Hike of the Week: See reds and oranges in golden aspen groves on the Whiskey Creek loop
Hike of the Week
The Eagle River valley is in peak foliage season — and with the first snow due in just a couple days, it’s time to squeeze in those last few fall colors hikes of 2019.
One of my favorite foliage hikes in the valley is currently boasting spectacular colors, with fiery red and orange aspens adding hues to the yellows, evoking the perfect fall. The Whiskey Creek trail is a classic moderate-to-challenging 10-mile loop that is now even better with the recent completion of the Evercrisp Trail.
This hike is centrally located in the Vail area. Exit Interstate 70 at the Minturn exit, and take U.S. Highway 24 south. Just after you turn onto Highway 24, turn into the U.S. Forest Service Ranger Station parking lot. Park across from the ranger station in the large parking lot to access the Meadow Mountain trailhead. The lot can be seen clearly from the road and it’s a difficult turn to miss.
This hike can be done combining three trails: Evercrisp, Whiskey Creek and Meadow Mountain. I recommend hiking this loop counter-clockwise. This direction means you will enjoy the steeper climb through gorgeous aspen and fir forest on the ascent and reap the rewards of a slightly mellower descent through the open Meadow Mountain, with sweeping views of the Gore Range in front of you the entire way down.
To hike the loop in this direction, follow the Meadow Mountain trail, switch-backing up an old road, 0.7 miles to the junction of the Evercrisp Trail. Then contour northwest on the Evercrisp Trail about 1.5 miles to the signed junction with Whiskey Creek. The Whiskey Creek trail will take you to the Line Shack, an old hut at the top of Meadow Mountain, from which you will follow the old service road down Meadow Mountain and back to your car.
What to Expect
This is a moderately challenging loop, featuring 2,100 feet of elevation gain in 10 miles. The first 2 miles along the Evercrisp Trail feature rolling terrain. When you turn left on Whiskey Creek, get ready for the grade to steadily increase, with the steepest mile gaining more than 600 feet. This portion of the trail leaves behind the noise of I-70 and takes you through some of the most beautiful aspen forests in Eagle County. Moose have recently been seen in this area, so keep an eye out and keep your distance.
Once you start to break into open meadow and aspen forest, the trail mellows and starts to contour towards the Line Shack. From the top of the loop, descend the old road 4.5 miles back to the parking lot. The aspen groves at the top of Meadow Mountain are currently featuring some of the most vibrant foliage in the county.
Nathan Boyer-Rechlin is the community outreach coordinator for Walking Mountains Science Center. For more information on this hike and others with Walking Mountains, you can reach him at 970-827-9725, ext. 144, and firstname.lastname@example.org.