East Vail hikes not to miss
Special to the Weekly
VAIL — While Vail’s surrounding mountains are typically known for being white, the annual greening of the area’s peaks thaws the numerous trails that wind through the Gore Range. In particular, the trails of East Vail present hikers with the unique ability to familiarize themselves with the beauty of the surrounding White River National Forest and Eagle’s Nest Wilderness.
Gore Creek Trail
Gore Creek Trail is a popular East Vail hike that hugs the rumbling banks of Vail’s signature creek. Most of Gore Creek Trail is pretty moderate in terms of climbing, and it offers visitors wildflower viewing, glimpses of Colorado wildlife and gorgeous views of East Vail to the west. The first mile of trail is rocky and steep before modestly climbing alongside Gore Creek. After 4 miles of following the creek through aspen groves, stands of conifers and alpine meadows, the trail splits. The right fork becomes Red Buffalo Pass, which takes hikers over the Gore and into Summit County, while the left fork heads to Gore Lake. Surrounded by striking peaks in the midst of alpine tundra, Gore Lake presents itself 2 miles past the fork. It should be advised that the trail crosses multiple smaller creeks and streams which trickle down into Gore Creek and can make for tricky crossings and/or flooded sections of trail depending on river height.
Trailhead: From exit 180 on Interstate 70, head east on Bighorn Road for 2.5 miles and under the overpass, until the trailhead appears on the left. Once on the trail, hikers soon encounter a marked fork. Head right to Gore Creek Trail.
Length: 6 miles one way to Gore Lake.
Elevation gain: 2,755 feet.
Booth Creek Trail
It’s safe to say that Booth Creek Trail is the most popular of all of the trails in East Vail. The hike offers visitors the opportunity to opt for a shorter trip to Booth Falls or attempt a longer trek to Booth Lake. The waterfall features 60 feet of rushing water and is a common spot for hikers to rest and take pictures. While the waterfall is a popular turnaround spot, for a bit more of an adventure head to Booth Lake at the end of the trail. The trip to the lake is an excellent opportunity for wildflower viewing, as the surrounding conifers and aspens open and the trail rises through rockier meadows. The final ascent to the lake is some of the more demanding climbing found on the trail, but the views of the surrounding Gore Range are worth the sweat.
Trailhead: From exit 180 off of I-70, head west on the North Frontage Road. After the Vail Mountain School, take a right onto Booth Falls Road. The trailhead and associated parking are located at the end of this road.
Length: 4.1 miles to Booth Lake.
Elevation gain: 3,036 feet.
Deluge Creek Trail
On the checklist for an avid and experienced hiker, Deluge Creek Trail is one of the more difficult in East Vail and features strenuous climbing for the first 2.5 miles before mellowing and passing through a high alpine glade to the lake. After climbing steep switchbacks through thick stands of aspen and navigating through several smaller scree fields, the trail turns to coniferous forest. While the trail is steep and strenuous, hikers can enjoy breathtaking panoramas of the Gore Range, Gore Creek and East Vail. Keep in mind that the trail edge features some pretty steep drop offs, and care should be taken if passing other hikers. After hiking for a little over 3 miles, the trail crosses a creek, which may be difficult depending on water height. Continue for another mile to the lake, which sits against a dramatic wall of rock and offers views of the Sawatch Range to the southwest.
Trailhead: From exit 180 on I-70, head east on Bighorn Road for 2.5 miles and under the overpass, until the trailhead appears on the left. Once on the trail, hikers soon encounter a marked fork. Head left to Deluge Creek Trail.
Length: 4 miles to Deluge Lake.
Elevation gain: 3,036 feet.
The shortest of the East Vail trails, the Waterfall Trail is a steep ascent to one of the most notable waterfalls in the valley. Featuring 400 feet of climbing, the hike to the East Vail Waterfall is more of an experience than a day hike, as the trail is 0.2 miles of scrambling up a steep section of hillside. Partly guided by a rope to aid in the ascent, the trail is prone to rockslides and avalanches, and should only be attempted by experienced hikers.
Known for greeting visitors to the Vail Valley as they descend from Vail Pass, the East Vail Waterfall is a popular spot for ice climbers in the winter, as well as a prime picture taking location for visitors and locals alike. Originally designated as a residential area in the 1960s, the land was deemed too steep to build on and was picked up by the town of Vail and the Eagle Valley Land Trust in 2001. Today, it serves as a popular spot to observe the power of the waterfall firsthand, and it is home to a range of local wildlife.
Trailhead location: The trail begins on Lupine Drive, and parking is located next to the on-ramp for Interstate 70 east. From Bighorn Road, take a right onto Bridge Road, then a left onto Lupine Drive. The trailhead is located in a field on the right.
Length: 0.2 miles.
Elevation gain: 400 feet.
While the beginning section of Bighorn Trail switches back quickly and steeply into the Eagle’s Nest Wilderness, the trail is a pretty moderate climb that takes hikers through some pristine sections of forest. Formerly used by miners in the 1800s, Bighorn Trail offers spectacular views of the Grand Traverse, which is a continuous stretch of 13,000-foot peaks in the Gore Range. The trail climbs alongside Bighorn Creek, although the creek is often out of sight as it constitutes the Bighorn Creek drainage.
After ascending through thick aspen groves, the trail switchbacks through a steep boulder field before winding through pine forest to a meadow on the final stretch of trail. At the top of the boulder field, spectacular views of Vail Mountain, Beaver Creek and the summit of Holy Cross are visible.
The trail ends at an old homestead in the midst of a high alpine meadow. This trail, in particular, is rife with wildlife. Deer, elk and black bear are often seen passing through this section of wilderness, along with occasional mountain lion tracks.
Trailhead location: From I-70, take exit 180. Head east on Bighorn Road for a mile, and take a left onto Columbine Drive. Head straight through the narrow underpass and trailhead parking will be straight ahead.
Length: 3.25 miles one way.
Elevation Gain: 2,180 feet.
Pitkin Creek Trail
Pitkin Creek Trail offers a happy compromise for entry level hikers and for those with more experience looking for a longer out and back day hike. While the first half of this hike features gentle climbing, the second half of Pitkin Creek Trail is marked by steeper inclines and breathtaking views. Although the initial climb from the trailhead is steep, the first 2 miles of trail feature some stunning wildflower viewing, as the path rises slowly through a vast alpine meadow marked by evidence of an ancient glacial retreat. Pitkin Creek flows in the distance, and the trail occasionally dips toward the river. Several large waterfalls are visible in this section of trail, along with sweeping views of the south wall of East Vail and glimpses of the summit of Holy Cross to the southwest. After a creek crossing that can be a bit difficult (and cold), the second half of the trail features steep climbing and rocky switchbacks as it rises toward tree line and Pitkin Lake. Shortly after the switchbacks, the surrounding conifers open to reveal a sheer 12,000-foot rock wall, which separates Pitkin Creek from the Booth Creek drainage. After summiting a series of false summits, the trail ends at Pitkin Lake.
Trailhead location: From exit 180 on I-70, head north and take a right at the Falls at Vail bus stop. Follow this road east until the end. The trailhead will be on the left-hand side.
Length: 4.5 miles one way to the lake.
Elevation gain: 2,900 feet.
LEAVE NO TRACE
All of these trails take hikers deep into Eagle’s Nest Wilderness, and standard leave-no-trace practices should be followed.
For more information about the White River National Forest, Eagle’s Nest Wilderness and trail information, visit the Forest Service’s website at http://www.fs.usda.gov/whiteriver.