Snowshoeing in Vail: lose the crowds and find the snow
Snowshoeing in Vail gets you away from the bustle of tourist crowds and the hassle of ski gear and gives you a key to some of the best snow stashes in the rugged Rockies
Vail, Colorado might be home to two world class ski resorts, but that doesn’t mean skiing is the only thing to do here. Snowshoeing in Vail gets you away from the bustle of tourist crowds and the hassle of ski gear and gives you a key to some of the best snow stashes in the rugged Rockies.
Snowshoeing in Colorado gives you a front row seat to the wilderness in winter without having to buy a lift ticket and some of the best trails and nordic centers are to be found in Vail. Perched up at 8150ft above sea level, Vail sits in the valley of the Eagle River and boasts snowshoeing trails on three out of four sides: to the east is the fantastic Gore Range, to the south Vail Mountain rises up out of the ski village and to the north lies the Eagle’s Nest Wilderness.
Between its two local ski resorts – Vail and Beaver Creek – several golf courses and of course the snow-covered hiking trails, you’ve really got your pick of paths when it comes to exploring on snowshoes.
Even if you’re heading to Vail for a ski trip, it’s worth packing your hiking boots – oftentimes you need a break from the intensity of resort skiing and a half day of snowshoeing can be just the ticket. It’s also a far more affordable approach to winter sports in a destination where almost every activity comes with a premium price tag.
Our guide to snowshoeing in Vail covers scenic backcountry trails as well as local nordic centers that provide guided tours, and ranges from mellow to ambitious on the adventure scale. The entire valley is chock full of rental shops where you can get help with your snowshoeing kit and choosing snowshoes. Every trail on our list is as much about the scenic journey as it is the destination, so feel free to set off on any of these trails and simply turn back when you are ready.
Snowshoeing in Colorado: backcountry trails
Recreating in Vail is not known for being affordable, but with a pair of snowshoes, you can explore these trails for free, or with a small parking permit. Don’t forget to read up on avalanche safety if you’re heading out into the backcountry.
Vail Pass Winter Recreation Area
Starting at the eastern end of the valley, Vail Pass is a high altitude playground for winter sports. Vail Pass is the 10,666ft high mountain pass that you’ll drive over to get to Vail if you come from Denver. At that elevation, it never runs out of powder in winter and there are trails travelling in all directions to explore on snowshoes, all with magnificent views of the Gore Range and surrounding valleys. Park on the south side of the highway and pay a small day use fee and hike up to Shrine Ridge Trail, one of the most popular hikes in the Sawatch Range that begins at well over 11,000ft in elevation and made our list of best hikes in Vail, or park on the north side and explore the more adventurous climb up Uneva Peak.
In East Vail, Booth Falls is easily one of the most popular summer hikes in Vail which means it’s often overcrowded by tourists queuing for a glimpse of the 60ft alpine waterfall. In winter, however, you’ll be lucky to see anyone on the trail except for bighorn sheep and the odd moose. Take the free bus from the Vail Transportation Center to the Booth Falls stop. Straight away, you’ll be hiking in deep powder in the Booth Creek drainage, through quiet conifer forest with the Gore up ahead. The falls are only two miles in but the trail is steep and reaching them in winter is far more ambitious than in summer, however you’ll love the hike no matter how far you go.
On the north side of the highway, the Eiseman Trail is a seven-mile trek to a backcountry hut that you can reserve and spend the night. However for a low commitment day hike you can just join the trail and go as far as you’d like. This low-use trail offers great views of Vail Resort and the Gore Range. Take exit 176 and turn right onto Spraddle Creek Road. You can park for free at the first parking lot, or travel another 3/4 mile up the road to the second road and start a little further in.
The North Trail
Also on the northside of the highway, the North Trail is a favorite with Vail locals. Unlike most trails in the area, it’s not overly steep as it runs along the mountains parallel to the highway rather than taking you straight up a drainage. The entire trail is about 11 miles long but it has multiple access points all along the North Frontage Road. Park for free at Trapper's Run, Buffehr Creek, Red Sandstone Road, and Middle Creek trailheads and pick up the trail to walk as long as you want.
Over in Minturn, Meadow Mountain is another local’s favorite and is popular with snowshoers, skiers, sledders and snowmobiles. This former ski resort is fondly known as “mellow mountain” owing to its gentle climbing and is big enough that while it’s popular, you can always pick your own route and enjoy some solitude. The only evidence of the former resort is that you can still see the ski runs between the trees – park for free at the Holy Cross Ranger Station, pick one to walk up or take the old forest road which is longer but more meandering. If you’re feeling adventurous, after a couple of miles, you’ll reach the Line Shack, a rustic hut where you can warm up and eat lunch.
Just a little further down 24 from Meadow Mountain, Grouse Creek gets you away from the hum of snowmobiles and into deep forest. Park for free right off the road and pick up the trail. At the junction, you can go left towards Grouse Lake (4.5 miles in) or right to stay on the Grouse Creek Trail. This long trail climbs up the north ridge of Grouse Mountain past several alpine lakes but they are both many miles in.
In Eagle-Vail, Stone Creek Trail is popular with snowshoers heading uphill and with skiers and snowboarders leaving Beaver Creek resort for some backcountry chutes (they refer to the run as “Paulie’s Plunge”). The first mile is delightfully flat and the snow will be well packed down. At the fork, go left (right takes you back down to the golf course) and you will cross the creek and start climbing – keep your eyes and ears open for skiers leaving the resort. The snow here is often untouched and you will climb steadily through deep forest before emerging onto a ski run on Beaver Creek after a couple of miles. From 70, take the Eagle-Vail/Walmart exit and turn left on Highway 6. Turn right on Eagle Drive and follow the winding road uphill to the free parking area at the cul de sac.
Beaver Creek Resort has its own fabulous paid-use Nordic Center (details below), but there are snowshoeing trails you can access without paying a fee (unless you pay to park at the resort, that is). Beaver Lake Trail is a hugely popular summer hiking trail leading to a picturesque alpine lake, and in the winter months it’s a quiet, crunchy winter wonderland hike through the forest along a creek. The easiest way to find the trail is to navigate to the Five Senses Trail from the village, then just follow the signs the whole way. The lake is about two miles of steep climbing in, and even though you’re on the resort you’ll feel a million miles away from the skiers.
Snowshoeing in Vail: nordic centers
For a less primitive experience, the Eagle Valley boasts several top notch nordic centers where you can pay for trail access and guides. These are great for beginners, newcomers to the area or if you’re hiking alone.
- Vail Nordic Center (opens in new tab): located in the Vail Golf Course, this is a full-service Nordic ski, snowshoe and fat bike center with trails offering beautiful views of the Gore Mountain Range.
- Eagle-Vail Golf Course (opens in new tab): situated along the 18 hole golf course, the EagleVail Nordic Trail provides more than 8K of groomed and set track for cross-country skiers and snowshoers.
- McCoy Park (opens in new tab): located on Beaver Creek Ski Resort this park offers over 20 km of lift-served, gladed cross country and snowshoe trails.
- Walking Mountains Science Center (opens in new tab): Experience the solitude of Vail’s backcountry on a half-day guided snowshoe tour with one of Walking Mountains’ naturalist guides.
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Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.