Real Vail's guide to hiking and backpacking in the Vail Valley

Trail descriptions in the White River National Forest, Eagles Nest and Holy Cross Wilderness Areas

By Real Vail
Real AspenSeptember 5, 2011
One of the most popular articles ever posted on Real Vail was a “Vail hiking and backpacking guide” in June of 2008. That makes sense given the incredible trails snaking up and out of the Vail Valley into the surrounding Holy Cross and Eagles Nest Wilderness Areas of the White River National Forest.

Especially this time of year, when the leaves have started to change and the air is crisp, clean and cool, there's really no better way to explore the area than on foot. However, you should first arm yourself with all the appropriate backcountry gear – food, water, warm clothing, rain gear, maps, flashlight, matches – and you should also get the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Search and Rescue (CORSAR) card.

In our previous guide we accurately called it a $1 hiking certificate, but it's changed since then. The cost is now $3 for one year of coverage or $12 for a five-year CORSAR card, which goes into the Colorado Search and Rescue Fund and will reimburse highly trained personnel if for any reason you need to be rescued during your adventure of choice in the Colorado backcountry.

Mount of the Holy Cross.
USFS photo

It's not just hiking. You can be mountain biking, kayaking or cross-country skiing and find yourself in a sticky situation. Anyone with a current hunting or fishing license, or boat, snowmobile or ATV registration is covered by the fund.

It's not insurance that will cover medical evacuation, but it does cover just about every other scenario. And if you don't have a CORSAR card and get in over your head, you can find yourself with a big, fat bill. For more information on the CORSAR program and where to get a card, click here.

Once you get that out of the way, stop by the Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District of the White River National Forest, with offices either up-valley in Minturn or down-valley in Eagle. Call first to make sure they're open, but once you're there you'll find tons of maps and good advice on where, when and how to hike in Eagle County.

Eagle Office
125 West 5th Street
Eagle, CO 81631
970-328-6388
Email: cbmyers@fs.fed.us

Holy Cross Office (Vail area)
24747 US Highway 24
Minturn, CO 81645
970-827-5715
Email: cbmyers@fs.fed.us

Here are some of the local trail descriptions provided by the U.S. Forest Service:

BIGHORN CREEK TRAIL

ACCESS FROM VAIL: Travel east from Vail on I-70 to Exit 180 for East Vail. Exit here and turn to the right. Proceed on the south frontage road for 1 mile to Columbine Drive, turn left. Continue to the end of the pavement; the road passes under the interstate through a narrow passage. There is limited parking at the end of the road.

TRAIL BEGINNING: 8,600 ft at the end of Columbine Road.
TRAIL ENDING: 10,800 ft at the old homestead cabin.
LENGTH: 3.6 miles one way. (5.8 km)
HIGHEST ELEVATION: 10,800 ft (3300 m) at the end of the trail.
DIFFICULTY: More difficult.
Elevation gain: 2,200 ft in 3.6 miles.
RECOMMENDED SEASON: June through September.
AMOUNT OF USE: High
USGS MAP(S): Vail East

The hike: The Bighorn Creek trail is less steep than the other East Vail trails. It is generally a fairly easy walk.

The first 1/2 mile of the trail climbs steeply out of the Vail Valley, then more gradually climbs up through stands of aspen and pine. The trail passes beaver ponds and remains of old mining camps as well as Bighorn Falls. Near mile 2, the views of Vail and Bighorn drainage are exceptional. Around mile 3, the trail passes through open meadows and stands of subalpine fir and Englemann spruce, offering a chance to see the Grand Traverse, a continuous 12,000 foot ridge connecting all the peaks and high drainages of the Gore Range. The trail ends at an old homestead cabin located on private property.

Just before mile 2 and past a large fern grove, there is a side trail to an overlook down the steep drop to Bighorn Creek. This point makes a good destination for short hikes. The cabin is unlocked to offer shelter for hikers. Please respect this private property and help protect it for others to use and enjoy.
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BOOTH CREEK TRAIL

ACCESS FROM VAIL: Travel east from Vail on I-70 to Exit 180 for East Vail. Exit here and turn left, pass under the interstate and turn left onto the north frontage road. Proceed about 1 mile to Booth Creek Road, turn right. Continue up this road to the end. There is a large parking area at the end of the road.

TRAIL BEGINNING: 8,400 ft at the end of Booth Creek Road.
TRAIL ENDING: 11,480 ft at Booth Lake.
LENGTH: 6 miles one way. (9.7 km)
HIGHEST ELEVATION: 11,480 ft (3500 m)at Booth Lake
DIFFICULTY: More difficult to most difficult. Elevation gain: 3,080 ft in 6 miles.
RECOMMENDED SEASON: Mid-June through September.
AMOUNT OF USE: High
USGS MAP(S): East Vail

The hike: This is one of the most popular hiking trails on the district. The falls are a popular destination for short hikes. Booth Lake offers good fishing and even has an island. The trail climbs steeply from the trailhead through aspen groves for the first mile. Then, the trail climbs more gradually following along Booth Creek.. At mile 2, the trail passes 60 foot Booth Creek Falls. Beyond the falls, early season hikers may encounter snow patches. The trail winds through conifer forests and meadows filled with wildflowers. Above 10,000 feet the trees thin and the terrain changes offering views of the Core Range. The last 1/4 mile to Booth Lake is steep and rocky. Backpackers camping at Booth Lake are required to camp at least 100 feet away from the edge of the lake. Please use "No Trace" camping techniques in this highly used area.
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CROSS CREEK TRAIL

ACCESS FROM VAIL:Travel west on I-70 to Exit 171 for Minturn and Hwy 24. Exit here and turn right onto Hwy 24.Continue down Hwy 24 for 4 miles, passing through Minturn, to Tigiwon,Road # 707. Turn right onto Tigiwon Road and continue about 2 miles to the trailhead.

TRAIL BEGINNING: 8,520 ft 2 miles up Tigiwon Road on the right side.
TRAIL ENDING: 11,820 ft Near Treasure Vault Lake at the intersection with Fancy Pass and Missouri Lakes Trails.
LENGTH: 15.5 miles one way.
HIGHEST ELEVATION: 11 1 820 ft At the end of the trail near Treasure Vault Lake.
DIFFICULTY: Easy to more difficult
ELEVATION GAIN: 3,300 feet in 15 miles
RECOMMENDED SEASON: Mid June to October
AMOUNT OF USE: Moderate to high
USGS MAP(S): Minturn, Mt. Jackson, Mt. of the Holy Cross

The hike: The trail begins following a ridge and then drops-down to Cross Creek. There is a bridge crossing at mile I in a meadow that is usually filled with wild-flowers. This makes a nice destination point for a short day hike. Or, continue a little further and there is a pond surrounded by rocks that offers a good lunch spot.

Around mile 2, Mount of the Holy Cross is visible from the trail; on the eastern face of the mountain there is a permanent snow field that is in the shape of a cross.

At mile 6, Cross Creek trail intersects Grouse Mountain trail. Reed's Meadow is about 2-miles further and is a long open meadow in a glaciated valley. On the way to Treasure Vault Lake, short side trips to Harvey Lake and Blodgett Lake offer good fishing. and timberline lake scenery.

The last few miles of the trail pass through open meadows with wildflowers and mining relics. There is evidence of mining cabins, ore mills and old mines. The trail follows an old wagon road to Treasure Vault Lake. Large groups use this trail through mid-summer; plan mid week trips to avoid crowds. Use "No Trace Camping skills to minimize impact; camp away from meadows and creeks.
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DELUGE CREEK TRAIL

ACCESS FROM VAIL: Travel east on I-70 to Exit 180, exit here and turn right onto the south frontage road. Continue on this road to Gore Creek Campground and the end of the road. There is a small parking area near the trailhead. Please do not park in the camp-ground.

TRAIL BEGINNING: 8,680 ft At the end of the frontage road.
TRAIL ENDING: 11,765 ft At Deluge Lake.
LENGTH: 4 miles one way.
HIGHEST ELEVATION: 11,765 ft (3673 m) At Deluge Lake.
DIFFICULTY: Most difficult.
ELEVATION GAIN: 3,085 ft in 4 miles.
RECOMMENDED SEASON: June through October.
AMOUNT OF USE: Moderate
USGS MAP(S): Vail East

The hike: There are 2 trailheads beginning at this location. The trails fork after 1/10 mile, follow the left trail. The first 3 miles climb steeply, gaining about 2,500 feet. At mile 3.5, the trail reaches a ridge top then follows along Deluge Creek at a gentler grade to Deluge Lake. If the trail becomes confusing, follow the creek to the lake.

This is one of the steepest trails in the Eagle's Nest Wilderness. However, it offers panoramic views of the Vail Valley and the Gore Range. Because of the southern exposure of this trail, it can remain fairly snow free until November. The trail winds through several aspen groves making fall hikes a colorful adventure.

Deluge Lake, lying at the foot of towering granite peaks, is fairly isolated and unspoiled. When camping here, please camp at least 100 feet from the edge of the lake and practice "No Trace" camping techniques.
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FALL CREEK TRAIL

ACCESS FROM VAIL: Travel west on I-70 to Exit 171 for Minturn and Hwy 24. Exit here and turn right onto Hwy 24.

NORTH TRAILHEAD: Proceed about 4 miles, passing through Minturn, to Tigiwon Road #707. Turn right onto Tigiwon Road and continue to the end - 8 miles of rough dirt road. Park at the parking area at the end of the road.

SOUTH TRAILHEAD: Proceed 12 miles on Hwy 24 to Homestake Road # 703. Turn right and travel 8 miles on Homestake Road to the Holy Cross City jeep road # 759. Park here and walk about 2 miles up the road to the trailhead. NOTE: this jeep road is very rough and should not be attempted unless you have a 4 wheel drive with a winch.

LENGTH: 9 miles, trailhead to trailhead.
HIGHEST ELEVATION: 12,600 ft
DIFFICULTY: More Difficult
AMOUNT OF USE: Moderate to high.
ELEVATION GAIN: North trailhead: 2,200 ft in 6 miles. South trailhead: 1,400 ft in 3 miles
USGS MAP(S): Mt. of the Holy Cross, Minturn.
RECOMMENDED SEASON: Late June through September.

NORTH TRAILHEAD: 10,320 ft At the end of Tigiwon Road. (There are 2 trailheads here, make sure you start at Fall Creek).

SOUTH TRAILHEAD: 11,000 ft Off Holy Cross City Jeep Road 0759.

The hike: From the North Trailhead, the trail climbs gradually to Lake Constantine. After crossing Fall Creek, the trail climbs abruptly to the alpine meadows below Fall Creek Pass. Over the pass, the trail drops down to the Sever Sisters Lakes and then to Hunky-dory Lake before intersecting the Holy Cross City Jeep Road. It's another 2 miles down to Homestake Road 0703.

The middle portion of the trail, from Lake Constantine to Hunky Dory Lake, is less traveled. However, Lake Constantine and Hunky Dory Lake are heavily visited by day hikers. The stair step arrangement of the Seven Sisters Lakes and the towering rock cliffs around them offers rugged alpine scenery for hikers who venture farther.
Many side trips can be taken from this trail such as Notch Mountain, Tuhare Lakes and Holy Cross City site.
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FANCY PASS TRAIL

ACCESS FROM VAIL: Travel west on I-70 to Exit 171 for Minturn, Leadville and Hwy 24. Exit here and turn right onto Hwy 24. Proceed south for 12 miles to Homestake Road #703. Turn right and proceed 8 miles to Road 0704. Turn right and continue 3 miles on this rough dirt road passing the aqueduct for the Homestake I water project. The trailhead will be on the left

TRAIL BEGINNING: 10,080 ft on Road J704, Missouri Lakes Road.
TRAIL ENDING: 11,675 ft At Treasure Vault Lake.
LENGTH: 3.25 miles to Treasure Vault Lake
2.5 - miles to Fancy Pass
2 -miles to Fancy Lake
HIGHEST ELEVATION: 12,400 feet (3780 m) At Fancy Pass.
DIFFICULTY: Most difficult.
ELEVATION GAIN: 2,320 from the trailhead to Fancy Pass, 2.5 miles.
RECOMMENDED SEASON: Late June through September.
AMOUNT OF USE: Light
USGS MAP(S): Mt of the Holy Cross, Mt. Jackson

The hike: From the trailhead, the trail follows an old road along Fancy Creek, passing a holding pond for the Homestake I project. At mile 1.5 the trail turns into a foot path climbing through mature spruce stands. At about mile 1.75, the trail crosses a small, lush meadow then steepens on the climb to the lake. From the lake, it is a steep climb and descent over Fancy Pass Distance (miles) to Treasure Vault Lake.

Although the trail is steep, Fancy Lake is a worthwhile destination; the clear blue-green water of the lake provides.a contrast with the rocky lake shore. Spruce trees along most of the trail offer shade to make pleasant hiking conditions even on warm days.

A side trip to Holy Cross City site is possible by taking the right fork where the trail intersects an old road. This road was originally built and owned by the Gold Park Milling and Mining Company who denied access to the Treasure Vault Mining Company to haul their equipment over Fancy Pass. Shattered remains of old wagons and tools can be seen scattered over this rough rocky road as well as some remnants of miner's cabins and the Treasure Vault Mill.
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GORE CREEK TRAIL

ACCESS FROM VAIL: Travel east on I-70 to Exit 180 for East Vail. Exit here. Turn right at bottom of off-ramp and continue down this road to the end, approximately 2 1/2 miles. At the end of the road there is a campground and the trailhead. Parking is limited. Pleas ' e park at the trailhead not at the campground.

TRAIL BEGINNING: 8,680 ft At the end of South Frontage Road.
TRAIL ENDING: 11,400 ft At Gore Lake.
LENGTH: 6.4 miles (10.2 km) one way.
HIGHEST ELEVATION: 11,400 ft (3465 m) At Gore Lake.
DIFFICULTY: More difficult
ELEVATION GAIN: 2,720 in 6.4 miles.
RECOMMENDED SEASON: June through September.
AMOUNT OF USE: High.
USGS MAP(S): Vail East.

The hike: A short hike along Gore Creek can provide pleasant picnic spots or great fishing opportunities. This trail is one of the most popular in the Eagle's Nest Wilderness. Please help lessen the impact of humans in this area by packing out your trash and trash that has been left by others. If you plan on camping overnight at the lake, please use a backpacking stove - there is little wood left in the vicinity.

The first 5 mile s of the trail climbs alongside Gore Creek. There are some short steep sections along the way. The trail winds through meadows and aspen groves which change to conifer stands as the elevation increases. At mile 5, the trail forks; straight ahead goes over Red Buffalo Pass to Summit County, the fork to the left goes to Gore Lake. From the fork, the trail climbs through spruce and fir forests into the alpine tundra to Gore Lake. The trail is steeper in this section.

**THIS TRAIL IS IN THE EAGLE'S NEST WILDERNESS - MOUNTAIN BIKES ARE-NOT PERMITTED ON THE TRAIL.
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GROUSE LAKE TRAIL

ACCESS FROM VAIL: Travel west on I-70 to Exit 171 for Minturn, Leadville and Hwy 24. Exit here and turn right. Proceed south in Hwy 24 for 1 mile. The trailhead is across the Hwy from Meadow Mountain Business Park. Park in the small lot by the trailhead.

Hiking to Gore Lake.
Dan Davis
www.trekkerphoto.com

TRAIL BEGINNING: 7,900 ft On Hwy 24 across from Meadow Mountain Business Park.
TRAIL ENDING: 10,700 ft At Grouse Lake.
LENGTH: 5 miles
HIGHEST ELEVATION: 10,700 (3256 m)miles one way at Grouse Lake.
ELEVATION GAIN: 1800 ft in 5 miles.
DIFFICULTY: More difficult with steep sections.
RECOMMENDED SEASON: June through October.
AMOUNT OF USE: Moderate. more use during hunting season.
USGS MAP(S): Minturn

The hike: The trail follows Grouse Creek, passing through aspen and conifer forests and meadows of wildflowers as it climbs to Grouse Lake. Overnight campers should make their camps either above or below Grouse Lake because there are few legal camping spots 100 feet from the lake. Camping above the lake provides great views of Grouse Mountain to the west. The established trail ends at Grouse Lake however, it is possible to easily tie into West Grouse Creek Trail by traveling cross country.
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GROUSE MOUNTAIN TRAIL

ACCESS #1 NORTH TRAILHEAD: Begin at the Grouse Creek. Trailhead 1 mile north of Minturn on U.S. Hwy 24. Hike the West Grouse Creek. Trail 7 miles to the junction with Grouse Mountain Trail.

ACCESS #2 SOUTH TRAILHEAD: Begin at the Cross Creek. Trailhead on Tigiwon Road 707. Hike the Cross Creek. Trail 2006 six miles to the junction with Grouse Mountain Trail.

TRAIL BEGINNING: 11,640 ft Seven miles up West Grouse Trail #2129
TRAIL ENDING: 9,800 ft East of Grouse Mountai
LENGTH: 5 miles one way.
HIGHEST ELEVATION: 10,700 (3256 m) At Grouse Lake.
DIFFICULTY: More difficult with steep sections. Elevation gain: 1800 ft in 5 miles.
RECOMMENDED SEASON: June through October.
AMOUNT OF USE: Light
USGS MAP(S): Minturn, Grouse Mountain

The hike: This connecting trail connects the West Grouse Creek Trail with the Cross Creek Trail. The total distance is 18 miles. I have done this trail myself and it is well worth the 2 days (minimum) of backpacking necessary to complete it.

Access to Grouse Mountain, Buffalo Lake is provided by this trail. The climb from Cross Creek Valley to the junction with Sisters Cabin Trail 2128 is very steep, but provides good vistas of Mount of the Holy Cross and Cross Creek Valley. Elk and deer are often sighted along this trail. If the trail is hiked north to south, the steep climb out of Cross Creek Valley can be avoided. This trail links Cross Creek Trail with West Grouse Creek Trail and passes over an eastern shoulder of Grouse Mountain. Several panoramas of the Sawatch Ranger can be seen from openings in the forest and near-timberline areas along the trail. Buffalo Lake and the surrounding woods and meadows are good places to spot wildlife. Wildflower displays are continuous during the growing season. A side trip to the top of Grouse Mountain provides 360 degree vistas of the Gore Range to the east, the Sawatch Range, and the upper Eagle Valley.
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HALF MOON PASS TRAIL

ACCESS FROM VAIL: Travel west on 1-70 to Exit-171 for Minturn, Leadville and Hwy 24. Exit here and turn right onto Hwy 24. Proceed south about 5 miles, passing through Minturn, to Tigiwon Road 1707. Turn right .and continue up this rough dirt road to the end, 8 miles. Park in the parking area at the end of the road.

TRAIL BEGINNING: 10,320 ft At the end of Tigiwon Road at the upper end of the parking area.
THERE ARE 2 TRAILHEADS HERE - BE SURE YOU START AT THE CORRECT ONE.
TRAIL ENDING: 11, 040 ft The maintained portion of the trail ends 0.75 miles past Cross Creek.
LENGTH: 3.75 miles one way.
HIGHEST ELEVATION: 11,600 ft At the top of Half Moon Pass.
ELEVATION GAIN: 1,280 ft in 2 miles-to top of Half Moon Pass.
DIFFICULTY: More difficult with steeper sections.
RECOMMENDED SEASON: June through September.
AMOUNT OF USE: Very high

USGS MAP(s): Mt. of the Holy Cross, Minturn

The Hike: From the parking area, the trail is a moderately steep climb to Half Moon Pass, passing through spruce-fir stands the first mile then climbing above timberline to the Pass. on the west side of Half Moon Pass, the trail descends, with some steep sections, to Cross Creek. The maintained trail continues 3/4 miles further. From the top of Half Moon Pass, views to the west are of the Sawatch Range and the Mt. of the Holy Cross ridge. To the north- east are views of the Gore Range and to the southeast lies the Mosquito Range.

THIS AREA GETS VERY HEAVY USE ESPECIALLY ON WEEKENDS. PLEASE USE "NO TRACE" CAMPING AND HIKING ETIQUETTE WHEN TRAVELING ON AND AROUND THIS OVERUSED TRAIL.
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LOST LAKE TRAIL

ACCESS FROM VAIL: Off I-70, take Exit 176 for Vail . Turn to the north and proceed on North Frontage Road to Red Sandstone Road # 7OO.

WEST TRAILHEAD: continue up Road #700 for 6 miles to the trailhead on the right. Parking at the trailhead.

EAST TRAILHEAD: Proceed up Road #700 to the first right turn, Road 1786. Follow this road to the trailhead taking a left turn at each fork.

LENGTH: 3.75 miles between trailheads.
HIGHEST ELEVATION: 10,248 ft (3124 m)
ELEVATION GAIN: 648 ft in 1.5 miles.
DIFFICULTY: Easy.
RECOMMENDED SEASON: June through September.
AMOUNT OF USE: High
USGS Map(S): Vail West

WEST TRAILHEAD: 9,600 ft on Road 1700, Red Sandstone Road, on the right side.

EAST TRAILHEAD: 10,000 ft On Road #786 on the left side.

The hike: From the went trailhead, the trail follows a ridge dividing the Piney and Red Sandstone drainages while traveling through lodgepole pine and aspen groves. Where the trail forks to the left to Piney Lake, go straight. The trail gradually climbs 600 feet to the trail high point then drops slightly to Lost Lake.

Continue 3/4 mile on the trail to reach the east trailhead. This portion of the trail passes through forests and meadows and crosses Red Sandstone Creek.This trail passes through an area that was logged in 1987-88. This demonstrates that National Forest land is used for a large variety of activities and resources. The heavy use this trail receives has caused an impact on this peaceful mountain lake. Please remember to pack out all trash. If camping in this area, use a backpacking stove and camp at least 200 feet from the lake.
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MEADOW CREEK TRAIL

ACCESS FROM VAIL: Take the North Frontage Road in Vail to Redsandstone Road. Turn here and follow the paved road about 2.5 miles to a fork (about the 3rd switchback). Take the left road, which will be dirt. Continue up this road about 7 miles to the trail-head at Piney Crossing (on the left side of the road). There is parking at the trailhead. On northeast ridge of Slate Mountain, mile 4.5.

TRAIL BEGINNING: 8,400 ft At West Piney River Trail - hike up trail 3 miles to Meadow Creek Trail.
TRAIL ENDING: 10,280 ft At intersection with Soda Lakes Trail.
LENGTH: 9 miles one way.
HIGHEST ELEVATION: 10,560 ft (3218 m)
DIFFICULTY: Most difficult.
ELEVATION GAIN : 2,160 ft in 4.5 miles.
RECOMMENDED SEASON: Mid-June through September.
AMOUNT OF USE: Low
USGS MAP(S): Vail West, Piney Peak

The hike: From the West Piney River Trail, the Meadow Creek Trail cuts up a steep side slope above Meadow Creek. An old cabin stands near the trails' intersection. About 2 miles up the trail, there is an intersection with the Wash Holland Trail and an old homestead site. The trail continues to climb gradually for another 2 miles as it passes around Slate Mt. (11,129 ft). The last 2 miles are downhill to the intersection with the Soda Lakes Trail.

NOTE: A map and compass are essential on this trail as numerous game trails will confuse the unaware hiker.

Backpackers camping at Booth Lake are required to camp at least 100 feet away from the edge of the lake. Please use "No Trace" camping techniques in this highly used area.
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MEADOW MOUNTAIN LINE SHACK

ACCESS FROM VAIL: Travel west on I-70 to Exit 171 for Minturn,. Leadville and Hwy 24. Exit here and turn to the right. Just past the interstate there is a large dirt parking lot on the right. Park here.

TRAIL BEGINNING AND ENDING: 7,840 ft (2374 m). At the parking lot just south of 1-70.
LENGTH: 3.5 miles one way.
HIGHEST ELEVATION: 9,760 ft At the line shack.
DIFFICULTY: More difficult.
ELEVATION GAIN: 1,920 ft in 3.5 miles.
RECOMMENDED SEASON: For hiking, June through October.
AMOUNT OF USE: Moderate.
USGS MAP(S): Minturn.

The hike: From the trailhead sign, follow the old road that winds behind the white house at the end of 10 the parking lot. This road climbs gradually through large open meadows and spruce-fir forests. The line shack is a small cabin that lies at the end of the trail. The line shack offers a good place for lunch and a vantage point for some views of the Gore Range and Beaver Creek ski area.

Evidence of old ski runs shows that this was once an old ski area. For an alternate way down from the line shack, you can hike down one of the runs. Be careful, it may be steeper than it looks.
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MISSOURI LAKES TRAIL

ACCESS FROM VAIL: Travel west on I-70 to Exit 271 for Minturn and Hwy 24. Exit here. Turn right onto Hwy 24. Proceed South on Hwy 24, through Minturn, for 14 miles to Homestake Road #703 Turn right onto Homestake Road and continue for 7 1/2 miles to Road #704 (passing Gold Park Campground). Turn right onto Road #704 and continue for about 1 1/2 miles. You will see the aqueducting for the Homestake I water project and the road will turn sharply to the right. The trailhead is on the left, next to Missouri Creek. Park here.

HIGHEST ELEVATION: 11,986 ft (3654 m) at Missouri Pass.
DIFFICULTY: More difficult.
ELEVATION GAIN: 1,500 ft to the lakes. 1,986 ft to Missouri Pass.
LENGTH: 3 miles (5.1 km) one way to the lakes. Four miles (6.4 km) one way to the intersection with Cross Creek trail 12002.
RECOMMENDED SEASON: Late June through September.
AMOUNT OF USE: Moderate.
USGS MAP(S): Mt. of the Holy Cross, Mt. Jackson.
TRAIL BEGINNING: 10,000 ft On Road 704, near aqueduct.
TRAIL ENDING: 11,700 ftAt Treasure Vault Lake and the intersection with the Cross Creek Trail.

The hike: The first mile of the trail passes diversion dams and water pipelines. Just past mile 1, the trail crosses the creek at the mouth a miniature canyon, creating a breath taking view. The trail winds through stands of conifers and crosses the creek several more times before emerging into a large lush meadow. The trail climbs a short, steep distance to the basin that holds the Missouri Lakes.

Missouri Pass is a steep-1/2 mile past the last lake. The trail over the pass is often covered by snow even in August. The trail intersects with the.Cross Creek trail 1/2 mile on the other side of the pass. The tundra is very delicate - please stay on trails as much as possible.

PLEASE DO NOT BUILD CAMPFIRES IN THIS AREA. It is above timberline and there is very little wood. Please use a backpacking stove.
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NOTCH MOUNTAIN TRAIL

ACCESS FROM VAIL: Travel west on I-70 to Exit 171 for Minturn and Hwy 24. Exit here and turn right onto Hwy 24. Proceed through Minturn to Tigiwon Road 0707, about 4 miles. Turn right onto Tigiwon Road and continue to the end, 8 miles on a dirt road.

TRAIL BEGINNING: 10,320 feet. At the Fall Creek Trailhead at the end of Tigiwon Road.
TRAIL ENDING: 13,100 feet. At the Notch Mountain Shelter.
LENGTH: 5.3 miles one way.
HIGHEST ELEVATION: 13,100 feet (3994 m) At the end of the trail.
DIFFICULTY: More to Most difficult
ELEVATION GAIN: 2,940 feet in 5.3 miles.
RECOMMENDED SEASON: Late June through September.
AMOUNT OF USE: Moderate to high.
USGS MAP(S): Minturn, Mt. of the Holy Cross

The hike: Take plenty of water, this trail can be hot and long. The trail starts at the Fall Creek trailhead and continues up this ' trail for 2 1/2 miles passing through spruce and fir stands. The trail will come to a junction with the Notch Mountain trail. Take the right fork. The trail then climbs quickly and steadily past timberline to the Notch Mountain Shelter.

From late spring to early fall, many wildflowers are in bloom. Marmots and pikas can be seen along the trail. The Notch Mountain Shelter was built in 1924 to accommodate the hundreds of people who hiked yearly pilgrimages to view Mt. of the Holy Cross.

The trail provides access to the western ridge of Notch Mountain and offers a close-up view of the snowy cross on Mt. of the Holy Cross.
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PINEY RIVER TRAIL

ACCESS FROM VAIL: Take North Frontage Road in Vail to Red Sandstone Road. Turn here and follow the paved road about 2.5 miles to a fork. Take the left fork which will be dirt. There should be a forest sign indicating this is Red Sandstone Road 0700. Continue up this road about 9 miles to Piney Lake. There is a parking area at Piney River Ranch.

TRAIL BEGINNING: 8,.360 ft At the east end of Piney Lake at the wilderness boundary.
TRAIL ENDING: 11,040 ft (3365 m) At Upper Piney Lake.
LENGTH: 9 miles one way.
HIGHEST ELEVATION: 11,040 ft (3365 m) At Upper Piney Lake.
DIFFICULTY: More difficult
ELEVATION GAIN: 2,680 ft in 9 miles.
RECOMMENDED SEASON: June through September.
AMOUNT OF USE: Moderate to high.
USGS MAP(S): Vail West, Vail East

The hike: The trail begins at the east end of the lake; a.short walk from the parking area will bring you to the trailhead sign. The first 5 miles of the trail follow along the north side of Piney River through aspen groves changing to spruce and fir stands. Expect some steep rocky sections. After mile 5, the trail enters a section of alternating meadows and thick forests that offers many good camping areas. The trail then crosses the river several times. There is a small lake at mile 7; the next 2 miles to Upper Piney Lake offer more rigorous hiking because the trail is steep and can be hard to follow in some places. For the last 2 miles, it may be advantageous to have a topographic map and the ability to use it.

The lower part of the trail is one of the most popular hiking and horseback trails in this area due to the close proximity to Vail and the guided horseback trips offered by Piney River Ranch. The horses have caused some spur trails that could be confusing to hikers unfamiliar with the trail.

This trail provides access to Mt. Powell (13,534 ft) and the entire length of Piney River for fishing. The more adventurous hiker can hike cross-country from the end of the trail to the south to Booth Lake.

Beyond mile 6, fewer people and horses use the trail and the area becomes increasingly remote.
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PITKIN CREEK TRAIL

ACCESS FROM VAIL: Travel east on 1-70 to Exit 180 for East Vail. Exit here, turn left and pass under the interstate. Turn right onto the north frontage road and continue to the trailhead on the left side of road.

TRAIL BEGINNING: 8,400 ft Off the north frontage road on the left side. it is before the Pitkin Creek Townhouses.
TRAIL ENDING: 12,400 ft At Pitkin Lake.
LENGTH: 5 miles one way.
HIGHEST ELEVATION: 11,400 ft (3465 m) at Pitkin Lake.
ELEVATION GAIN: 3,000 ft in 5 miles.
DIFFICULTY: Most difficult.
RECOMMENDED SEASON: Late June through mid-September.
AMOUNT OF USE: Moderate
USGS MAP(S): Vail East

The hike: The first mile of the trail is strenuous as it climbs steeply out of the Vail Valley. Fallen trees along the trail are evidence of past avalanches. The grade levels out somewhat as the trail passes through mature aspen groves and spruce-fir forests and a series of moraines from an ancient glacial retreat. After a number of false summits, the trail reaches Pitkin Lake, nestled beneath an arc of gray granite in the alpine tundra.

This is a popular day hike and overnight trip because of the close proximity to Vail. The scenery at Pitkin Lake is worth the hike. The lake is usually frozen until early July.

**THIS TRAIL IS IN THE EAGLE'S NEST WILDERNESS - MOUNTAIN BIKES ARE NOT PERMITTED ON THE TRAIL.
________________________________________


TWO ELK TRAIL

ACCESS FROM VAIL:
EAST TRAILHEAD: Travel east on I-70 to Exit 180 for East Vail. Exit here and turn right onto the frontage road. Follow the frontage road to the closure gate, about 2 miles. Park along the road near the gate. Do not park in the campground

WEST TRAILHEAD: Travel west on I-70 to Exit 171 for Minturn, Leadville and Hwy 24. Exit here and turn right onto Hwy 24. Proceed south on Hwy 24 for about 2 1/2 miles to Cemetery Road. (This will be the only bridge across the river in Minturn). Turn left on Cemetery Road and continue on the road to the fork. Take the right fork, where the road forks again, take the left fork and follow this to the end of the road. This road can be muddy especially after a day of rain. To avoid the worst of it take the higher (mountain side) of the parallel roads.

EAST TRAILHEAD: 8,800 ft At the closure gate on the frontage road in East Vail.The hike from the east trailhead is a fairly steep climb from the Black Gore Creek to Two Elk Pass. On the west side of the pass, the trail drops gradually to the west trailhead following along Two Elk trail.

WEST TRAILHEAD: 8,000 ft Off Cemetery Road in Minturn.

LENGTH: 11 miles# trailhead to trailhead
HIGHEST ELEVATION: 11,000 ft At Two Elk Pass.
DIFFICULTY: More difficult.
ELEVATION GAIN: 2,200 ft from east in 3 1/2 miles OR 3,000 ft from west in 7 1/2 miles
RECOMMENDED SEASON: Late June to September.
AMOUNT OF USE: Moderate to high.
USGS MAP(S): Minturn, Red Cliff, Vail East.

The hike:
A designated National Scenic Trail, Two Elk Trail offers many panoramic views of the Gore and Sawatch Ranges. This trail also passes by the back bowls of Vail Ski Area. China, Sun-up and Sundown bowls are known for their deep powder skiing.

A side trip to Red Benchmark, north of Two Elk Pass offers a 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains and valleys. The changes in elevation provide for a wide variety of vegetation, ranging from high alpine forests to stands of aspens and cottonwoods to dry, brushy slopes. For convenience, many hikers park a car at each trailhead.
________________________________________


WEST GROUSE CREEK TRAIL

ACCESS FROM VAIL: Travel west on I-70 to Exit 171 for Minturn and Hwy 24. Exit here and turn right onto Hwy 24. Proceed about 1 mile to the trailhead on the right side of Hwy 24.

TRAIL BEGINNING: 7,840 ft Along Hwy 24 across from Meadow Mountain Business Park, about 1 mile south of 1-70. Take the trail to the right.

TRAIL ENDING: 11,320 ft At Upper Turquoise Lake.

LENGTH: 9 miles one way.
HIGHEST ELEVATION: 12,040 ft (3671 m) Crossing the north ridge on Grouse Mountain.
DIFFICULTY: More difficult.
ELEVATION GAIN: 4,200 feet in 6 3/4 miles.
RECOMMENDED SEASON: June through late September.
AMOUNT OF USE: Moderate, heavy during hunting season.
USGS MAP(S): Minturn, Grouse Mountain.

The hike: The trail begins at Hwy 24 and climbs along West Grouse Creek through pastureland before entering dense stands of pine, fir and spruce. The trail climbs steeply past Waterdog and Olsen Lakes crossing the north ridge of Grouse Mountain then drops down to Turquoise Lakes and the headwaters of Beaver Creek.

Possible side trips off this trail are to Waterdog Lake, Olsen Lake and the summit of Grouse Mountain. A hike to the top of Grouse Mountain offers views of the Sawatch and Gore Ranges.

This the first backpacking trip that I went on in Colorado 26 years ago. I would recommend that you camp near the Turquoise Lakes and then hike down Beaver Creek to Beaver Creek Village. This makes a great loop. This trip could also be started in Beaver Creek. The trailhead is near the Beaver Creek Chapel.

Wildflowers bloom in the open areas around the lakes and on the slopes of Grouse Mountain throughout the summer. occasionally, elk, dear and ptarmigan can be sighted-from the trail. Fishing is good at Turquoise Lakes.
________________________________________


WHITNEY LAKE TRAIL

ACCESS FROM VAIL: Travel west on I-70 to Exit 171 for Minturn and Hwy 24. Exit here and turn right onto Hwy 24. Proceed south on Hwy 24 for 14 miles, passing through Minturn, to Homestake Road 1703. Turn right onto Homestake Road and proceed 5 miles to the trailhead.


TRAIL BEGINNING: 9,100 ft Off Homestake Road 1703.

TRAIL ENDING: 10,956 ftAt Whitney Lake.
LENGTH: 2.3 miles on way.
HIGHEST ELEVATION: 10,956 ft At Whitney Lake.
DIFFICULTY: More difficult.
ELEVATION GAIN: 1,856 ft in 2.3 miles.
RECOMMENDED SEASON: Mid-June to late September.
AMOUNT OF USE: High.
USGS MAP(S): Mt. of the Holy Cross.

The hike: The trail climbs rather steeply through aspen groves and meadows filled with wildflowers. Views of the Sawatch Range can be seen at various mid points along the trail. However, once ,at Whitney Lake, the views are blocked by stands of spruce and fir. Whitney Peak (13,271 feet) rises up from the north lake shore. Whitney Peak can be climbed by following the west ridge up to the summit.


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