Vail Hiking Trails – Challenging Routes in the Vail Valley

Welcome to ThinkVail – we hope you find this article about Vail hiking trails helpful.

The Vail Valley has some very difficult and challenging hikes that will reward those with the fortitude to summit some of the area’s toughest peaks. But keep in mind, the challenging hikes of Colorado are not to be taken lightly and do not attempt more difficult hikes without having ample experience or going with a local, seasoned guide that knows the routes.

See Also: Vail Hiking Trails for Kids & Beginners

Challenging Hikes in the Vail Valley

Here is a list of 7 challenging local hikes, with their description and directions and check out more information about each hike with the US Forest Service Complete List of Hikes in the White River National Forest including topo maps, full description and trail closures.

Also check out the book The Vail Hiker, this book gives you comprehensive information on over 50 local hikes as well as historical anecdotes and wildflowers to look for at each hike, it is a gem of a book!

Gore Lake #2015.1A

A beautiful mountain lake sitting at timberline surrounded by lush meadows and forests of Lodgepole pine with views of Gore mountain range. This is a great lake for fishing.

  • 6.5 miles one way and takes about 9 hours to complete
  • Elevation gain 2,720 ft. – Ending elevation is 11, 360′
  • Seasonally open July-September

Directions: Go to East Vail (exit 180) and head east down Bighorn Road approx. 2.5 miles. You will see the Gore Creek Trail #2015 trailhead on the left. Park here at the trailhead. Hike 4 miles to where the Gore Lake Trail splits left off Gore Creek Trail.



Booth Lake #2011

A local’s favorite. This hike boast LOTS of waterfalls and beautiful sub-alpine meadows.

  • The trail is a steady climb up the flower-dotted Booth Creek valley through mostly aspen groves and onto a 60-foot Booth cascade falls before climbing into a dark conifer forest and onto the big alpine Booth Lake complete with a lovely little island.
  • 6 miles one way and takes about 7 hours to complete
  • Elevation gain is 3,080 ft – Ending elevation is 11,480 ft.
  • Seasonally open July-September

Directions: Head to East Vail (exit 180)and head west about 1 mile to Booth Falls Road. At Booth Falls Road, turn right and continue to the parking area at the end of the road.



Seven Sisters Lakes

Download the US Forest Service White River Forest App

Discover seven, lovely mountain lakes tucked into beautiful, breathtaking, high alpine mountain scenery.

  • This hike passes the trail to the Holy Cross City and an historic, old, mining ghost town.
  • Offers views of  magnificent Ten Mile Range
  • At the summit of this climb you straddle Holy Cross Ridge.
  • 5 miles one way and takes anywhere from 6-8 hours to complete.
  • Elevation gain 2,300 ft – Ending elevation is 12,580 ft.
  • Seasonally open July- September

Directions: Head to Minturn and follow US. 24 south for 13 miles till you get to Homestake Road (#703). Turn right and continue on road past the Gold Park Campground. Continue for 8.5 more miles till you reach side road (#704). Here make a turn right and drive west/southwest for 2.3 miles. You will reach a T before Fancy Lake trail head, turn right. Go north on road (#727) in one mile you will stay right at the junction and go downhill to park in the level area next to the Jeep road.



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Missouri Lakes #2003

Missouri Lakes Hike takes you to a beautiful basin that holds 14 lakes and ponds and is surrounded by conifer stands, lush meadows, meandering streams and incredible views of Savage Peak.

  • Don’t miss the breathtaking miniature canyon.
  • 4 miles one way and will take about 5-6 hours to complete.
  • Elevation gain 1,430 ft – Ending elevation 11,550 ft.
  • Seasonally open July-September

Directions: Head to Minturn. Take Hwy 24 and proceed south for about 13 miles to Homestake Road (#703). Turn right and continue past the Gold Park Campground to mile 8.5. Make a right onto Missouri Creek Road (#704). Turn right and continue 3 miles on this dirt road to a T. 10,200 ft. past the T turn left and the trail head will be to the right.



Half Moon Pass #2009

Half Moon Pass is a very strenuous hike with over 8,000 vertical feet climb, it is not for the faint of heart. However, once you reach the top you are rewarded with dizzying views of Gore and Mosquito mountain ranges as well as view of Mount of the Holy Cross and Holy Cross Ridge and a panorama view of peaks parading towards Mount Jackson. It is truly an awe-inspiring view and not one to be forgotten.

  • 3 miles one way and takes bout 4.5 hours to complete.
  • Elevation gain 1,580.00 ft. – Ending elevation 11,900 ft.
  • Seasonally open July -September

Directions: Head to Minturn and take Hwy 24. south about 5 miles, passing through Minturn, to Tigiwon Road #707 (immediately on right before crossing bridge over Eagle River). Take a right and continue 8 miles up this dirt road to the end. Park in the parking area at the end of the road.



Notch Mountain #2000

This hike offers INCREDIBLE, up-close views of Mount of the Holy Cross. Hikers also enjoy beautiful flower-filled sub alpine meadows, majestic spruce and fir stands, a beautiful boulder-strewn mountain lake, a cascading waterfall and stunning views of Holy Cross Ridge.

  • This strenuous hike ends above timberline and is not a hike for kids or beginners.
  • 5 miles one way and takes approx. 6.5 hours to complete.
  • Elevation gain 2,045 ft. Ending elevation 12,365 ft.
  • Seasonally open July- September

Directions: Head to Minturn and get on Hwy 24. Proceed south through Minturn for approx. 5 miles to Tigiwon Road #707 (on right immediately before crossing bridge over Eagle River). Make a right onto Tigiwon Road and proceed 8 miles to the end of the dirt road.



Mount of the Holy Cross

This is the only 14’er on our list. A 14’er is a mountain that rises above 14,000 ft in elevation. There are 53 14’ers in Colorado. Mount of the Holy Cross has an elevation of 14,005 ft.

  • This hike offers incredible panoramic views of all the nearby peaks at the summit. Hikers will also enjoy tons of wildflowers and above timberline views. This is a demanding but rewarding hike.
  • This is really a 2-day trip as weather is notoriously bad and it is best to summit Holy Cross in the morning and head back before noon when the weather usually sets in.
  • Good orientation skills are necessary for this hike as the trail is not maintained and can seem to disappear at times.
  • Route is approx. 6 miles one way and 12.5 miles round trip.
  • Elevation gain 5,980 feet ending elevation 14,005 ft.
  • Seasonally open July- September

Directions: Head to Minturn and get on Hwy 24. Proceed south through Minturn for approx. 5 miles to Tigiwon Road #707 (on right immediately before crossing bridge over Eagle River). Make a right onto Tigiwon Road and proceed 8 miles to the end of the dirt road.




Hiking Tips

  • Always stay on marked trails.
  • Let people know your itinerary and check in with them upon return.
  • Have an emergency plan before the start of your hike so everyone knows what to do if they become lost.
  • Take lots of rests along the way.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Wear the correct clothing including layers and sturdy boots that are comfortable and well broken in.
  • Consider using a hiking pole or walking stick.
  • Be aware of your surroundings.
  • Plan what you’ll do if you start to slide or fall and be prepared.
  • If falling, land on the side of your body it is much safer.
  • If sliding, lower your center of gravity by sitting down and sliding on your feet or butt.


Hiking Essentials

  • Map
  • Sunglasses and a hat
  • Sunscreen
  • Flashlight
  • Waterproof matches
  • First aid kit
  • Water and/or water-purifying tablets
  • High-energy bars, granola, candy, or fruit
  • Extra clothing. Temperatures can change on a dime up here in the high country. For every 1,000 feet of elevation gain, the temperature can drop three to five degrees.

See Also: Best Lightweight Hiking Gear


What is YOUR favorite Vail hiking trail?  What hike do you think is the most challenging hike you have ever been on? Please leave a comment if you have any experience or stories hiking on these trails, we would love to hear about your hike!

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View Comments

  • I love your write up on each of these trails. And to your list of essentials... waterproof matches. Why am I so blown away by this? lol. Great write up. Notch Mountain's views sound amazing!

    • Thank you for your comment Eric. I am glad that you like the trail descriptions, these hikes are very demanding but so beautiful and so rewarding. I know right?, waterproof matches makes life so much easier for the rain-soaked hiker. You can also check out the List of the Top Ten Best Lightweight Essential Hiking Items for more information about what you need to bring on a hike including clothing, boots, hats, trekking poles, rain jacket, first aid kits and more. There are also links to conveniently buy the items you need. Thanks for reading!

  • Hi this is a really interesting read! I love how easy the directions are to follow and it’s definitely made me want to start hiking again! The safety guidelines are great also for beginners, especially regarding telling at least one person where you’re going - I definitely recommend that too if you’re ‘directionally challenged’ like me lol! Many thanks for the info, louise :)

    • Hi Louise, Thank you for your kind words, I do want to let you know that these are difficult hikes that are not meant for beginners. As a beginner hiker, please take a look at the article Vail Hiking Trails - The Best Tails for Kids and Beginners. These are lovely trails, perfect for beginners that you can get some experience on before doing the more demanding hikes in Vail.

  • I think I will have to go on one of the Vail Hiking trails. As the owner of my own camping and hiking blog, I am always looking for new treks to take. It is just too good to pass up a big challenge.

    I do have a question though. Of all the ones you listed, which trail is your favorite? These all look good, but I do not think I can do all of them at once. I look forward to reading your answer.

    Thank you so much and I hope you make it a great day!

    • Hi Alex, thanks for the comment. Yes you should come, there is amazing camping and hiking in Colorado. With the experience and knowledge that you have I would absolutely recommend hiking the 14er, Mount of the Holy Cross. This is a long, demanding, technical hike but it offers beautiful views all the way up, tons of wildflowers, pine forests, boulder fields and at the summit you have panoramic views of what seems like the whole world. It is incredible and rewarding and I highly recommend it to hikers with experience.