Round trip, 6.2 miles, with 1,060 feet of elevation gain (but most of the elevation gain is in the last part of the hike so it does feel a little steep at the end). It is a beeeeeautiful hike! Especially in autumn!
The parking area for the Cow Creek TH is really a turn around with no real parking so we parked on the shoulder of the McGraw Ranch Road. A short walk up the drive way takes you into the Continental Divide Research Learning Center compound. The Center was interesting in it’s own right. It’s a series of buildings that had at one time been the McGraw Ranch and then a guest ranch. It was ultimately bought by the Park Service and then renovated into a research center for visiting scientists. It’s a great testament to what the Park Service and the local community can do if they put their minds to it
The trail starts off thru the campus and finally enters a beautiful meadow with Cow Creek on your left and a natural research area to the right. This is about as level a walk as we’ve ever encountered in RMNP. The trail appears to be an old jeep trail that finally narrows to just a walking path. It’s fairly straight with a few gains in elevation usually followed by an equal loss. For two miles you are treated to views of the backside of Lumpy Ridge and its interesting rock formations, most notably the Rabbit Ears. It was at the Rabbit Ears Campsite turnoff that we first noticed we were being followed. We stopped for a few moments and we noticed two hikers loaded for camping about a 100 yards behind us and gaining. We picked up our pace, because we don’t like hiking right in front of or behind other hikers. It’s just awkward. We moved at a brisk pace for 15 minutes or so and then stopped for water. Looking behind us, there they were, still 100 yards behind us. We pulled off to the side of the trail for a snack and figured we would just let them pass. 20 minutes go by, no hikers. They’re nowhere to be seen. We figured they must have stopped also, so we pack up and head up trail.
We come to the junction where the Cow Creek Trail bears right and the Black Canyon Tail continues straight, ultimately making it to Lawn Lake some eight miles farther up trail. This is where the hike’s most difficult section begins. This last mile contains most of the 1,060 foot elevation gain from the trailhead.
It looked like a nice spot for a few photos ( and rest) so we stop and there they were! Our two hiking buddies, still 100 yards behind us. We felt like it was time to let them pass. We were still resting for the climb ahead and I have to admit, I was a bit curious about these two. We waited all of 15 minutes and nothing, nada, nobody!! Our best guess is that somehow they managed to take the Black Canyon Trail without our seeing them, but I don’t know how. Nothing but open meadow between us and that trail – spooky.
Well it was time to hit that last mile. It follows up a ravine into the woods and then crosses Cow Creek. The entire time you are surrounded by the sound of rushing water. There were a number of mini falls created by deadfall from the spring runoffs and the sound was so soothing. It’s one of those special things that make you just love this place. We stopped at each one, pausing for a bit just to soak up the sounds. Continuing upward, we finally came to a section that was a bit of a scramble. We were so intent on climbing and being careful not slip – and listening to that sound of water. I reached a shelf of rock and turned to help Sandy up. When we turned back around, we were just showered in the mist. There, not twenty foot away, was Bridal Veil Falls. The winds had really kicked up and the spray was heavy, not quite Niagara Falls, but still heavy enough to cause Sandy some difficulty with her footing (she went Malok on us). Sandy set up her tripod, kept wiping the wet off her lens, and commenced to shooting. I stood nearby just in awe once again of God’s handy work!
Voices. We look at each other in disbelief. “Who are these guys?!?” Then to our total shock, there they are: “Judy Hiker” and her mom “Social Sophie“! As serious as I can be. “Judy” has on all of the latest Patagonia has to offer, from her new boots (had to be painful), fleece and bandana. But Mom, “Sophie” is in Capri pants, dress boots with some serious heel, and a pink cashmere looking sweater. We smile at each other and say hello. They sit down, take a few gulps of water, and have half a sandwich each. Then, Mom stands up, glances at the falls and tells “Judy” – “It’s lovely. Can we go now.” “Judy” says sure. They pack up and leave. I find myself wondering what that was about. If you go to all the trouble (and pain -- there had to be a fair amount of discomfort for both of them), why would you not stop and enjoy the payoff?? Was it just a notch in a belt, or just someone who didn’t appreciate what all this was about?? I guess different strokes for different folks. I don't guess I'd want to stay at a social tea for long either. Anyway….
We both climb around for awhile trying to get good camera angles and minimize the mist. There was a storm blowing in and the wind was getting strong. We cross in front of the Falls and scrambled up a bit of rock trying to gain a view of the upper falls. This was something we wouldn’t have thought to do if not for Erik. And sure enough, there it was. The lower falls in it’s own right are gorgeous but this perspective with both is spectacular. It was difficult to photograph because of the size but it was great to just sit and take it in and store it in your memory. The wind began to blow stronger and colder with a few sprinkles starting up so it was time to head back. What a hike, what a memory! Once again, God had provided an alternate hike for us and this was as memorable and special as we could ever have hoped for.