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 is excerpting hikes from the book each weekend this summer.
A smorgasbord of forest trails 15 miles south of Eagle offers a variety of outdoor experiences to satisfy any taste. Around Sylvan Lake State Park, hikers can savor an easy lake loop, sample a moderate creek walk or tuck into the challenging back country gulches nearby.
Families will love Sylvan Lake for its easy, short, round-the-lake hike and its refreshing natural beauty. The conveniences of picnic tables along the trail and nearby restrooms add a civilized note. The attractions of fishing, overnight camping, paddle-boating or canoeing and possible wildlife sighting make 42-acre Sylvan Lake lots of fun for kids.
Sylvan Lake State Park is a fee area: cars must display a pass, $7 in 2012.
Drive I-70 to Eagle exit 147. Use directions for hike no. 45. But do not go left at the East/West Brush Creek fork at 9 miles. Go right. Soon pass the Meadows Picnic Area. Continue another five miles to Sylvan Lake State Park and its visitor center. You can stop here for information and a park pass, or use the self-service pass purchase box beyond in the lakeside parking lot.
The trail begins at left of the parking area. The easy footpath stays mostly level to circle the lake, offering long views across the water and intriguing natural sights to view up close. Long views include the sweep northeast to 11,144-foot Adam Mountain and 11,158-foot Mount Eve. (No, this is not quite the Garden of Eden.) Up-close views include vivid green moss, which upholsters a water-logged log beneath a wooden bridge over West Brush Creek. The Kids' Hike finishes at the end of the Sylvan Lake loop, 1.5 miles.
Walkers may want to explore the pleasant creek walk another 0.9 miles below the lake. We crossed to the Brush Creek Trail west of the lake and walked it about 0.5 miles to a bridge. Crossing the creek here, we emerged into Borah Gulch where a large meadow-flower dappled in June, golden beige in October-welcomed us. An inviting log, located on the left, creates a place to pause and relish the happy tumult of rushing West Brush Creek.
This column is copyrighted 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.