About Cola de Caballo, Grados de Soaso, Cascadas del Estrecho, Cascada de la Cueva, y Cascada de Arripas
The Cola de Caballo (horse’s tail) was the destination of perhaps the quintessential Spanish Pyrenees experience.
Indeed, the all-day excursion seemed to have it all – a picturesque valley, dramatic mountains, waterfall saturation, and even a beautiful glacial cirque.
By the way, cirques (or circos in Spanish) seemed to be a signature feature throughout the Pyreness range shared between Spain and France.
They were essentially a steep three-sided valley head depressed by a glacier that had since disappeared over time.
The Cola de Caballo waterfall itself was at the base of the cirque near the start of the Río Arazas.
This river ran through the Ordesa Valley over several more gushing waterfalls – Gradas del Soaso, Cascadas del Estrecho, Cascada de la Cueva, and Cascada de Arripas.
There were also some surprise waterfalls flanking the valley over temporary streams and tributaries ultimately feeding the river, which further augmented the experience.
If ever there was a must-do waterfalling excursion of the Pyrenees, I’d have to say this one would probably be it.
Summary of the Epic Spanish Pyrenees Waterfalls Hike
For starters, the hike from the Pradera de Ordesa car park to the Cola de Caballo Waterfall was on the order of 18km round trip with a 550m gain in elevation over this stretch (according to my GPS logs).
Unlike the Cascada de Cotatuero hike, the hike was less steep, wider, and contained fewer dropoff or scrambling hazards.
Therefore, I encountered were many other visitors partaking in the moderate physical challenge despite the long distance of this hike.
I noticed large groups (from loud kiddie groups to self-organized seniors to international tour groups) as well as smaller parties and individuals alike.
Perhaps the height of the traffic and activity was in the early afternoon when the noticeably busy trail seemed to have an atmospheric buzz about it.
That said, there were still moments of relative peace and relative solitude though this was more in the early morning hours before much of Spain would wake up from its traditionally night-owl lifestyle.
Nevertheless, no matter where in the trail I was, it seemed like there was a photo-op waiting to happen.
In fact, I wound up spending a leisurely 7 hours and 20 minutes on this hike, which included frequent photo stops, a nearly half-hour lunch break, plus several detours or spur trails.
I probably would have missed many of these hidden lookouts if I didn’t take my time here.
There were also many different options to vary up this hike or even to extend it as part of a partial loop.
These options were also opportunities to deviate from the main trail and return to peace and solitude or find alternate ways to experience the Ordesa Valley.
So with that said, the route that I took started from the Pradera de Ordesa (see directions below) and ended there.
Before getting into the words-eye description of the trail, I thought I’d provide a list and time-line of the landmarks along the way.
That way, you would have a better idea of what to expect and how long it would take…
- 9:10am – Started the hike from the Pradera de Ordesa car park
- 10:00am – Arrived at the Mirador de Cascada de Arripas
- 10:15am – Trail junction where I left the main trail and pursued lookouts to the next two waterfalls
- 10:20am – Arrived at the Mirador de Cascada de la Cueva
- 10:30am – Arrived at the lowermost lookout of the Cascadas del Estrecho
- 10:45am – Rejoined the main trail
- 11:05am – Leaving the uppermost of the lookouts of the Cascadas del Estrecho
- 11:10am – Abrigo in Bosque de las Hayas
- 11:20am – Reached junction with the connecting trail to Cascada de Cotatuero via Los Canarellos
- 12:00pm – Started to see the waterfalls of Gradas de Soaso
- 12:30pm – Leaving the uppermost tiers of the Gradas de Soaso
- 1:15pm – Arrived at the Cola de Caballo
- 1:40pm – Lunch break over and started to walk back
- 3:05pm – Back at the trail I didn’t take earlier (near Cascadas del Estrecho)
- 3:15pm – Back at the trail junction where I left the main trail earlier this morning
- 3:30pm – Arrived at the Mirador de los Bucardos (on other side of the river)
- 4:00pm – Arrived at the Mirador de Circo de Cotatuero
- 4:10pm – Passed by La Piedra de Siete Faus
- 4:25pm – Returned to the car park at Pradera de Ordesa
Trail Description – from Car Park to Cascada de Arripas
The initial 700m from the Pradera de Ordesa was flat, wide, and followed along the north side of the Río Arazas to a signposted fork.
I kept right at the fork to stay on the main trail, which continued to meander along the river past a couple of bridges (which would provide opportunities to vary up the hike on the way back).
Note that the left fork went up to Cascada de Cotatuero, which was a very different hike that I did a write-up about.
The main trail eventually started to climb up to a signposted lookout for the Cascada de Arripas after 2.4km from the trail junction (or over 3km from the trailhead).
The view was across the gorge towards the gushing falls dwarfed by the height of the valley walls.
Beyond this lookout, the trail continued to climb a few switchbacks more for another 300m to a signposted trail junction.
Going left at this trail junction would have continued directly towards the Gradas del Soaso and Cola de Caballo (i.e. the main trail).
However, going right at this junction descended towards lookouts for both the Cascada de la Cueva and the Cascadas del Estrecho.
Trail Description – Option to get close to Cascada de la Cueva and Cascadas del Estrecho
The sign at the trail junction made it seem like an either-or proposition where I had to choose one path or the other but possibly miss out on something.
However, it turned out that I was able to go to the lookouts of both the Cascada de la Cueva and the Cascadas del Estrecho before rejoining the main trail up above.
No major backtracking was required for this detour.
The end of the short spur to the Cascada de la Cueva lookout was 200m beyond the junction off the main trail.
I wasn’t sure why they named this waterfall after a cave (since cueva means cave in Spanish).
After all, I didn’t see any caves around the falls, but it was a pretty two-tiered cascade that seemed very friendly for long exposure photographs given that it was still under the morning shadow during my visit.
Another 300m beyond the spur to the Cascada de la Cueva was a lookout for the Cascadas del Estrecho.
It turned out that this lookout would be the first of several lookouts for this waterfall, which itself seemed to be comprised of several tiers.
This lookout was of the bottommost drop of Cascadas del Estrecho, and it seemed like this would be the tallest of its many drops.
After having my fill of this lower lookout, I then followed an unsigned connecting trail that steeply (i.e. burned my calves) climbed back up to the main trail.
Once I was up there, I then encountered another two or three spur trails leading back down towards the river that afforded me additional views of the Cascadas del Estrecho and its other upper tiers.
Beyond the last of these lookouts, the trail would continue to climb gradually through a much quieter forested area called the Bosque de las Hayas.
Trail Description – from Bosque de las Hayas to the Gradas del Soaso
About 500m from the last of the spurs to Cascadas del Estrecho, I noticed an abrigo (or hut) within the serene forested setting of el Bosque de las Hayas (which I think means “the forest of the beeches” or “beech forest”).
This probably served as a little rest stop or shelter if there was bad weather.
About another 600m past the hut, I then encountered a signposted trail junction where the uphill path on the left led up Los Canarellos towards the Cascada de Cotatuero.
This was the second of the trail junctions leading closer to the Cascada de Cotatuero, which suggested that the path to Los Canarellos could have been done as a loop hike or option.
Keeping on the main trail past this junction, it would remain relatively quiet for perhaps the next 2km.
In this stretch, there wouldn’t be another waterfall of note on the Río Arazas until I reached the Gradas del Soaso.
Along the way, there was a small tributary waterfall near a bridge.
There were also some overhanging cliffs that still hovered over the trail providing some shelter from the sun as the trail was gradually leaving the shade of the tree cover.
As the tree cover was going away, the picturesque cliffs flanking the Ordesa Valley could be seen.
Once I got to the Gradas del Soaso (which was really a long series of cascades tumbling one after another), there were a handful of spur trails and lookouts leading closer to the various parts of the cascade collective.
It was here that I was able to better appreciate the bright blue color of the water as well as its clarity.
I also welcomed the break from the silence that had persisted for the previous 2km between this spot and the Cascadas del Estrecho.
Trail Description – from Gradas del Soaso to Cola de Caballo
As the trail continued climbing above the Gradas del Soaso, the valley once again started to open up.
That was when I finally got my first glimpse of the snow-topped Circo del Soaso just up ahead at the very head of the valley.
Indeed, the last 2km of this hike was very picturesque with the cirque looming up ahead as I made my approach.
Meanwhile, I was flanked by tall cliffs as the valley was closing in on the cirque.
On the south-facing cliffs, I started to see countless cascades tumbling down together as they’d eventually feed the Río Arazas.
It was also up here that I noticed cows grazing in the valley, which I thought was kind of strange considering that they’d allow some degree of agriculture in a national park.
The Cola de Caballo waterfall was mostly unseen to this point due to a hill fronting the cirque.
But once I got past that hill, that was when I finally laid eyes on the entirety of the attractive fan-shaped falls.
While I was enjoying a half-hour picnic lunch in front of the Cola de Caballo, I noticed that the trails continued to climb up above the cirque.
I didn’t go up there though so I can’t say more on it, and so this marked my turnaround point (9km from the trailhead).
Trail Description – Returning via the South Side of the Río Arazas
As I hiked back the way I came from the Circo del Soaso, I pretty much made a beeline towards the Cascadas del Estretcho.
However, instead of descending back down to the lowest lookout of the Cascadas del Estrecho as well as the Cascada de la Cueva, I persisted on the main trail (a stretch that I had skipped earlier this morning).
The main trail gradually made its way back down to the original trail junction where I had left the main trail towards Cascadas de la Cueva and del Estrecho earlier this morning.
It was too bad that there weren’t any lookouts or openings in the vegetation along this stretch because this was probably the best spot to have a dramatic view of the Ordesa Valley looking towards the Pradera de Ordesa way off in the distance.
As such, I was only able to get a partial view of the valley where one needed to scramble in order to even earn this suboptimal view (as pictured above).
When I encountered the next trail junction, I got off the main trail and went across the Puente de Arripas, which crossed the Río Arazas upstream of Cascada de Arripas.
Beyond the bridge, there was a signposted spur trail (though not very well-defined) leading to the so-called Mirador de los Bucardos.
This lookout contained a partial view of the Ordesa Valley and seemed more oriented towards one side of the Circo de Cotatuero.
Then, I continued on the trail now following the south side of the Río Arazas for the next 1.6km or so.
I’d eventually reach a mirador of the Circo de Cotatuero with a very distant view of the Cascada de Cotatuero.
This was the very lookout that Julie and Tahia went to yesterday while I was doing the harder hike up to the Cascada de Cotatuero.
I then continued for the remainder of the hike for the last 1.6km as the scenery opened up and revealed dramatic cliffs towering over the river.
There was also a curious landmark along the way called La Piedra de los 7 Faus.
I wasn’t sure what it was about, but it seemed like a tree was growing out of the rock there.
Anyways, the eye-candy along the open part of this trail made me question whether I should have bothered with the north side trail at all earlier on this morning.
After all, it was mostly closed in by trees, which prevented any real views from happening along that stretch.
Eventually, the trail crossed a bridge back over the Río Arazas with dramatic views both upstream and downstream.
And finally a few paces beyond the bridge was the car park at the Pradera de Ordesa again, which marked the end of this very long day of hiking.
The Cola de Caballo and the Waterfalls of the Ordesa Valley reside in the Parque Nacional de Ordesa y Monte Perdido near the town of Torla in the province of Huesca, Spain. They are administered by the Parque Nacional de Ordesa y Monte Perdido. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, you may want to visit this website.
The Cola de Caballo hike shared the same trailhead as that of the hike up to the Cascada de Cotatuero.
That said, to provide you with a little more geographical context, Torla was 94km (90 minutes drive) north of Huesca, 163km (about 2 hours drive) north of Zaragoza, 166km (about 2.5 hours drive) east of Pamplona, 204km (3.5 hours drive) west of Espot, and 322km (4 hours drive) northwest of Barcelona.
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