Seven Hikes to Satisfy Your Labor Day Weekend Hiking Needs

Three different kinds of treks to check off before the summer (officially) comes to an end.

By Cindy Hirschfeld Photography by Zach Mahone Edited by Kirsten Dobroth October 10, 2016 Published in the Summer/Fall 2014 issue of Vail-Beaver Creek Magazine

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West Grouse Creek Trail

The Pentafecta

Sharing a trailhead with the Deluge Lake Trail (Exit 180), the Gore Creek/Gore Lake Trail serves up an all-star selection of Colorado hiking highlights. Musical creek? Check. Aspen groves lush with undergrowth? Check. Heavenly smell of pine trees? Check. Wildflower-
studded meadows? Check. High-alpine lake at the base of a craggy cirque? Check. Hiking all the way to Gore Lake, nestled in the Eagle’s Nest Wilderness at 11,390 feet in elevation, makes for a full day, covering some twelve miles round-trip that includes several heart-pumping climbs on the way up. But there’s always the option of lingering, if you’ve come prepared, and setting up a backpacker’s camp lakeside. Follow the Gore Creek Trail for a little more than four miles to the turnoff for Gore Lake. (If you miss the turn, you’ll top out at Red Buffalo Pass.) At the junction, you’ll also see the graves of two nineteenth-century Swedish homesteaders. From here, it’s a steep hoof for the last couple of miles to the lake.

Three falls in a forest

It’s no north shore of Kaua‘i, but Vail does harbor its share of hike-to falls. And all waterfalls, whether tropical or alpine, have the mood-boosting effect that purportedly derives from their negative ions. Booth Creek Falls, whose intertwined torrents plunge sixty feet, has earned its rep as Vail’s most dramatic—and popular—cascade. Reach the falls via a steep,two-mile ascent on the Booth Creek Trail, which starts on the north side of I-70 (off of Exit 180) in East Vail.

Less torrential, but still satisfying, are the falls along Pitkin Creek, one drainage over from Booth Creek (also off of Exit 180). Another steep ascent quickly leaves the valley floor behind, bringing trekkers near a first set of falls 2.5 miles from the trailhead (look east) and to a second set another mile beyond.

The small falls at about the 2.8-mile mark along the Upper Piney River Trail may be mellower than those on Booth Creek, but you’ll likely be dodging fewer hikers along the way. Plus, the beautiful Piney River valley unfolds below as you climb toward the falls. The trail starts from Piney River Ranch, which is about 11.5 miles from Vail via Red Sandstone Road (Exit 176).

Where two’s a crowd

Sure, exploring a trail with a group of friends is fun, but sometimes (or maybe often) you hike to escape the constant buzzing of people and their things. The West Grouse Creek Trail is convenient (it starts across Highway 24 from Minturn’s Meadow Mountain Business Park), but, perhaps because it’s a long way (nine miles) to the payoff of reaching Lower Turquoise Lake, it’s not as busy as many other area trails. Hike for just a couple of hours, however, and you’ll still enjoy a lovely meander through the forest, with flora that range from sweet sagebrush at the beginning to stands of lodgepole pine and spruce farther along to a burbling creek and a high meadow a couple of miles in. On the return hike, you’ll be rewarded with some fab views of the Holy Cross Wilderness.

The Deluge Lake Trail starts in East Vail (off of Exit 180); head east on the frontage road for about two miles to a parking area just before the Gore Creek Campground. Despite the trail’s proximity to Vail, you could be the only one basking in the views at this alpine lake (elevation 11,746 feet) about four miles in. Some hikers may get fazed—and winded—by the relentless uphill of the trail’s first couple of miles. Others may start to wonder, as the trail wraps around a ridgeline and eventually breaks into high meadows, whether the lake really exists. But get to where you’re breathing in the thin air at the lake’s edge and gazing at the crumpled faces of the surrounding rocky peaks, and you’ll savor that solitude.

One for Rover

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Lost Lake Trail

Many of the hikes around Vail lead into designated wilderness areas where dogs must be leashed. But the Lost Lake Trail lies just outside the Eagle’s Nest Wilderness boundary. So as long as Rover didn’t flunk obedience school and comes when you call him, he’s free to roam into the heather off-tether. To reach the west trailhead, take Exit 176 and drive the North Frontage Road to Red Sandstone Road; the trailhead is six miles ahead on the right. The trail follows an easy grade for most of the 3.4 miles to the lake, and much of this hike traverses stands of aspen, pine, spruce, and subalpine fir—providing bountiful shade on a warm summer day (and ample opportunities for your dog to practice leg lifts). The final destination, Lost Lake, is perfect for doggie-paddling and comes with some pretty nice views of the Gore Range peaks, too. Note: Occasionally moose are seen near the lake; in that case, get out the leash.

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