Vail in the fall is a sight to behold. Aspen-filled forests burst into a golden glow, providing a spectacular sight for hikers. Thanks to Vail’s proximity to 166 miles of trails — many accessible from the villages via public transportation or a short drive — it’s easy to get an up-close view on foot. Ready to go leaf peeping? Take in the crisp air, stunning views and vivid colors with a few of the best fall hikes in Colorado.
LOST LAKE TRAIL
Honey-hued aspen groves and glorious views of Gore Range make this easily one of the best hikes in Vail. A great fall hike for the whole family, Lost Lake Trail is located about 9 miles north of Vail Village. A windy, bumpy road brings you to the 3.75-mile out-and-back trail, a nearly level footpath that tunnels through colorful trees, opening up to picturesque Lost Lake — a popular recreation area for campers and off-highway vehicles, boasting views of Piney Peak at 11,559 feet and Cottonwood at 11,400 feet.
BIGHORN CABIN/CREEK TRAIL
Hikers looking for more of a challenge will love the Bighorn Cabin/Creek Trail, located on the north side of Vail Valley. Parking is limited, but the trailhead is easily accessible using the East Vail bus route.
Take a moment to admire the stand of golden aspens during the first half-mile, because you’ll soon be climbing one of several steep inclines along the 10.3-mile roundtrip trail. Hikers will pass an early silver camp, acres of bracken fern and a rocky outcrop overlooking Bighorn Creek before nearing the cabin. A final push over a lung-buster ridge rewards hikers with expansive views and a quaint cabin nestled among massive peaks.
This 12-mile-long fall foliage hike on the north side of Vail is split into three sections, with several convenient access points to give hikers the choice of a short jaunt or long trek. This is the result of a joint effort by the Town of Vail and the National Forest Service to create an accessible hike for visitors and locals of all ages, experience and ability levels. Trees in fiery fall shades draw hikers into a peaceful stroll, leading to massive views of aspen-covered Vail Mountain, Beaver Creek Resort, the Sawatch Range and Gore Range.
STRAWBERRY LANE TO BERRY PICKER
Vail Mountain is home to several trails that can be paired with an easy ride down on the gondola. One of these is Strawberry Lane to Berry Picker, a heart-pumping trail that winds through meadows and groves that are blanketed in snow and filled with skiers and snowboarders in the winter. This trail has elevation gain of about 2,900 feet over 4.5 miles, but the breathtaking views of the valley and surrounding Gore Range make it well worth the effort. Hikers can return the way they came or take Eagle Bahn Gondola down from the top of Eagle’s Nest. Before departing, be sure to take in the beauty and breathtaking views of Mount of the Holy Cross (14,009 feet) and other peaks of the Sawatch Range.
GAME CREEK TRAIL
Cutting across the top of Vail Mountain’s Eagle’s Nest/Eagle Bahn Gondola area is Game Creek Trail, where hikers will find some solitude to take in the beauty of each glimmering aspen grove. From Eagle’s Nest, the hiking trail descends approximately 4 miles into the town of Minturn, which is a short drive from Vail. This descending route is fairly easy, but those up for a challenge can start the trail in Minturn and hike up with an elevation gain of 2,399 vertical feet through the canyon to the top of the ski resort.
What could be better than complementing your fall foliage hike with a professionally packed, gourmet picnic? Check out this 5280 Magazine article featuring three of Vail’s best hike-and-picnic pairings, each with spectacular views.
LEAVE VAIL’S BEAUTY UNTOUCHED
While you’re out exploring Vail’s hiking trails, remember that you play a part in keeping Colorado pristine, from the streets to the slopes. Lessen your impact by always sticking to marked trails, disposing of waste properly, respecting wildlife and leaving the beauty of Vail just as you found it. Want to know more? Read about the Seven Principles of Leave No Trace.
MORE WAYS TO SEE THE COLORS OF VAIL:
• Leaf peeping 101: Get prepped for Vail in fall.
• Find Vail’s top leaf-peeping tips.
• Hit the road to explore Vail’s best drives for fall color.
• Plan an off-road autumn adventure with a guided Jeep tour.