Grab Your Hiking Boots. The Hills are Alive

Vail’s impressive mountains are home to a whole spectrum of bucket-list hiking trails featuring everything from cascading waterfalls to stunning wildflowers and iconic vistas. There are plenty of casual hikes with little elevation gain that feature big payoffs, too. Pack your sense of adventure and work up an appetite for Vail’s many dining options when you return. Be sure to pick up a hiking map from the Vail Welcome Center or click here for a digital version to save to your phone. 

When the snow melts, the trails of the Vail Valley reveal themselves. It’s easy to get lost in the woods and suddenly find yourself at the base of a waterfall, surrounded by wildflowers, oohing and ahhing at breathtaking mountain peaks. Here, our top 10 bucket-list hikes (beyond Vail Mountain) to check off your list when in Vail:

 

1. Upper Piney River Waterfall The Upper Piney River Falls hike is one of the most popular trails in the Vail Valley and located at one of the most beautiful settings in Colorado. The route begins at Piney River Ranch, and the trail starts to the left of the lake, where a colorful aspen forest welcomes you. Continuing on, you’ll quickly come to an opening where views of Piney Lake and the towering peaks of the Gore Range stand in the background. Stay right at every fork, and once you reach an overlook point looking back at the Valley and lake, you’re about 15 minutes from the scenic waterfall views. 

📍 Directions: Drive 11 miles up to Piney Lake via Red Sandstone Road #700
🚗 Park at the Piney Ranch parking lot. The dirt road can be fairly rough.
🧭 Distance: 6 miles one way
↗  Elevation gain: 731’
⇄  Type: Out and back 

2. North Trail Sections – The North Trail in North Vail provides 12 miles of trails for hiking and biking from Davos Road to Spraddle Creek (or the reverse). Dotted by shades of aspen groves along the way, the entire North Trail system is a favorite for outdoor enthusiasts because of its accessibility and stunning scenery of Vail Mountain, the Gore Range, and Holy Cross. For a full-day adventure, hike the entire length or choose a specific section. A nice starter hike is the 2.5-mile out-and-back to North Trail lookout point. For this one, you’ll want to start at Buffehr Creek Road trailhead and embark on a relatively short but challenging climb to the top of a flat clearing where hikers from all over the world enjoy panoramic views with Vail Village in the distance.

📍 Directions: All trailheads are accessible from the North Frontage Road.
🚗 Depending on which section of the North Trail you want to hike, there is parking at trailheads at Cortina Lane, Buffehr Creek, Red Sandstone Road and Spraddle Creek.
🧭 Distance: varies depending on section: North Trail Sections & Distances: Cortina Lane to Buffehr Creek (3.8 miles on way), Buffehr Creek to Red Sandstone (3.75 miles on way, Red Sandstone to Son of Middle Creek (3.9 miles one way)
Type: Out and back OR point to point.

3. Lost Lake Trail One of the easier trails in the Vail Valley, Lost Lake Trail keeps its elevation gain under 1,000, but over-delivers with its swaths of aspens and lodgepole pines. You’ll enjoy a winding trail through pine and aspen groves. The trail gradually climb to the trail’s high point then drops slightly to Lost Lake.  Enjoy mountain views of Beaver Creek, Vail Mountain, and Mount of the Holy Cross along with Gore Range vistas at almost every turn. 

📍 Directions: From the North Frontage Road proceed up Red Sandstone Road #700 for 3.9 miles to the trailhead parking on the right.
🧭 Distance: 3.7 miles one way
↗  Elevation gain: 941’
⇄  Type: Out and back

 

4. Gore Creek (Lake) Trail – If you’re up for the “whole shebang,” Gore Creek Trail is a full-day hike to a beautiful alpine lake. The trail winds through aspen groves, meadows, and pine stands in the beautiful Gore Creek drainage. There are some steep sections, but it’s all worth the effort and there are many pleasant picnic spots along the way.  At mile 4, the trail forks, and you can choose to go straight over Red Buffalo Pass (ending in Summit County), or fork left to Gore Lake. Things level out when you get to the lake where you may be greeted by unconcerned mountain goats! The beauty of the Gore Creek/Lake Trail is that you can traipse along for as short or long as you like. To Gore Lake, it’s roughly 5.5 miles with breathtaking scenery the entire way. You’ll spend most of the hike listening to the sounds of Gore Creek as you walk beside it.

📍 Directions: Take exit 180 from I-70 in Eagle Vail. Head east down Bighorn Road approximately 2.5 miles to the end of the road. The trailhead is on the left before you reach the campground.
🚗 Parking is limited, so consider taking a bus.
🧭 Distance: 5.48 miles one way to Gore Lake
↗  Elevation gain 2,679’
⇄  Type: Out and back

4. Shrine Ridge Trail Shrine Ridge Trail off Vail Pass is a gradual, short hike through lush pine meadows and two small ponds that take you to the top of Shrine Mountain. A must-see around mid- to late-summer, this trail pops with incredible fields of wildflowers, with yellow, pink, and purple blooms of alpine varieties. Plus, you’ll be rewarded with incredible 360-degree views of Copper Mountain, Mount of the Holy Cross, the Gore Range, and Vail’s Back Bowls. NOTE: This trail starts at 11,000 feet, so be prepared for cooler temperatures and changing weather.

📍 Directions: I-70 to Exit #190 for Vail Pass. Exit here and turn right, heading west onto the Shrine Pass dirt road (FSR 709). Follow this well-graded road 2.4 miles just past Shrine Pass. The trailhead is on the left.
🚗 Parking is limited at this trailhead.
🧭 Distance: 2.2 miles one way
↗  Elevation gain: 793’
⇄  Type: Out and back 

5. Deluge Lake Trail – Excellent for bird-watching, the Deluge Lake Trail is a lengthier option (vs. the Gore Creek Lake Trail) for those looking for a more strenuous hike. The trail passes through several boulder fields and then clings to a steep slope as it climbs through aspen stands. At mile 3.2, the trail drops to Deluge Creek and you’ll get to navigate a creek crossing. The trail becomes gentler as you follow the creek to the lake where you’ll be rewarded with views of the Sawatch Range and Mount of the Holy Cross. This nearly 9-mile, round-trip trail tends to be less crowded, and is also dog-friendly! 

📍 Directions: Take exit 180 from I-70 in Eagle Vail. Head east down Bighorn Road approximately 2.5 miles to the end of the road. The trailhead is on the left before you reach the campground.
🚗 Parking is limited, so consider taking the bus.
🧭 Distance: 3.8 miles one-way to lake
↗  Elevation gain: 3,006’
⇄  Type: Out and back

6. Grouse Lake Trail – The Grouse Lake trailhead is located just before the town of Minturn and ends at the picturesque high-alpine Grouse Lake, one of the prettiest lakes in the Valley. The trail rises through aspen, pine, spruce, and fir. There are short, steep sections and several “false summits,” but you’ll have the chance to cool off as you cross water 6 times over bridges, logs, and stones (maybe pack an extra pair of socks…). The final climb takes you through a series of meadows as you enter the Holy Cross Wilderness and find Grouse Lake at the foot of Grouse Mountain.

📍 Directions: I-70 take the Minturn Exit #171, head towards Minturn on Highway 24 for approx. 1 mile to the trailhead on your right.
🚗 Parking at the trailhead on the right.
🧭 Distance: 4.6 miles one-way
↗  Elevation gain: 2,865’ 
⇄  Type: Out and Back

7. Pitkin Lake Trail Pitkin Creek Trail makes for an adventure-filled day with a beautiful waterfall and lake as the payoff. Less traveled than its neighbor Booth Creek Falls, this gorgeous trail starts off steep, but quickly levels out as it winds through a picturesque, dense aspen grove, grassy meadows, and stands of lodgepole pines until it reaches Pitkin Falls at 2.5 miles. The last half of the trail ascends the valley to the stunning lake that sits below East and West Partner Peaks.

📍 Directions: Take exit 180 from I-70 in East Vail. Turn right onto Fall Line Drive and continue to the trailhead on the left side of the road before the Pitkin Creek Townhomes.
🚗 Parking is limited at the trailhead.
🧭 Distance: 5 miles one way
↗  Elevation gain: 2,921’
⇄  Type: Out and back

8. Game Creek Trail The Game Creek Trail is a great hike that parallels the creek, where your chances of seeing wildlife are high. It’s a somewhat lesser-known trail, because the most difficult part about it is simply finding the trailhead! The trail features beautiful wildflowers, so in August, bring a container to fill with wild raspberries. This can be an out-and-back hike or make it an all-day destination with the intent to reach the top of Vail Mountain.  This hike is truly a one-of-a-kind Vail experience. For a one-way, arrange a car shuttle to Vail and take the Eagle Bahn Gondola down to Lionshead. NOTE: You can hike this in reverse, starting atop Vail Mountain at the Eagles Nest then hiking downhill, ending in Minturn. 

📍 Directions: I-70 take the Minturn Exit #171, head towards Minturn on Highway 24. Take the left immediately as you enter Minturn, going across the bridge by The Saloon. Follow Taylor Street until it dead ends
🚗 Parking at the trailhead on the left.
🧭 Distance: 3.6 miles one way
↗  Elevation gain: 2,399’
⇄  Type: Out and back, 🚗 or one way with shuttle

9. Berry Picker – Berry Picker is one of the signature hikes on Vail Mountain. Starting from Lionshead, the trail climbs steeply through aspen groves, mountain forests, and meadows over the 3.2 miles and 2,200 feet in elevation gain. This is not for the faint of heart: It’s the real deal and should be hiked with proper gear and preparation. At the top, you have the option to hike back down or relax and rest on the ride down the Eagle Bahn Gondola.

📍 Directions: Trailhead located at the base of Vail Mountain in Lionshead Village
🚗 Park in Lionshead Parking Structure
🧭 Distance: 4.2 miles one way (+2.4 miles one way to lake).
Elevation gain: 1,358’
Type: Out and back  OR, recommended is a hike up and gondola down (if gondola is open)​🚠 Some also take the gondola up and hike down.

10. BONUS HIKE – because we couldn’t leave it off our top 10!                  
Bowmen’s Shortcut –  This is a relatively moderate hike located off Vail Pass with a summit that’s often considered the “Top of the World.” The 8.5-mile loop trail brings you in and out of dense forests along the rolling ridgetop until it opens up at the “Top of the World” meadow, boasting 360-degree views of the Sawatch Range, Gore Range, Ten Mile Range, and Vail ski area. Be aware that this trail starts at 11,000 feet, so be prepared for cooler temperatures and changing weather. A wooden marker at the end of the meadow shows where the trail leaves the meadow. Pass a trail sign and proceed downhill right into the trees, climb a short bit, then descend quickly to Two Elk Pass. A sign here points out Two Elk Trail west 9 miles to Minturn or east 1.7 miles to the Old Vail Pass/ Vail Pass Recreation Trail. Take time to enjoy the views here before returning. Alternate Routes: This trail can also be used in conjunction with the Two Elk Trail. For those wishing to bike the Two Elk Trail from east to west, using the Bowman’s Shortcut Trail instead of the Two Elk Trail’s east trailhead eliminates the very steep eastern end of Two Elk Trail which rises 1,800 feet in two miles from the Vail Pass Recreation Trail.

📍 Directions: I-70 to Exit #190 for Vail Pass. Exit here and turn right, heading west onto the Shrine Pass dirt road (FSR 709). At mile 2.3, you will pass the road for the Shrine Mountain Inn on the left and at mile 3.7, you will pass the Holy Cross Scenic Viewing Deck (known as Julia’s Deck) with a wheelchair access ramp. At mile 3.9, turn right onto Lime Creek Road #728. You will pass Timber Creek Road #712 on the right at mile 4.4 and reach the trailhead on the right at mile 4.7.
🚗  Parking at trailhead
🧭 Distance: 8.5 miles
↗  Elevation Gain: 133’
Type: Loop or 🚗one-way to Vail Mountain or Minturn