Hiking in Vail
Hiking is one the best ways to explore the Vail Valley and offers so many benefits. It’s good exercise, requires no special skills, is free and the mental health benefits of being in nature are all there for the taking.
There are hikes to suit every ability level, every schedule and every objective. Have small kids? There are hikes for you. Want to hike to a high mountain lake, scenic overlook, through a field of wildflowers, or to a historical site? There are hikes for you. Only have an hour to kill or have you set aside a whole day? There are hikes for you. Here’s a list of some of our favorites with various lengths and ability levels. This is by no means comprehensive, so be sure to ask our knowledgeable staff for suggestions when you are here. Between us, we’ve hiked almost every trail in the Holy Cross Wilderness.
Easy to Moderate
Eagle’s Loop (1 mile | elevation gain: +31 ft.) – Great for families with young kids. Located at the top of Vail Mountain, it requires a ticket purchase to ride the Eagle Bahn gondola. View Eagle’s Loop trail map.
Meadow Loop (2.1 miles | elevation gain: +482 ft.) – Another good one for families on Vail Mountain. It starts at Mid-Vail and requires a ticket purchase to ride Gondola 1. View Meadow Loop trail map.
Lost Lake (3.73 miles one way | elevation gain: +808 ft. – 416 ft. = +392 ft.) – The trail follows a ridge dividing the Piney and Red Sandstone drainages while traveling though lodgepole pine and aspen groves. It gradually climbs 600 feet to the trail’s high point and then drops slightly to Lost Lake. Local tip: Bring bug spray! View Lost Lake trail map.
Moderate to Difficult
Shrine Ridge (2.0 miles one way | elevation gain: +891 ft.-98 ft. = +793 ft.) – The trailhead is accessed a few miles up Shrine Pass road on Vail Pass. The trail itself climbs through pine-studded meadows before turning west through the pine forest. The steepest part of the climb is to the saddle, and through beautiful red rock formations, before topping out to spectacular 360-degree views. Local tip: This is great hike to do during wildflower season in July. View Shrine Ridge trail map.
Upper Piney Falls (2.9 miles one way | elevation gain: +613 ft.– 215 ft. = +398 ft.) – Access to the trailhead requires a 50-minute drive up a graded, dirt road to the iconic Piney Lake. The photo ops here alone are worth the trek. The trail is mostly in open meadows above the Piney Lake and Piney River before entering aspen groves and becoming a bit rougher before reaching the cascading falls at just under 3 miles. If you time it right, you can enjoy a delicious lunch or early dinner at Piney River Ranch’s restaurant and bar before heading back to down to Vail. Local tip: Piney Lake sits at an elevation of 9,350 ft. (Vail is at 8,150 ft.), so you’ll definitely want to have extra, warm layers with you. View Upper Piney Falls trail map.
Berry Picker (3.2 miles one way | elevation gain: +2,200) – This trail takes you up to the top of Vail Mountain from Lionshead. It is all uphill at the start before turning into the woods and taking a slightly less steep approach. It is fun to see an entirely different view of Vail Mountain’s ski runs as you trek through woods, meadows and over streams. Enjoy the incredible views at the top, and either take the same trail back down, or ride the gondola if it’s running (it’s free to ride down!). View Berry Picker trail map.
Bighorn Creek (3.25 miles one way | elevation gain: +2,180 ft.) – The first 1/2 mile of the trail climbs steeply out of the Vail Valley, then more gradually climbs through stands of aspen and pine. It passes beaver ponds and the remains of old mining camps, as well as Bighorn Falls. Higher up, the views of Vail and Bighorn drainage are exceptional. After passing through open meadows and stands of spruce and pine, you’ll see the Grand Traverse, a continuous 13,000 foot ridge connecting several peaks and high drainages of the Gore Range. View Bighorn Creek trail map.
Gore Creek (4.5 miles to old grave sites or 5.48 miles to Gore Lake one way | elevation gain: +2,755 ft.-76 ft. = +2,679 ft.) – The first 4 miles of the trail climbs alongside Gore Creek. There are some short, steep sections along the way before traveling through aspen groves and meadows to the graves of Swedish immigrants, the Recen brothers, who came to the then Gore Valley during Colorado’s mining heyday. You can turn back here or take the left fork of the trail to Gore Lake. The trail is steeper in this section. View Gore Creek trail map.
Cross Creek (1 to 14.7 miles one way depending on destination | elevation gain: +4,045 ft.-742 ft. = +3,303 ft. for entire trail length) – The trail from Minturn begins following a ridge and then drops down to Cross Creek. There is a bridge crossing at mile 1 just past a meadow that is usually filled with wildflowers. This makes a nice destination point for a short day hike – especially with kids. Or, continue a little further and there is a pond surrounded by rocks that offers a good lunch spot. Around mile 2, famous Mount of the Holy Cross is visible from the trail. If you opt to go further or are backpacking, you’ll arrive at Reed’s Meadow at mile 9 – a long open meadow in a glaciated valley. On the way to Treasure Vault Lake, short side trips to Harvey Lake (at mile 11) and Blodgett Lake (at mile 14) offer good fishing and timberline lake scenery. Local tip: Bring bug spray! View Cross Creek trail map.
More Difficult to Most Difficult
Grouse Lake (4.6 miles one way | elevation gain: +2865 ft.) – From the Minturn trailhead, follow the dirt road through pastureland for approximately 1/4 mile before coming to the hiking trail. At the junction for Grouse Lake trail and West Grouse Creek trail, continue on Grouse Lake trail, which rises through aspen, pine, spruce, and fir. There are steeper sections, but they are short. You’ll cross water six times as you climb through a series of meadows before a final climb brings you into the Holy Cross Wilderness and to Grouse Lake at the foot of Grouse Mountain. This is great spot for a picnic! View Grouse Lake trail map.
Booth Lake (1.8 miles to Booth Falls or 4.5 miles to Booth Lake one way | elevation gain: +3050 ft. to lake) – First a caveat: the hike to the falls is arguably THE most popular hike in Vail. Parking is full by early morning, so if you choose to venture out with the masses, you’ll want to take the free bus, a taxi or ride share option like Uber to the trailhead.
The trail climbs steeply from the trailhead through aspen groves for the first mile before becoming a more gradual climb along Booth Creek. Booth Falls is the most popular destination with many turning around here. Beyond the falls, the trail winds through conifer forests and meadows filled with wildflowers. Above 10,000 feet, the trees thin and the terrain changes offering views of the Gore Range. The last 1/4 mile to Booth Lake is steep and rocky, but well worth it! View Booth Lake trail map.
Deluge Lake (4.3 miles one way | elevation gain: +3120 ft.-66 ft. = +3054 ft.) – In East Vail, Deluge Lake shares the same trailhead as Gore Creek trail. After 0.1 miles, you’ll turn left onto the narrow trail which heads northwest before curving and heading northeast the rest of the way. The trail climbs steeply for the first 3 miles and passes through several boulder fields, and a very steep slope as it climbs through aspen woods. Don’t step off the trail’s downhill side to let other hikers pass! At mile 3.6, the trail drops to Deluge Creek where you need to ford the creek. The trail is gentler now and follows the east side of the creek to the lake where you’ll have views of the Sawatch Range and Mount of the Holy Cross. View Deluge Lake trail map.
- There’s a saying in Colorado “that if you don’t like the weather, just wait 5 minutes!” Bring a daypack, and make sure you have extra layers and rain gear at the minimum. If you’ll be at higher elevations, it wouldn’t hurt to pack a stocking hat and gloves.
- Also, bring sunscreen, sunglasses, plenty of water, extra food, a map, first aid kit, headlamp or flashlight, a knife, and matches or firestarter. In other words, the 10 essentials (including the extra clothing mentioned in the first bullet).
- Unless the hike is on Vail Mountain or has a trailhead in Vail accessible by bus, you will need a car to get to the trailhead. All trails we listed can be accessed in a 2-wheel drive vehicle. Some trailheads will take extra time to get to, so make sure you plan for that in your schedule.
- The mountains are known for the possibility of afternoon storms, so it’s best to start your hike in the morning and be back below treeline before storms roll in.