In the Southeast, and lower altitudes hiking season is just getting started. The weather has FINALLY cooled off, and Fall colors are in full show. However, out West, at higher elevations the hiking season (most notably 14'er season) is pretty much over.
As a Florida Native, mountains are totally foreign to me; give me sand, salt, and humidity any day of the week. When my husband had the opportunity to take a work detail in the White River National Forest near Vail, CO for the Summer we decided to trade in our flip flops for trail shoes and I'm so glad we did!
I've spent the last few months exploring one of the most beautiful places on the planet. Below are a few of my favorite trails and summits. Some are off the beaten path, but with a little spirit for adventure the time of your life awaits!
Just on the East side of the Eagle River in the tiny town of Minturn, this trail is an out and back for a total of 18 miles. The nice thing about an out and back is you can turn around any time you like. Two Elk follows a drainage that eventually winds its way behind the Vail ski slopes. The drainage eventually opens up into large meadows with sweeping views of the valley, and Mt. Holy Cross (the White River National Forest's only 14'er). This trail is best done in July with an early(ish) morning start.
Boasting the highest peak in Colorado at 14,443ft, Mt. Elbert is as popular as it is difficult. It's important to note that altitude sickness is a very real possibility on the trek to this summit as it bases at nearly 11,000ft. Be sure to take plenty of time to acclimate. The North Trail (least technical) is about 10 miles round trip. It's going to take ALL DAY. At one point we were traveling at 60 min miles. Rest assured that every slow, steep step is worth the views at the end. The best time to attempt an Elbert summit is in July. An alpine start (4 or 5 am) is best to beat the Summer storms (you do NOT want to be above the tree line when lightning starts).
Berry Picker to Cougar Ridge
I actually started this trail in Minturn and totaled 20 miles, but for a slightly shorter yet still challenging and rewarding day Berry Picker to Cougar Ridge is perfect. Park at the Lions Head Village parking (free during the day) and head toward the Eagle Bahn Ski Lift- you're taking the trail not the lift! Berry Picker is a 3 mile trail with roughly 3,000ft of elevation gain. You'll move slowly through the aspen groves, but once at the top of the is popular trail take a moment to soak up views of Mt. Holy Cross from the Adventure Ridge viewing platform. At this point most people will head toward the amusement park (crazy right?). Instead, head Southwest looking for the Ridge Trail. Follow this moderately marked trail for the next 6 miles. You'll wind through aspen groves, dark timber, and meadows straight out of The Sound of Music. This trail is classic Colorado. Be sure you're prepared to be in the backcountry for the day with plenty of food, water, and Spot Device or In Reach. Upon completion you'll find yourself in the idyllic mountain town of Minturn. Be sure to stop at the Minturn Saloon for one of the BEST margaritas out there. From the saloon, go for a stroll down Mainstreet before grabbing a ride back to your car in Lions Head. This trail at its absolute best from late June to early August.
Porcupine Rim (not Colorado, but close)
This gem isn't in Colorado, but if you're in the Vail area Moab is only 3.5 hours away, and this trail is worth it! After spending the majority of the Summer surrounded by dark timber and thin air a change of scenery and extra oxygen was most welcome. Start before 7am down by the Colorado River near the Grand Staff Campgrounds. Those red cliffs to your right? Yeah, you're going up those. The Porcupine Rim Trail takes a little bit of route finding, but keep the La Sal Mountains in front of you and you'll be just fine. This trail is an out and back, but the further in you go the quieter it gets. You'll be rewarded with stunning canyon views, and uninterrupted vistas of the La Sal Mountains. As the day wares on watch for mountain bikers heading down toward the river, this trail has a little something for everyone. There is zero cell phone service here, so be sure to let someone know where you're going and when you plan to be back. I always carry a Spot or InReach when in the backcountry (just in case).
Vail's origins are actually from Camp Hale. This historic WW2 training camp used to host the 10th Infantry Division for those joining the fight in alpine Europe. The remnants of Camp Hale's infrastructure are still visible, as well as old bomb and artillery testing sites. While there are a few, my favorite trail is the one heading up to Kokomo Pass. This 9 mile out and back is straight up, but the views of Gore Range are stunning. At 4 miles you reach the tree line at nearly 12,000ft with 360 views of of the Gore and Sawatch mountains. The way down is fun and steep, but remember to pause every so often to soak up those Colorado vistas. Upon completion, before you head back to Vail drive another 20 minutes to the old mining town of Leadville. Grab a pizza at High Pie and breathe in the air at 2 miles above sea level.
There is a reason people put Colorado on their bucket lists. If you're curious about the outdoors this is the best place to explore those possibilities.
Amy is the Social Media Coordinator at Caterpy. The success of this Summer wouldn't have been possible without Caterpy Cords (a must have for any mountain adventure) and of course her favorite Citrus and Electric Yellow no tie shoelaces. With nearly 600 miles run on the trails of Colorado its safe to say her laces and cords held up way better than her shoes!
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