Eagle County’s eight must-run trails | VailDaily.com

Eagle County’s eight must-run trails

John O’Neill
Special to the Weekly

There are trails for hiking and there are trails for biking. Then there are trails for running. No, not the paved Eagle Valley bike path. We are talking about dirt — the flowing paths that disappear runners into scenic surroundings for miles at a time.

"I think for me, trail running is a mode of freedom," said Joseph Gray, nine-time USA Mountain Running champion and winner of the Spring Runoff 10K at the GoPro Mountain Games. "Trail running gives you that aspect of exploration and adventure. It is really intriguing for a lot of people."

However, not all trails are created equal. For instance, a trail like the popular Booth Falls route in East Vail is beautiful by every standard, but it would not make a good running trail. It is steep and very technical with unstable footing — OK if you are walking, dangerous if you are running.

Rather, a good running trail is characteristically unique — challenging in effort and technicality, but not too much.

"I like trails that are varied in gradient," said Mandy Ortiz, 2013 Junior World Mountain Running champion from Vail who is currently running for the University of Colorado. "I like to have technical sections with rocks and roots, but if the whole trail is like that, it is too hard to run."

USA Mountain Running Team manager and local running authority Ellen Miller said a trail that is good for running should contain challenging sections in grade and technicality, but it should be overall simple to negotiate and easy to enjoy.

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Taking the advice of Gray and the favorite trails of Ortiz, Miller and off-road triathlon star Josiah Middaugh, here is a roundup of eight trails you must run this summer.

8. Kinnickinnick and Sunlight

Accessible from: Vail Mountain.

Traffic: Almost none, maybe a mountain biker or a hiker.

Description: The connecting Kinnickinnick and Sunlight trails offer the quintessential high alpine running feel with smooth singletrack running through meadows of wildflowers with views of the Gore Range. The trails run between Mid Vail and ski patrol headquarters.

Bonus: Most hardy locals will run up Vail to access these trails, although there is no harm nor shame in taking the lifts up.

7. Berry Creek/June Creek

Accessible from: Edwards near the Edwards Medical Campus or the northeastern-most section of Singletree.

Traffic: Moderate, some mountain bikers, hikers with their dogs.

Description: Taking off on the north side of the valley, the trail offers a more arid feel as doubletrack winds over undulating hills with views of New York Mountain, Beaver Creek across the valley and Edwards far below.

Bonus: The new Avon connector trails are also now accessible from June Creek.

6. Village to Village

Accessible from: Beaver Creek, Bachelor's Gulch or Arrowhead.

Traffic: Moderate to heavy, many mountain bikers and hikers, deer and the occasional bear.

Description: Bobbing between lush remote forest and below the patios of multi-million dollar homes, Village to Village is a route like no other — think remote wilderness meets window real estate shopper. The terrain is mostly flat and very smooth, allowing an uninterrupted stride as you pass from Beaver Creek to Bachelor's Gulch and down into Arrowhead.

Bonus: Although mostly run as point-to-point, looping the route results in a 13-mile mixture of bike path, jeep road, bridges, singletrack, climbing and descending.

5. Whiskey Creek or Meadow Mountain

Accessible from: Minturn or Eagle-Vail.

Traffic: Scattered bikers and hikers, less traffic the higher up you climb.

Description: Whether you go to the top and come back down or loop from Minturn to Eagle-Vail and back along U.S. Highway 6, the Whiskey Creek trail only gets better the higher you go. A favorite of Mandy Ortiz, the trail climbs through open meadows and green aspen glades with friendly switchbacks scaling back the difficulty of the ascent.

Bonus: You want to run here when the leaves change. There may be no place better as the shades of green turn golden with tints of red.

4. Boneyard to the Ice Rink

Accessible from: Eagle Valley Middle School, Eagle Ice Rink.

Traffic: Moderate with mountain bikers and other runners.

Description: A gem of the ever-evolving selection of downvalley singletrack, the Boneyard route is sure to one day be considered iconic. Mellow gradient and footing that ranges from perfectly packed to technical, the Boneyard trail encompasses all the characteristics of a great trail run while giving up views of Eagle's red and green rolling hills.

Bonus: Break the course record in the annual Boneyard Boogie and win $150!

3. Eagle-Vail Trail

Accessible from: East or west end of Eagle-Vail neighborhood, top of Whiskey Hill.

Traffic: Heavy with hikers, afternoon dog walkers.

Description: Running a short 3 or 4 miles above Eagle-Vail, the Eagle-Vail trail offers a convenient but beautiful trail running option. The terrain undulates gradually, allowing for an easier effort while enjoying the shaded and well-maintained trail. Given its proximity to Edwards, Avon and Vail, the trail has quickly become a staple in the repertoire of many, including Josiah Middaugh.

Bonus: Pitch in on trail maintenance. The Eagle-Vail trail was almost entirely completed by volunteers who wanted to add this type of recreation to the community. Other trails around town share a similar story. While mountain bikers shoulder a lot of the maintenance work, trail runners, too, should feel compelled to pitch in. Keep an eye out for trail maintenance opportunities during the year.

2. East Lake Creek

Accessible from: the East Lake Creek Trailhead, farthest point of Lake Creek Road (beyond West Lake Creek).

Traffic: Moderate with hikers for the first 2.5 miles to the bridge, lonely beyond the bridge.

Description: Runners have described East Lake Creek trail as being uphill in both directions as well as downhill in both directions, depending on ability. The tight singletrack winds over a ridge before heading down the hillside, across a meadow dotted with massive boulders and beaver ponds, across the actual East Lake Creek and then up that drainage. Watch your ankles as overgrowth can hide rocks and roots that can turn an ankle, but in many sections the trail planes out allowing for faster running.

Bonus: Go beyond the bridge, but with a friend. The farther you go the more eerie your surroundings get with moss growing out over boulders, and the roar of the creek being the only sound that is occasionally interrupted by the creaking of tall pine trees as they sway in the wind. Remember, it isn't all downhill on the way back so save some energy.

1. North Trail

Accessible from: Many point in West Vail, Buffehr Creek Road.

Traffic: Heavy with bikers, runners, hikers.

Description: Traffic is heavy on this trail for one simple reason: It just might be the best trail in the Vail Valley, and it isn't a secret. Starting at the trailhead on Buffehr Creek Road, the smooth trail winds at a mellow grade so that running is always possible. West Vail falls far below surprisingly fast and views of the Gore Range to the east and the Eagle River drainages to the west come into view. After the summit, the trail dives back into forest so dense, wet and lush it feels like a sort of fairytale alpine rain forest.

Bonus: Run North Tail in the early morning or late afternoon light. The views in the long light of dawn or dusk are breathtaking.

The short list

8. Kinnickinnick and Sunlight

7. Berry Creek/June Creek

6. Village-To-Village

5. Whiskey Creek or Meadow Mountain

4. Boneyard

3. Eagle-Vail Trail

2. East Lake Creek

1. North Trail