Gore Creek Trail, White River National Forest

This trail climbs from East Vail into Eagles Nest Wilderness alongside Gore Creek. There are some short steep sections that wind through meadows and aspen groves which change to spruce-fir stands as the elevation increases. Also look for a wide variety of wildflowers in season. Particularly during spring runoff, Gore Creek rages down the drainage with its series of fast moving cascades. A short hike along the creek can provide pleasant picnic spots or great fishing opportunities. My brother Dave and I hiked the lower Gore Creek Trail on Wednesday, June 6, 2018 beginning at 7:00AM and finishing about 9:45AM. Our plan was to climb to the first view of Gore Range, then return along the same path.

Total Length: 3.1 miles Hike Duration: 2.75 hours

Hike Rating: Moderate. Steep climbing, but not particularly long.

Hike Configuration: Up and back Blaze: None, wilderness

Elevation Start: 8,721 feet Elevation Change: 640 feet Elevation Gain: 725 feet

Trail Condition: Mostly good. Single track through aspen forest. Some rocks and roots. Tip-toeing through wet streams.

Starting Point: Gore Creek and Deluge Lake Trailhead on Bighorn Road.

Trail Traffic: We encountered about ten others on this glorious weekday morning.

How to Get There: Take Exit 180 from I-70 for East Vail. Continue east down Bighorn Road almost to the end, approximately 2.5 miles, passing under the interstate. The trailhead is on the left before you reach the Gore Creek campground. Parking is limited. Please park at the trailhead, not at the campground.

 

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You can take Gore Creek Trail 12 miles farther and 3,000 feet higher into Eagles Nest Wilderness, but I had an appointment with the highway later in the day. Since this was the last day with my brother after nearly three weeks on the road, we wanted to get in one last hike. It seemed only right that we do it in his backyard. Our plan was a lot less than 12 miles.

As usual, we were up at the crack of dawn to begin. Usually this is to enjoy the golden hour after sunrise, but there was another reason for this hike. There is very limited parking at the trailhead, and the spots are taken rather quickly. Vail PD will ticket if you aren’t in designated parking.

Securing the first spot, we hit the trail shortly before 7:00. Dave warned me that this trail is a series of short, very steep climbs, followed by brief level stretches, then more climbing. He was right. Within the first half mile we had already climbed 300 feet.

I’ve been to the Rocky Mountains many times in July for the abundant wildflower display, but early June seemed to me to be, well, too early. So I was very pleasantly surprised with the number and wide variety of blossoms that greeted us. Plus, they were already fully bloomed out so early in the morning. The wildflowers wake up early here. The balsamroot in particular was really putting on a fantastic display.

The lower mile of Gore Creek Trail takes you through a young aspen forest. At this time of year, the leafing was a brilliant almost lime green. Combined with the golden rays of the sun, it made a verdant essence that pulls you deeper and deeper into the woods.

At the half mile mark you reach a clearing that affords views of the Vail Valley behind you. The eastern shoulders of Vail Mountain, with its many avalanche chutes, stand tall above. Some snow still remained on the highest of the knobs.

Soon you also begin hearing the telltale rushing sound of moving water as you approach Gore Creek. The forest begins a change to spruce-fir up here. Combine the compelling evergreen scent with the freshness of cold, crisp Rocky Mountain rushing water for an aromatic sensation.

 

The flowers, the creek, and the trees create a pleasant, fresh fragrance.

 

The trail makes a short dip of about 50 feet, then resumes climbing in earnest, a total of 400 more feet over the next mile. The trail takes a more direct route up the drainage, while Gore Creek twists and turns along its descent. This means you leave the creek, then return to its banks every few hundred yards.

Since I had an eight hour drive ahead of me later in the day, our goal was to only climb until we had the first view of the majestic Gore Range mountains ahead of us. One final push over perhaps the steepest rise yet got us there, just past 1.5 miles up. There’s a great outcrop at this point with plenty of comfortable seats.

It was time for a snack, and to enjoy the views in every direction. Ahead, you can follow the drainage up and into the valley at the base of the massive peaks of Gore Range. Behind, the snow capped summit of eastern Vail Mountain is a reminder that skiiers were there just a short six weeks before. There is also the everpresent sound of Gore Creek.

We were seeing other hikers now, some just out for morning exercise with their dog, others in full backpack and plans to camp far up in Eagles Nest Wilderness. It was a glorious day for hiking… bright and sunny, with a mild chill in the air to keep you from overheating while exerting. That’s what is great about Rocky Mountain hiking in Spring.

Despite wanting to go further, because of later plans it was time to turn around. There were even more flowers out on the way down, and the sky was turning that deep, rich Rocky Mountain blue.

As I spent this final hour on the trail with Dave, I thought about the many adventures we had been on the last 17 days. We saw all the major sights in western South Dakota including The Badlands, Wind Cave, Mount Rushmore, Cathedral Spires and Custer State Park. We checked out Devils Tower in eastern Wyoming, and crossed the Snowy Range Scenic Byway in the southern part of the state. Then we got to experience the grand stateliness of Bryce Canyon and the stark rocky desert at Capitol Reef.

Walking through this lush aspen woodland reminded me of the contrasts in geology and plant life of the American West. Here, we were strolling through the freshest water-fed forest. We had also seen barren landscapes that hardly see a drop of water. Yet all so exceptionally beautiful in many, many different ways. I invite you to go back and review the Trail Reports from the last couple weeks so you can experience this enjoyable journey with us.

I still had one more solo hike planned, in Arkansas, on my way back east, but this was it with Dave. I am extremely grateful to him for sharing this outstanding trip. We had many great experiences, saw lots of wild things, and once again renewed our mutual love of the great outdoors.

Summarizing Gore Creek Trail, we barely scratched the surface of what is available here. As mentioned, you can go 12 miles into Eagles Nest Wilderness. There is even another trail up there to Deluge Lake that will really test your stamina. But if you’re visiting Vail Valley and looking for a lovely few hours trek into the woods, this one is highly recommended. Bring a picnic or a fishing pole and enjoy some Rocky Mountain relaxation.

 

 

This post was created by Jeff Clark. Please feel free to use the sharing icons below, or add your thoughts to the comments. Pack it in, pack it out. Preserve the past. Respect other hikers. Let nature prevail. Leave no trace.

 

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