Backpacking – Vail to Frisco

The trail guide describes this trail as

“The Meadow Creek Trail (6.6 miles) and Gore Creek Trail (7.0 miles) join to form a 13.6 mile thru-hike from Frisco to Vail. The trails run through miles of alpine meadow and scale two gorgeous passes en route – Eccles Pass (11,917′) and Red Buffalo Pass (11,742′). Visitors will enjoy luxuriant forests, idyllic alpine landscapes, excellent backcountry camping, and one of the best wildflower displays in the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area:”

We started out in Vail and hiked from there to Frisco following first the Gore Creek Trail and finishing up on the Meadow Creek Trail.  We have hiked the Meadow Creek trail several times both as day hikes and overnight trips, but had never hiked the Gore Creek trail so we were looking forward to the through hike combining a new trail with one of our favorites.

We tried to pack light, but we have a tradition to have “happy hour” in the mountains on every trip so our packs were a little heavier than they probably should have been.  Still, the trail, rated moderate/strenuous, really wasn’t all that difficult.

The Gore Creek trail winds steadily up a valley, following Gore Creek through meadows and stands of lodgepole pine and aspen.  About 4 miles up the trail is a rock outcropping where the views are amazing.

The valley narrows and the trail appears to start the ascent to the first pass.  Although steep for a short way, the trail levels off again in one last meadow before reaching the pass.  At about 6 miles we crossed the Gore Creek for the last time and began our walk through the meadow.  We also got a late start, so we decided this would be a good spot to set up camp for the night.  We had been hiking for about 5 hours at this point so we were both looking forward to a little food and of course happy hour!

Happy hour: The reason our packs were heavier than necessary.

The next morning we began our ascent to the top of Red Buffalo Pass.  The hike to the top was steep, but short – only 0.8 miles to the top.  From there we paused briefly to take photos and then moved on, down a very short way to the meadows connecting Red Buffalo Pass to Eccles Pass.

The view from the top of Red Buffalo pass. We could see Silverthorne in the distance.

Between the passes is a beautiful high altitude meadow with wildflowers, grasses, ponds and a few lodgepole pine.  Overall an easy hike with fabulous views.  Once at the top of Eccles pass we stopped again for photos before making our way down to the Meadow Creek Trail.

At the top of Eccles Pass, looking back towards Red Buffalo Pass. The trail winds through the meadow below passing by several small ponds.

The remainder of the hike went by quickly.  It was all downhill from there, and while steeply downhill in many areas, there were plenty of flat sections of trail as well.  We made good time on the second half of the hike, hoping to beat the Sunday traffic heading out of the mountains.  We paused only a few times for some water or to give our legs a rest.  Total hiking time for the second day was a little over 4 hours with a distance a little more than 7 miles.

I’d recommend this hike to anyone.  Although the trail guide considers this hike to be strenuous, I’d consider it to be closer to moderate when starting from Vail.  The elevation gain, when hiking from Vail, is far more gradual than it is when starting in Frisco.  This makes the hike, and the extra 500 feet of elevation gain feel much easier than it looks on paper.  This is a trip I would definitely do again.

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