Your jaw drops just looking at the Vail valley landscape; can you imagine how spectacular the view gets once you’re a part of it? It’s true that you’ll never get bored in Vail, but that’s even more true if you’re hiking! The Eagles Nest and Holy Cross Wilderness areas will spoil you for good.
Hikes in the Vail valley suit everyone from casual strollers to acclimating out-of-towners to bold off-trail scramblers. If you’re feeling extra motivated, you can even attempt the challenging route to the Mount of the Holy Cross, one of the most photographed sights in America. Get ready to start tackling this list of hikes that we consider to be the Best of Vail.
The Best Hikes in the Vail Valley
Beaver Lake Hike
This 6.6-mile (round trip) hike gains 1,700 feet of elevation, and much of the trail follows a wide former wagon road, so you won’t have to worry about watching your step. Follow Beaver Creek along the Five Senses Trail (near the base of the Centennial Lift), and keep hiking above the village into aspen groves and luscious meadows. At about 3 miles you’ll enter the Holy Cross Wilderness; the sapphire Beaver Lake, surrounded by conifers, wildflowers, and sandy beaches, follows soon after. Both the creek and the lake are full of native and brook trout, so remember your fishing pole and license! The kids might even find some wild raspberries along the way. The trail has some areas that are steep and rocky, so take your time.
Berry Picker Hike
The Berrypicker Trail is a 7.9-mile year-round hike that starts in Lionshead Village. While the beginning of the trail will get your heart racing and thighs burning, you’ll eventually enter some shady aspen forests and fields of wildflowers until you reach Eagles Nest Ridge. If you don’t want to hike back down, the gondola is available for a swift descent.
Booth Falls & Booth Lake Hike
You already may have heard of Booth Creek Falls. It’s known as Vail’s most popular and dramatic waterfall, dropping over 60 feet, and the hike can easily be completed in a day. Near the beginning of the trail, you’ll pass some lovely sandstone rock formations. The first mile of the hike through the aspen groves can be rather strenuous, but you can always catch your breath over the second mile when the grade mellows out. After hiking a total of just over two miles, you’ll see the Falls.
If you’re ready for more, continue up another 1,680 feet over 2.5 miles to see Booth Lake, which locals have dubbed the best lake in the Vail Valley. You’ll notice the trees starting to thin and the wildflowers exploding with color as you near the lake itself.
Davos Trail Hill Hike
For spectacular views and likely wildlife sightings, hike nearly 3 miles up (764 feet) this former 4×4 road on the north side of the I-70 highway. This tends to be a busier trail, so look out for crowds of runners, hikers, and dog walkers. Although you likely won’t be hiking alone, we still rate this one of Vail’s best hikes due to its accessibility and the view from the radio tower at the top, which includes Meadow Mountain, Mount of the Holy Cross, and Notch Mountain.
East Lake Creek Hike
This easy 4-mile round trip hike is perfect for families or those not yet used to the alpine high. With only 800 total feet of elevation gain, you’ll find yourselves strolling pleasantly through the woods for most of the hike. The trail also briefly crosses a high, narrow path (adventure!) before winding back down to East Lake Creek.
Gore Creek/Lake Hike
While Gore Lake (known as one of the best alpine lakes in Colorado) is a good 5.5 miles away from the trailhead, you’ll enjoy this hike even if you turn around before reaching the lake itself. This breathtaking hike follows bubbling Gore Creek, which creates a lovely soundscape during your trek. And even though you’re going to hit some more steep, difficult sections, you’ll get enough breaks while walking through the valleys to be able to keep going.
Holy Cross City Ghost Town Hike
This 7.8-mile round trip hike along a steep (gaining 2,100 feet) and twisty jeep/stagecoach road take you to the ruins of an 1880s miners’ town: Holy Cross City. On the way, you’ll climb through forests and alpine meadows while avoiding some steep drop-offs. Once you reach Holy Cross City, you’ll find the scattered remains of cabins, mine-shaft houses, and various foundations of unidentified buildings.
Lost Lake Hike
The 7-mile round trip Lost Lake Trail tends to be much less traveled than another nearby trail, the Upper Piney Trail. You’ll be treated to spectacular views of the Gore Range, Vail Mountain, and Mount Holy Cross with much more solitude. Along the way to Lost Lake, you’ll also spend plenty of time hiking through lodgepole pine forests, and we’re guessing the shade will be welcome!
Missouri Lakes Hike
This challenging out-and-back hike covers a total of 7.2-miles and 1,581 feet of elevation gain. It’s a popular hiking trail, and for good reason! The Missouri Lakes trail leads you over a high mountain pass to two sparkling alpine lakes. Avid hikers can create a loop by joining up with the Fancy Pass Trail.
Notch Mountain Hike
If you’re looking for a serious challenge that also includes a long drive to the trailhead, the Notch Mountain hike is all yours. You’ll cover 2,780 feet of elevation gain with a round trip mileage total of 10. Weather will be your most important consideration if you’re hiking this trail in the summer; you’ll want to plan to start early and be back down to the timberline before afternoon thunder and lightning storms creep in! About two miles into the hike, you’ll begin a strenuous climb up a number of above-treeline switchbacks; you’ll make it to Notch Mountain Shelter at about 5 miles (look for marmots!). If you haven’t yet had enough, you can add on a side hike of Notch Mountain from the shelter, and top out at 13,237 feet.
Pitkin Lake Hike
This out-and-back Vail valley favorite leads you to two beautiful waterfalls on the way to the lake. You’ll encounter glacial debris called moraines while enjoying ample views of the Gore Range. Once you reach the granite cliffs surrounding the lake, you might want to stop for a while to enjoy the alpine lake serenity before turning around and heading back the way you came.
Shrine Ridge Hike
This 4.6-mile (total) out-and-back hike to spectacular summit vistas gains just 961 feet, making it a moderate and family-friendly hike. While hiking uphill through pine forests, you’ll be accompanied by a river and hit meadows filled with abundant wildflowers. You’ll be hiking uphill until you hit a ridge and gain a 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains and about 2.1 miles. Your panoramic view will include Copper Mountain, Mount of the Holy Cross, the Gore Range Peaks, and Vail’s Back Bowls.
Upper Piney River Falls Hike
This popular 6-mile round trip hike gains a mere 631 feet of elevation. It’s an easy, scenic adventure that’s also popular with wedding parties and other organized groups. Getting to the trail will require a 45-minute drive up a rutted dirt road, so make sure you’re bringing the right type of vehicle to avoid getting stuck! You’ll begin hiking near Piney Lake, and you’ll begin to see the Gore Range as you cross a meadow and continue along the river valley. The Upper Piney Trail crosses several waterfalls, which will be welcome in the summer heat.
Pre-Hiking Reminder for Vail Trails
Before you head out to hike any of the trails we’ve recommended, make sure you’ve acclimatized! If your body hasn’t yet gotten used to the altitude, try an easy hike or two before tackling anything strenuous.
We also recommend you start your hike as early as possible. You’ll be more likely to beat any crowds, and you’ll be able to avoid being exposed to the dangerous thunder- and lightning storms, which tend to roll in midday during the summer.
Local Vail Neighborhood Tips
Whether you’re in Vail for a summer or winter vacation, or simply stopping through on your way to another destination, we at Ron Byrne & Associates are happy to share our insider info on local neighborhoods, eateries, and transportation options to help you feel at home in the Vail valley whether or not a hike is part of your agenda. Reach out to the Ron Byrne team; we’ll be waiting!