Hiking guide: East Vail hikes offer stunning views of Gore Range and more | VailDaily.com

Hiking guide: East Vail hikes offer stunning views of Gore Range and more

Kirsten Dobroth
Special to the Daily
Big Horn Trail
Special to the Weekly |

Editor’s note: This is part two in a two-part series about East Vail hiking trails. See the first three trails at http://www.vaildaily.com.

Waterfall Trail

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.

Bighorn Trail

While the beginning section of Bighorn Trail switchbacks 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 two 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.


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.

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