Editor's Note: Mary Ellen Gilliland is the author of the ever-popular "The Vail Hiker" book. She just released a full-color, sixth edition of the guidebook, available for purchase at The Bookworm of Edwards and outdoor stores for $19.95. The Vail Daily will be excerpting hikes from the book each weekend this summer.
Treat yourself to spectacular Gore and Sawatch Range views on the Bowman's Shortcut ridge. Enjoy a trek that's well over 7 miles but mostly downhill.
The trail follows a rolling grade to Two Elk Pass. Then it drops through forest to beautiful Timber Creek and emerges onto the Vail Pass recreation trail ending near Gore Creek Campground. In winter, this trail begins the Commando Run, Colorado's top-rated ski tour, a challenging all-day excursion for experts only. Be it July or January, you'll find it worthwhile to tote a camera. Choose a clear day to maximize the views.
Two cars are required: leave one car at trail's end above the Gore Creek Campground. Drive 2.3 miles east from Interstate 70 East Vail exit 180 on Bighorn Road to the closure gate at the Vail Pass bikeway.
Drive a second car to the Vail Pass summit rest area and pick up the Shrine Pass Road, no. 709, just west of the exit. Shrine Pass, 11,050 feet, was the shortest (and toughest) route from Denver to Glenwood Springs before the Vail Pass highway was built in 1940.
Follow the Shrine Pass Road past a Holy Cross view sign at 3.75 miles. Continue to the junction with the Timber Creek Road at near 4.0 miles. Go right for 0.5 miles to an intersection with the Lime Creek Road, no. 728. Go left here 0.1 miles to the trailhead at right which is marked with a wooden pole inscribed "Colorado Trail." (The Colorado Trail has since taken a different route, using Kokomo Pass from Summit to Eagle County.)
The trail begins on a level path through the woods, followed by a marked ascent. Views open up quickly: the glacier-carved Gore Range, visible from trail right, is displayed in all its jagged splendor. Copper Mountain's ski runs appear, with the massive Ten Mile Range as a backdrop. Avoid a spur downhill right at less than 1 mile.
Emerge from woods to enter a large open meadow. The trail played out here in past years but a tread has reappeared with increased use. You may have to use map and compass in the meadow to follow the route. The trail goes north-northwest; use your compass and map to strike in that direction. Keep the Gore Range in view. (The tendency is to go downhill left, leaving the Gore view and the ridge. Wrong!)
Come to a wooden marker at meadow's end and pick up the trail again. Follow the ridge. Soon you'll encounter a major trail sign.
Passing this sign, proceed downhill right to pick up the trail. Drop into the trees, climb, then drop sharply to Two Elk Pass with its great photo opportunities. A sign points out the Two Elk Trail to Minturn (no. 8) and the 1.8 mile route to I-70 via Timber Creek. This hike follows the trail to I-70, which heads downhill east. After a steep downhill trek with occasional views to the Gore, traverse a hillside meadow to the creek.
A cool pleasant creek side walk brings you out of the narrow canyon, to pass under I-70 and climb a short hill to the paved old Vail Pass road, now a recreation trail. Turn left and walk 1.8 miles to the closure gate and your car.
This column is copyrighted 2012 by Mary Ellen Gilliland. Hiker, historian and author Mary Ellen Gilliland lived first in Vail and then Summit County since January 1970. She has skied and hiked backcountry trails for more than 40 years. She has written 16 books. For more information, visit summitandvailhikes.com.