The North Trail, past and future |

The North Trail, past and future

The Gore Range and Vail from the North Trail system on Thursday in Vail. The trails close for a two-month period each spring for elk migration but reopened to the public on Thursday.
Chris Dillmann | |

Vail’s North Trail system opened to hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders on Thursday, the first in the final wave of summer trail openings that will hit the Vail Valley during the next two weeks.

The trail is a favorite among locals for its accessibility, variety of user options and the beautiful scenery it provides. Original users will remember the area of the trail near Buffehr Creek, where an informal trailhead provided access to a user trail into the beautiful, lush valley that surrounds the creek.

Before Lee Rimel installed a makeshift bridge there, users would have to jump across stones to reach the trail.

“One day, I came across this monster railroad tie, and I hauled it up there,” Rimel said. “For a long time, that was the bridge.”


These days, Rimel’s improvised access point has been closed off, replaced with a much nicer bridge and trailhead nearby on Buffehr Creek Road. It picks up the trail near the middle, as the entire North Trail system now extends from Davos Road in West Vail to Spraddle Creek in the middle of Vail, about 12 miles in total. There are trailheads with parking on Red Sandstone Road and Spraddle Creek, as well.

Construction of the trail as we know occurred in the mid-’90s; the forest service helped build it, and Vail paid for it. The town of Vail adopted a comprehensive open lands plan in 1994, which is what gave birth to the North Trail and it’s “backyard access,” as Gregg Barrie, with public works, calls it.

That plan is currently in the process of being amended, Barrie said, and the result could be more backyard access trails in Vail.

“The idea is, we were successful with the North Trail, so where else can we do similar kinds of projects that allow people to have access to Forest Service trails right out their back door?” Barrie said. “That’s ultimately what the North Trail really is for West Vail north — fantastic access to the outdoors from their neighborhood.”


The North Trail will be part of a detailed trails inventory, which the town is currently in the process of mapping out. Once they have that finished, the public input process will begin for trail users in Vail.

“In August, we’re going to have a trails workshop, and we’re going to try to get input from people on ideas for new trails,” Barrie said. “We’re going to have the trails inventory ready by the time we have the trails workshop.”

Until then, groups such as public works, the Vail Recreation District and some private citizens have banded together under the Forest Service’s countywide Adopt a Trail program to keep the North Trail clean. Beth Pappas, with the Recreation District, said last year, their group had a lot of fun maintaining the North Trail between Sandstone and Buffehr Creek.

“Now that the trail is open, we’re going to get started on maintenance right away,” Pappas said.

Other trails in the valley will be opening soon, as well, and will also need maintenance work.

The North Trail provides access to the Son of Middle Creek trail and the Buffehr Creek trail, which both opened Thursday, along with the North Trail. In the Eagle-Vail area, Paulie’s Plunge and the Whiskey Creek trail will reopen for the season on Tuesday.

The Two Elk trail and any trails on the back side of Vail Mountain will open on June 30.

The Adopt a Trail program has been a product of the efforts of the Vail Valley Mountain Bike Association. To get involved with trail maintenance or to donate to the program, visit

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