gain
Oftentimes I enjoy hiking with people and dogs, but sometimes hiking by myself is just what I need to reset. It’d been a while since I’d hiked in Rocky Mountain National Park and I was looking forward to checking out a new trail. The Cow Creek Trailhead isn’t in the main area of the park but is down a long gravel road that winds through a neighborhood behind Lumpy Ridge. I definitely thought I was going the wrong way the ENTIRE TIME, especially when a woman coming the opposite direction stopped me and asked me if I knew where the trailhead was…”I haven’t been here before, but my GPS says it’s about a mile ahead.” “Yeah, mine too, but it’s not there. I can’t find it!” My face went blank as I have no idea what to tell her, and now I’m pretty sure I’m never going to be able to find this trail…
There were signs EVERYWHERE saying “Private Property”, “No Parking”, etc. But I continued on to see if I could find the trailhead. All of a sudden the signs changed to “Park Here”, “Roadside Parking”, etc. There was roadside parking along both sides of the road for just a short ways but afterwards the “Private Property” signs started up again so it was pretty clear where I was supposed to park. I was the first car there (at 10am…super weird) so I walked from the main road to the trailhead, about 1/10 mile down a driveway.
The trailhead starts at McGraw Ranch, a restored dude ranch. Built in 1884-1887, the cattle ranch started small, but was bought by the McGraw family in 1909. In 1918, they turned the ranch into a guest ranch for tourists coming to Estes Park. The dude ranch thrived for decades but was purchased by the National Park Service in 1988. The land is now used by wildlife as wintering grounds and the ranch buildings were restored to accommodate summer workers. Everything was empty and quiet as I walked through.
The Cow Creek Trail follows (you guessed it!) Cow Creek from the McGraw Ranch all the way to Bridal Veil Falls. Nothing about this trail is difficult, especially the earlier sections as it is a gravel road.
Someone on AllTrails had mentioned that this trail has no views. I always laugh at the Negative Nancies who post reviews like that. How can you come on this trail and think it has no views!?
It was really weird that ahead of me the skies were sunny and blue but behind me looked stormy. It stayed like that for my entire hike and I’m not sure why.
Eventually the gravel road gave way to single track that popped in and out of the forest, always following Cow Creek upstream. I put my microspikes on after a while just so I’d have better grip on some of the slippery sections, though overall it wasn’t that bad. This isn’t a heavily trafficked trail (at least not in the winter) so it doesn’t develop sheets of ice like some of the more popular trails.
The trail was very gradual but steepened slightly towards the end. As I neared a rock wall, I had to cross an icy section that I didn’t like very much. Steep and slippery over a creek…not my idea of a good time if I were to fall. But I was very careful and my reward was a frozen Bridal Veil Falls shortly after.
Up until this point I hadn’t seen a single other person and I enjoyed the frozen falls to myself for a few minutes before departing. Someone had left their snack wrapper and disposable water bottle at the falls…I picked both up and carried them out. Some people just suck.
About halfway back to the car is when I saw my first person (two actually) and then I didn’t see anyone else until I arrived back at the trailhead. A great day of solitude in Rocky!