On the Trail: Vail’s North Trail
THE NORTH TRAIL
Difficulty: Expert (for mountain bikers)
Total Climb: 2,500 feet.
Total distance: 12 miles.
Trailheads: Davos, Buffehr Creek, Sandstone and Spraddle Creek roads in Vail
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VAIL — The North Trail system is a favorite among locals for its accessibility, variety of user options and the beautiful scenery it provides. On any given day, you’ll find hikers, bikers, trail runners and dog walkers all sharing the trails with smiles on their faces and sweat on their brows. Horseback riders also use the North Trail, although not as frequently. If you do see a horse, though, make sure you yield. Trail rules on the North Trail state that hikers yield to horses, and bikers yield to everyone.
The trial system, from end to end, runs from the Davos Road area in West Vail to the Spraddle Creek area in middle Vail, or vice versa. If traveling the whole thing, you’ll need to go off trail and on to pavement for a section between Piney Road and the Sandstone Trailhead on Red Sandstone Road. Look for the trail to come in on the right off Piney Road; it’s well marked with a sign.
In addition to the Davos, Sandstone and Spraddle Creek trailheads, there’s also a trailhead at Buffehr Creek and several southbound spur trails allowing for an early exit. Along the way you’ll also encounter north-bound trails like Son of Middle Creek between Spraddle Creek and Piney Road, and the Buffehr Creek trail between Sandstone and Buffehr Creek.
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A steep section often called the “waterbar descent,” named for the rubber waterbars placed on the trail to help with erosion, makes for a challenging, experts-only descent between Sandstone and Buffehr Creek. It’s that section that makes mountain bikers prefer heading east to west, as going west to east will require a dismount and push up the waterbar climb. Hikers will use the trail in both directions, but for a difficult climb a particularly in-shape trail runner may prefer going opposite the mountain bikers and heading west to east for a tough ascent up the waterbar section.
The trail is also popular among snowshoers in the winter, and backcountry skiers and snowboarders will use the trail for access to south facing slopes during big snow years. The views of Vail Mountain are splendid from the North Trail; from certain sections the entire front side of the mountain is visible from Highline to Simba.
Foragers and wildflower watchers love the north trail for the wild variety of flowers and abundance of mushrooms and berries found on the North Trail. Deer are often seen on the trail during the summer months, and moose sightings have been reported near the Piney Road and Sandstone parts of the trail.
The trail is closed from April 15 to June 15 for wildlife migration.