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

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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,

Guidebook Hiking Colorado’s Summit County, by Maryann Gaug ($15,

Contact (970) 945- 2521;