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 (a feature that seemed to be a signature feature throughout the Pyreness range shared between Spain and France). The waterfall itself was at the base of the cirque near the start of the Río Arazas, which itself ran through the 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 as well. If ever there was a must-do waterfalling excursion of the Pyrenees, I’d have to say this one would probably be it.
It seemed like I wasn’t alone in this thinking because despite the length of the hike, there were many other visitors partaking in the moderate physical challenge. Indeed, I noticed large groups (from loud kiddie groups to self-organized seniors to international tour groups) as well as smaller parties and individuals alike. It was a noticeably busy trail that seemed to have a buzz particularly in the early afternoon when the trail activity seemed to be at its highest. 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. And no matter where in the trail I was, it seemed like there was a photo-op waiting to happen.
From a logistical standpoint, I managed to do the long 18km round-trip hike, which included a 550m climb over this stretch, in a relatively leisurely 7 hours and 20 minutes. This duration included frequent photo stops, a nearly half-hour lunch break, plus several detours or spur trails leading to lookouts that could be easily missed if one didn’t take their time here. Speaking of detours and spur trails, 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 so you have a better idea of what to expect and how long it would take. So without further adieu, here it is:
- 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
Now, let’s delve into the long trail discussion… 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 (the left fork went up to Cascada de Cotatuero) to stay on the main trail, which continued to meander along the river past a couple of bridges (providing opportunities to vary up the hike on the way back) until it started to climb up to a signposted lookout for the Cascada de Arripas after 2.4km (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 where going left continued directly towards the Gradas del Soaso and Cola de Caballo while going right descended towards lookouts for both the Cascada de la Cueva and the Cascadas del Estrecho. While the sign here made it seem like an either-or proposition, it turned out that I was able to go to the lookouts of Cascada de la Cueva and the Cascadas del Estrecho then take a steep connecting trail to rejoin the main trail up above.
The end of the spur of 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) as 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 it would be the tallest of the drops of its many drops.
After having my fill of this lookout, I then followed an unsigned connecting trail that steeply (read 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. About 500m from the last of the spurs to Cascadas del Estrecho, I noticed an abrigo (or hut) within the serene forested setting, which 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. Since I had already gone up that way the day before, I kept on the main trail.
The trail would continue past this junction, which was relatively quiet for perhaps the next 2km as 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 as well as 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. And 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 (in addition to its clarity) while also welcoming the break from the silence that had persisted for the previous 2km between this spot and the Cascadas del Estrecho. As the trail continued climbing above the Gradas del Soaso, the valley once again started to open up, and 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 was getting closer while I was flanked by tall cliffs as the valley was closing in at 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 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 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) as I hiked back the way I came until I reached the area around the Cascadas del Estrecho. But instead of descending back down to the lowest lookout of the Cascadas del Estrecho, I persisted on the main trail as it gradually made its way back down to the 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.
Back at the trail junction, I got off the main trail, but instead of going back upstream towards the Cascada de la Cueva again, I kept right and descended further down towards 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, where I’d eventually reach a mirador of the Circo de Cotatuero with a very distant view of the Cascada de Cotatuero (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 (which 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 a few paces after 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 hike shared the same trailhead as that of the hike up to the Cascada de Cotatuero. I won’t reproduce the directions here, so see the directions on the Cascada de Cotatuero page for how to drive to the trailhead.
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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