Top Five Hidden Hikes in Vail

May. 30, 2016

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Contributed by Kristin Yantis

Donny Shefchik of Paragon Guides shares some of his favorite hikes in Vail.

Home to nearly 200 miles of trails, Vail offers a plethora of hiking experiences to choose from on Vail Mountain and throughout the surrounding Gore and Sawatch mountain ranges.

Hikers are able to explore on their own or use a service that offers personalized tours for individuals, couples, families and groups. Guided nature hikes and alpine walks are among favorites for beginners, while expert outings and overnight trips can be arranged with a guide for those wanting advanced routes or to summit larger peaks near Vail.

Vail Valley resident and expert hiker for more than 30 years, Donny Shefchik serves as the field director at Paragon Guides, and has lead everything from day hikes to overnight hut trips and summiting 14,000-foot peaks. His familiarity with hiking extends beyond the backcountry, as Shefchik spends much of his time on the lesser known trails in the surrounding Vail area. Below are Shefchik’s five favorite hidden trails for hikers of all ages and abilities.

1. Missouri Lakes

Distance: 7 miles round trip

Hiker Level: Intermediate

According to Shefchik, “This is a great opportunity for those in search of a destination hike, or a trail with a reward at the end. Below the lakes, the trail follows the Small Missouri Creek and then a quick climb nearly four miles in reveals the cirque that holds the Missouri Lakes. A more advanced hiker can go beyond the lakes about a mile and a half and climb the nearly 12,000- foot Missouri Pass. There you will find even more spectacular views.”

2. Upper Piney Lake

Distance: 6 miles round trip

Hiker Level: Beginner to Intermediate

“Another great destination hike that results in a tranquil waterfall,” said Shefchik. “The hike also is a great opportunity to see some wildlife as moose frequent the Piney River Ranch during the summer season. Following the gentle footpath along the lake leads you to an aspen forest, which is beautiful in itself during the late fall. The trail then climbs a rocky bench and that’s when you typically are able to hear the falls. Only about a half-mile longer and you’ve reached the destination.”

3. Game Creek Trail out of Minturn

Distance: 3-8 miles round trip

Hiker Level: Beginner

Shefchik shared, “This is a great family hike that parallels the creek, where your chances of seeing wildlife is high. I’m often surprised at how little you see other hikers on this trail. You could call it a lesser-known trail because often times the most difficult part about Game Creek is finding the trailhead. This can be an out-and-back hike or make it a destination as you reach the top of Vail Mountain and let the reward be Game Creek Club’s delicious breakfast buffet served throughout the summer. Arrange a car shuttle to Vail and take the Eagle Bahn Gondola down to Lionshead. This hike is truly a one-of-a-kind Vail experience.”

4. Lower Cross Creek

Distance: 4-11 miles round trip

Hiker Level: Intermediate

According to Shefchik, “The Lower Cross Creek trail is home to a variety of vegetation along with some nice natural waterfall features. Once you’ve reached mile two or so after the bridge, you will notice flatter spots for camping and picnicking accompanied by spectacular views of Mount of the Holy Cross, an iconic Vail photo. Just below there is a nice little fishing spot tucked away, so bring your pole.”

5. Half Moon Pass/Mount of the Holy Cross Trail

Distance: 6 miles round trip

Hiker Level: Advanced

“Beyond the Lower Cross Creek trailhead on Tigiwon Road, there is the trailhead shared by the Half Moon Pass and Mount of the Holy Cross trails,” said Shefchik. “This is an access point for those climbing to the 14,011-foot peak, however it still provides stunning views for those not wanting to commit to climbing this technically advanced mountain. Hiking ¾ of a mile beyond Half Moon Pass provides a wonderful view of the peak.”

Hiking trails in and around Vail are generally accessible as early as June and can be enjoyed through the change of seasons into late October. For additional information on hiking in Vail, please visit