Ten Best Hikes in Summit County, Colorado - Trails that Will Keep you Coming Back

Dated: May 31 2023

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My Top Ten Favorite Hikes in Summit County, Colorado - Unforgettable Trails that Will Keep you Coming Back 

Summit County, Colorado, is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. With its stunning mountain scenery, pristine alpine lakes, and rugged trails, this region offers some of the best hiking opportunities in the state. Whether you're an experienced hiker or a beginner looking for a new adventure, Summit County has something for everyone. In this blog post, we will explore my ten favorite (and in my humble opinion, the ten best) hikes in Summit County, taking you through breathtaking landscapes and unforgettable experiences.

I have linked each of the hike names to a PDF trail map with directions to the trailhead, provided by Friends of the Dillon Ranger District. On their website, they have a page of all of the trails in the county with information, directions, difficulty grading, and a map. It is a great resource, be sure to check that out here

Please let me know if you're wanting to hike one of these trails so that we can connect! I'd love to join you. 

1. Acorn Creek Trail - Stunning Views of Gore Range

This trail features stunning views of the rugged mountain of the Gore Range from across the Blue River valley. It gently meanders up the foothills of the Williams Fork Range for the first two miles before a steep ascent to the ridge in the last 2 miles. I typically just hike the first couple of miles of this trail to soak in the views and wide variety of plant life along the creek. This is a popular trailhead for hunters in the fall, be sure to wear bright colors if hiking September or later.

2. Ptarmigan Trail - Easy Access for Great Views of Gore Range

Photo Courtesy of All Trails

Another trail that features stunning views of the Gore Range, but is just outside of downtown Silverthorne, so a little easier to access than other trails offering the same views. This is one of my favorite trails during the fall because the second mile works through a beautiful, large aspen grove. It is a bit far (6-miles) to the summit of Ptarmigan, but I find the first two – three miles offer some great viewpoints and serenity.

3. Wilder Gulch Trail - Avoid Crowds on this Trail

Wilder Gulch is a lesser-known trail that is accessed from the Vail Pass rest area. I find this to be a great option to avoid the mid-summer Summit County crowds that can fill up trailhead parking lots. The trail starts out at over 10,500 feet in elevation, only about 1,000 vertical feet below treeline, so you get to experience a subalpine environment right off the bat. The trail follows along a creek where beaver ponds and moose can be found.

4. South Willow Falls - Unique Waterfall

Photo Courtesy of Colorado Lifestyle

This trail quickly gets you into the Eagles Nest Wilderness, and for me, Wilderness zones just have a special feel to them. No mountain biking, no cars, just hiking; these are the places where I find the most tranquility. The hike drops down into the South Willow Creek drainage that runs between Buffalo Mountain and Red Mountain before you get to this unique, rocky waterfall. I strongly urge hikers to keep going past the falls, because once the trail opens up, the views of Buffalo are truly a sight to behold. Just remember to save some energy for the return hike, because you need to hike uphill to get back to the trailhead.

5. Elliot Ridge Trail - Views without a Long Hike

If you’re looking for views without needing to hike far, look no further because this is the hike for you. The trailhead starts at 11,150 vertical feet, very close to tree line, and follows along a ridge on the northern edge of the Gore Range. Wildflowers here are spectacular in July with the jagged Eagles Nest Peak serving as a backdrop. Downside here is that the trailhead is about an hour’s drive from Silverthorne, and the dirt road is a bit rough near the top, but boy is it worthwhile.

6. Lower Cataract Lake - Wildflowers Galore

This hike is my go-to when I have friend visiting from out of town who may not yet be adjusted to the altitude. This trail is only two miles around the lake and only goes up about 150 feet in elevation before dropping back down. In my opinion, this is one of the better wildflower areas in the county earlier in the season. Later in the year, it serves as a great Aspen hike, as there are large aspen groves on either side of the lake. This is about 40 minutes from Silverthorne though, so takes a bit longer to get to than other options.

7. Eaglesmere Lakes - Excellent Aspen Hike

This set of two alpine lakes with a small land bridge between them sits below Elliot Ridge and above Cataract Lake. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I love this area of the county. I hiked this trail in 2022 in peak aspen fall foliage and was in awe walking through golden grove after golden grove. You then walk up into a more pine/fir heavy environment before reaching the lakes. The summit of Eagles Nest Peak pokes it head above the trees as you gaze across the southern lake.

8. North Tenmile Creek - Wilderness Access Right Outside of Frisco

Located at the far west end of Frisco’s Main Street on the north side of I-70, this is truly a walk-from-town way to access the Eagles Nest Wilderness. The first mile of the trail is a bit mundane, but then it opens up into a beautiful meadow, and follows the North Tenmile Creek up the drainage. This trail is an easy way to access nature right outside of town, but for this reason, it is very popular. I recommend starting early on this one, as the trailhead quickly fills in the summer.

9. Oro Grande Trail - Great Early Season Trail

Another great option when I have visitors from out of town. With minimal elevation gains, this trail offers views looking west over Lake Dillon, with Buffalo Mountain and the Tenmile Range framing the lake. This is also one of the first trails in the county to dry out in the spring because it gets a lot of sun, so can be a great early season option.

10. Old Dillon Reservoir Trail - Expansive Views in the Heart of Summit County

Photo Courtesy of Outdoor Project

From a tucked away parking lot right off the Dillon Dam Road lies some of the best views in the county. Less than a mile hike up the hill brings you to the Old Dillon Reservoir, offering views to the north down the Blue River Valley, expansive views of the Tenmile Range, and Lake Dillon to the south. You really feel like you're on a little island in the center of the county on this trail.

Summit County, Colorado, is a hiker's paradise, offering a diverse range of trails for all skill levels. Whether you're looking for serene alpine lakes, breathtaking mountain vistas, or challenging treks, Summit County has it all. From the tranquil Old Dillon Reservoir to the exhilarating Acorn Creek Trail, these ten hikes are sure to provide unforgettable adventures and lasting memories. So grab your hiking boots, pack your backpack, and get ready to explore the stunning beauty of Summit County on these incredible trails.

Please let me know if you hike any of these trails, I would love to hear what you thought about each of them. Thanks for reading! 

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Stewart Voutour

Stewart Voutour is a Broker Associate, with CRS, CIPS, RSPS, ePro designations, along with being a Notary Public and a certified certified child and adult ski instructor having taught at Copper Mounta....

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