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Backpacker Magazine – March 2011

America's Best-Kept Secrets: Eagles Nest Wilderness, CO

by: Michael Lanza


In Pitch-anywhere lakeshores and obscure 13,000-foot summits
Out Rocky Mountain National Park’s designated backcountry campsites and conga-line peaks

Only 90 minutes from Denver, the Gore Range sees laughably light weekend traffic for one simple reason: no Fourteeners. But who needs them? This 133,000-acre wilderness has plenty of craggy 13,000-foot peaks, mountain goats roaming the highlands, and lake basins blanketed in a frenzy of wildflowers like lupine and columbine in July and early August. The few trails here are beaucoup steep, and the summit scrambles relatively easy, making the range a peakbagger’s delight. Tick off three summits on a three-day, 18-mile loop, partly off-trail, from Gore Creek trailhead to Gore and Deluge Lakes. The six-mile hike to 11,400-foot Gore Lake goes slowly, not just for the 3,400 feet of elevation gain, but also for the explosion of monkshood, larkspur, and Indian paintbrush lining the trail in mid-summer. Day two, descend the Gore Lake Trail less than a half mile; where the trail swings south, follow game paths north into Snow Creek Valley. Scramble the southeast ridge of 12,904-foot Hail Peak (gain it via a west-facing gully). Then roller coaster to Snow Pass and tackle the straightforward off-trail hike up 13,024-foot Snow Peak; both scrambles are mostly class 2 with a little class 3. Fit hikers can bag both summits and reach the campsite near Deluge Lake in a day. Next morning, make an early assault on 13,180-foot Mt. Valhalla—climb northeast to a saddle, then follow the ridge northwest to the summit (class 2 with tricky routefinding)—before exiting via the Deluge Lake Trail.

Local knowledge Find primo camping among tarns minutes below Gore Lake, looking up at jagged peaks.

Do it From exit 180 off I-70, drive two miles east on Bighorn Rd. to the Gore Creek trailhead.

Map Trails Illustrated Vail-Frisco-Dillon ($12, natgeomaps.com)

Guidebook Hiking Colorado’s Summit County, by Maryann Gaug ($15, falcon.com)

Contact (970) 945- 2521; fs.fed.us/r2/whiteriver/recreation/wilderness/eaglesnest


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READERS COMMENTS

Tim B
Nov 09, 2012

Nice! I just moved to CO a week ago and my girlfriend and I went on an overnighter here last weekend! Lovely hike, great mountain views. A beautiful spot!

Anonymous
Sep 28, 2012

Mark
Sep 06, 2012

Orienteering through the valley off Gore Lake isn't really difficult but it can be hilly and marshy if you decide to be too clever. The smart path as we learned the hard way is to stay left, or the west side of the valley and follow the cliff face north and then east to edge of Snow valley. When the Gore Lake trail shoots west and starts the last steep uphill to Gore Lake, stay straight and North and leave the trail. keeping left will avoid the marsh and hills. Wonderful hike.

Colorado Pete
Jun 22, 2012

In the early 1960's I moved from Indiana to Colorado Springs. A couple of fellows who I worked with invited me and another fellow to go backpacking/fishing with them into the Gore-Eaglesnest wilderness, to Upper Cataract Lake. What an experience that was! Our first pack trip, poorly equipped, hiking at high altitude, and it rained the whole time. But I was hooked! I have since made many hikes into that lake and to others in the area. Tough hikes for me but the area is wonderful. Very few hikers back then and the scenery is beautiful. Fishing was good too!

Chris W
Feb 08, 2012

Without good routefinding, compass and map-reading skills, I would not recommend trying the entire route, at least without a back up plan. A group of 3 seasoned backpackers attempted this trip with me in August of 2011. Even with what we (previously) considered good orienteering skills, we still had a very difficult time getting from Gore Lake to Snow Lake (when the say "game trails" they really mean that there is nothing pointing you to the correct valley, of which there are several. We wound up perfectly happy setting base camp at Gore Lake in a primo location and doing day hikes for a couple days rather than coming out the Deluge Lake side. That said, the Gore range is amazing for scenery and solitude. While we saw several day hikers, we were all alone at our camp for two days (Tuesday and Wednesday). Great trip! Thanks for the tip, Backpacker!

Luke M
Oct 01, 2011

Did an out an back dayhike to Gore Lake today. Great hike, nice variety on the trail. Take a break at the grave site, the next mile or so is rough. Well worth the effort! This was my first hike in the mountains. can't wait for more.

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