Vail Hiking Trails – Challenging Routes in the Vail Valley

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


The Vail Valley boasts many challenging hikes that reward those with the fortitude to summit the area’s toughest peaks.  But, these difficult hikes  are not to be taken lightly and do not attempt harder hikes without having ample experience or going with a local, seasoned guide that knows the routes.

This list of 8 challenging local hikes, is complete with description and directions but you can find more information about each hike on the US Forest Service Complete List of Hikes in the White River National Forest including topo maps, full description and trail closures.

Another resource when  hiking in the area is The Vail Hiker, this book gives you comprehensive information on more than 50 local hikes as well as historical anecdotes and wildflowers to look for at each hike, it is a gem of a book!

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See Also: Best Vail Hiking Trails for Kids


Challenging Vail Hiking Trails


Bighorn Trail #2013

The first trail on our list is Bighorn Creek Trail, a challenging hike that winds through a variety of trees,  meadows of wildflowers with views of Bighorn Falls. The trail features beaver ponds and the remains of an old mining cabin.  Enjoy breathtaking views of Vail mountain, Vail village, and the majestic Gore mountain range.

  • This hike is 3.25 mile one way and takes about 5 hours to complete
  • Lightly trafficked trail
  • Ending elevation is 10,778 feet
  • Elevation gain is 2,180 ft.
  • Rated: More Difficult
  • Leashed dogs are welcome on this trail
  • Trail lies within the Eagles Nest Wilderness
  • Campfires are prohibited above or within .25 miles (440 yards) of treeline, or within 100′ of any lake or stream
  • Shorter but very steep trail
  • Out & Back type trail

Directions: Traveling east on I-70 take exit 180, and turn right onto Bighorn Road. Proceed 0.7 mile to Columbine Drive, turn left. Continue 0.2 mile to where the road passes under the interstate through a narrow passage. Limited parking on the left side of the road. Additional overflow parking is available just before the tunnel.

Click to View the US Forest Service Printable Recreation Quicksheet for this Trail


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Gore Lake #2015.1A

Enjoy hiking to this beautiful mountain lake sitting at timberline surrounded by lush meadows and forests of Lodgepole pine with views of Gore mountain range. This is a lovely lake for fishing and picnicking.

  • This hike is 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
  • Heavily trafficked trail
  • Features beautiful wild flowers
  • Rated: Difficult
  • Leashed dogs and horses are welcome on this trail
  • 2,8950 ft. elevation gain
  • Trail lies within the Eagles Nest Wilderness
  • NOT marked or maintained for winter use
  • Campfires are prohibited above or within .25 miles (440 yards) of treeline, or within 100′ of any lake or stream.
  • Mountain goats and Moose are prevalent at Gore Lake
  • Fishing is permitted with a valid Colorado fishing license
  • Out & Back type trail

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

Click to View the US Forest Service Printable Recreation Quicksheet for this Trail

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Booth Lake #2011

A locals’ favorite, this hike boast LOTS of waterfalls and beautiful sub-alpine meadows but is prone to overuse, please tread lightly here. Please stay on the trail, carry all trash and dog waste out with you.

  • 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.
  • This hike is 4.35 miles one way and takes about 7 hours to complete
  • Elevation gain is 3,080 ft – Ending elevation is 11,480 ft.
  • Seasonally open June-September
  • Heavily trafficked trail
  • Rated: Difficult
  • Leashed dogs and horses are welcome on this trail
  • Trail lies within the Eagles Nest Wilderness
  • Limited parking at trail head
  • Features a 60-foot waterfall
  • Not marked or maintained for winter use
  • Campfires are not permitted above or within .25 miles (440 yards) of treeline, or within 100′ of any lake or stream in the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area.
  • Fishing is permitted with a valid Colorado license
  • Out & Back type trail

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.

Click to View the US Forest Service Printable Recreation Quicksheet for this Trail

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Seven Sisters Lakes & Fall Creek Trail #2001

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.
  • Tis hike is 5 miles one way takes 6-8 hours to complete.
  • Elevation gain 2,300 ft – Ending elevation is 12,580 ft.
  • Seasonally open July- September
  • Rated: Difficult
  • Dogs are welcome on this trail
  • This trail lies within the Holy Cross Wilderness
  • Fishing is permitted with a valid Colorado license
  • Out & Back type trail

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.

Click to View the US Forest Service Printable Recreation Quicksheet for this Trail

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Missouri Lakes #2033

Missouri Lakes Trail 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.

  • This trail features a breathtaking miniature canyon, waterfalls and lakes
  • This hike is 4 miles one way and takes 5-6 hours to complete.
  • Elevation gain 1,430 ft – Ending elevation 11,550 ft.
  • Seasonally open June-September
  • Rated: Difficult
  • Heavily trafficked
  • Leashed dogs and horses are welcome on this trail
  • Out & Back type trail

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.

Click to View the US Forest Service Printable Recreation Quicksheet for this Trail

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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. From the Half Moon Trail hikers can continue on to  Mt. of the Holy Cross

  • This hike is 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
  • Moderately trafficked
  • Rated: Moderate
  • Leashed dogs and horses are welcome on this trail
  • Out and Back trail
  • Lies within the White River National Forest
  • Views of the Sawatch Range, Mount  of the Holy Cross ridge, Gore Range and Mosquito Range

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.

Click to View the US Forest Service Printable Recreation Quicksheet for this Trail

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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.
  • This hike is 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
  • Rated: Most Difficult
  • Lightly trafficked
  • For experienced hikers
  • Leashed dogs and horses are welcome on this trail
  • Amazing views of Mt of the Holy Cross from the summit of Notch mountain
  • Fires are prohibited on this trail
  • Lies within the Holy Cross Wilderness

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.

Click to View the US Forest Service Printable Recreation Quicksheet for this Trail

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Mount of the Holy Cross #2009

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.
  • Rated: Most Difficult
  • Heavily trafficked
  • 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
  • Leashed dogs are welcome on this trail
  • Lies within the Holy Cross Wilderness
  • Out & Back type trail

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.

Click to View the US Forest Service Printable Recreation Quicksheet for this Trail

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Always PACK IT IN – PACK IT OUT!! and LEAVE NO TRACE.


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.

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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.

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See Also: Best Lightweight Hiking Gear


Comments

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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  • 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.

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