#VailBen Ongoing Dispatch: My Favorite Hiking in Vail
Don’t misunderstand me; the Vail Valley is home to some incredible summer activities, including mountain biking, whitewater rafting, fly fishing, award-winning dining, and A-list performances. But this is a mountain town. So the best way to understand Vail is to venture into those mountains on foot.
Step even a few feet into the wilderness and you’ll discover a whole new world of wildflowers and butterflies, birds and elk, waterfalls and snow-covered peaks. Around every bend is another vista more special than the last. Even a city boy like myself, at home among towering skyscrapers, can’t help but be speechless looking at this awesome landscape.
That’s why I have made it a priority to hike at least one local trail during each of my 10 weeks here in Vail. Below I’ll share some of my experiences, including hike highlights and observations.
Know of a trail I just have to hike while in Vail? Be sure to let me know on Twitter or Instagram by using the hashtag #VailBen.
See you on the mountain!
Hike Highlight: wildflowers
Booth Creek Trail
Even so, the reward of seeing Booth Falls will wash away any knee pain. When I visited, run-off made the waterfall a surging monster, its cooling spray wafting over the trail. And with plenty of places to sit and marvel at this gift from nature, it’s perfect picnic spot. Though one can hike all the way to Booth Lake, snow prevented me from doing so. But I hear it’s pretty inspiring as well.
Hike Highlight: Booth Falls
Hike Highlight: Gore Range views
Pitkin Creek Trail
Hike Highlight: Valley views
Ridge Route / Ptarmigan Loop
Hike Highlight: Mount of the Holy Cross views
Bighorn Creek Trail
My final East Vail trail didn’t end at a lake, but rather a rundown shepard’s cabin in the middle of a beautiful high-mountain bowl. The trail leading you there winds through mature Aspen forests, marshy meadows, and wildflowers fields. But it is this final bowl, with it’s majestic peaks that really took my breath away.
Hike Highlight: The creepiest cabin since Evil Dead.
A local had told me that this hike, just off of 24 about 45 minutes outside of Vail, was her favorite hike in the area. And the relatively moderate three-mile trail to the first of several high-mountain lakes provided a wonderful variety of terrain and wilderness. Park in dry dessert before hiking through dense forest that would look more at home in the Pacific Northwest. After some scenic stream crossings and narrow waterfalls you emerge in alpine meadows before stumbling upon the lakes in question. The way the lakes abut the steep cliffs of the Sawatch Range screams “Instagram me!”
Hike Highlight: High-mountain lakes
I’d been hearing about this unmarked trail near Golden Peak in Vail Village all summer. But it wasn’t until my final week that I actually found it. Just beyond the ski school lies a Boy Scout-built bridge that marks the beginning of a relatively easy trail that winds its way behind the mansions of the Vail Rec District Golf Course and through stunning Aspen forests. It’s a perfect beginner or family trail and great little Vail secret.
Hike Highlight: Aspen forest
Though America’s Best Summer Job didn’t take me up a 14er, it did get me to the top of the next best thing: a 13er! And not just any 13er, but this historic peak that was once a major training ground for the Vail Valley’s own 10th Mountain Division. Our backcountry hike (read: no trails) meant some of the best wildflower sightings of my whole adventure. It also included a stay at a 10th Mountain Hut, Colorado’s unique system of non-profit run lodges that house hikers and skiers alike.
Hike highlight: wildflowers
Racquet Club Chute
Another unmarked trail in the Town of Vail, this short East Vail hike (half a mile, max) rises above the Vail Racquet Club to a wide waterfall. But this is not any waterfall. A ledge makes it so you can crawl behind the waterfall and enjoy the rushing water overhead. I hear in winter waterfalls like this one become the site of some excellent ice climbing.
Hike highlight: A waterfall you can sit behind.
Piney River Trail
Quite possible the most magical place in Vail, Piney Lake is an isolated high-mountain lake only accessible by a rough dirt road. But if you—and your vehicle—can makes the 45-minutes journey, you’ll be rewarded. Hike around the lake, or rent canoes from the seasonal Piney River Ranch at the trailhead. Most will just hike the easy Piney River Trail to the top of a nearby waterfall. Almost every angle provides fairytail views so be sure you stop enough to enjoy them.
Hike highlight: Piney Lake.
Benjamin Solomon is the winner of America’s Best Summer Job, a 10-week, all-expenses paid summer job exploring what summer in the Vail Valley has to offer. A freelance writer based in New York, Benjamin has contributed to publications such as Vanity Fair, New York, Travel + Leisure and is the former editor of Next Magazine. Follow his journey on Blog.Vail.com as well as on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #VailBen.