Frisco to Vail Thru Hike, Meadow Creek Trailhead, Summit County - Eagle County - Clear Creek County, Colorado

Frisco to Vail Thru Hike - 13.55 miles

Meadow Creek Trailhead

Looking north from Eccles Pass toward Red Buffalo Pass

Looking north from Eccles Pass toward Red Buffalo Pass

Round-Trip Length: 13.55 miles (13.55 miles one-way thru hike)
Start-End Elevation: 9,157' - 8,721' (11,917' max elevation)
Elevation Change: -436' net elevation loss (+3,430' total elevation gain)
Skill Level: Moderate-Strenuous
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

Frisco to Vail Thru Hike - 13.55 Miles Round-Trip

The Meadow Creek Trail (6.6 miles) and Gore Creek Trail (7.0 miles) form a 13.6 mile thru-hike from Frisco to Vail. The route passes through big alpine meadows and scales two gorgeous passes en route - Eccles Pass (11,917') and Red Buffalo Pass (11,742'). Visitors will enjoy miles of alpine travel and abundant wildflowers on this challenging and varied trek:

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

The Meadow Creek Trail winds through an aspen-pine forest to the Lily Pad Lake Trail split and bends northeast (.57 miles : 9,560'). It widens on a variously soft and rocky path to Meadow Creek (1.35 miles : 10,036'), crosses, and resumes a methodical climb through uniform lodgepole.

At 2.5 miles (10,764') the trail transitions into the high subalpine with a glimpse of the upper valley (2.65 miles : 10,835'). It continues steeply to a crest overlooking the first of three large meadows below Eccles Pass (2.95 miles : 10,988').

Look for moose and elk in the meadows, and mountain goat on higher slopes and ridges. The trail undulates ruggedly up the wooded south edge of the first and smallest meadow, crossing Meadow Creek once on a shoddy bridge.

The forest breaks on the edge of a second, much larger meadow with good views of the upper valley (3.6 miles : 11,128'). Chief Mountain (11,377') stands prominently to the south, and Eccles Pass can now be seen to the northwest. This terrain is particularly good for camping, though fires are restricted near treeline.

Travel eases in a thinning forest to the third and largest meadow (3.95 miles : 11,235'). A short climb leads back over Meadow Creek (4.15 miles : 11,305') and levels to the Meadow Creek - Gore Range Trail junction (4.45 miles : 11,422'). Bear right toward Eccles Pass.

The trail winds steeply up to Eccles Pass (5.12 miles : 11,917') with long views back down valley, and northerly panoramas of Red Peak (13,189'), Buffalo Mountain (12,777') and South Willow Creek basin. It drops north from Eccles Pass and skirts the bottom of a talus slide to a long alpine bench connecting the passes (5.5 miles : 11,690').

This stunning segment is dotted with tarns and carpeted in wildflowers. The trail rolls gently past two ponds (5.75 miles : 11,568' - 6.0 miles : 11,448'), then tilts up for a short but steep push to Red Buffalo Pass (6.6 miles : 11,742').

The trail fades again on top of the pass and is difficult to find. From the pass, head .12 miles south and look downhill (west) for cairns. Note the trail does not travel down the north side of the valley.

Locate cairns - which are fairly small - and head downhill. A narrow but clear path soon emerges in the grass, bending sharply south .25 miles from the pass (6.85 miles : 11,589'). The downhill grade is very steep, and challenging even when dry.

Travel moderates as you near the valley floor west of Red Buffalo Pass, but still requires vigilance on vague segments (7.35 miles : 11,045'). The trail flattens through a large meadow and crosses the headwaters of Gore Creek, a modest trickle at this point (7.5 miles : 10,956').

Here a cluttered forest reclaims the shifting trail down the south bank of Gore Creek. Look for wildlife - especially deer, elk, moose, and bear - in meadows 1.25 miles and 1.6 miles from the pass. The trail edges down to Gore Creek, which must be crossed (9.35 miles : 10,194').

Though this point is unmarked, you can locate the Gore Lake Trail split in a clearing just over the creek and use that for guidance. The trail resumes west down the north bank of Gore Creek.

This rugged 4.2 mile segment leading to Vail is highlighted by aspen groves, flowers and large clearings in the valley. Aspen are more abundant past a bridge crossing at 11.8 miles (9,517').

The trail crosses the Eagles Nest Wilderness Boundary (13.15 miles) on the final run down to the Gore Creek Trailhead in east Vail (13.55 miles : 8,721').

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N39 35.344  W106 06.356 — 0.0 miles : Meadow Creek Trailhead
  • N39 35.441 W106 06.808 — .57 miles : Lily Pad Lake Trail junction
  • N39 35.733 W106 07.442 — 1.35 miles : Cross Meadow Creek
  • N39 35.729 W106 08.075 — 2.0 miles : Steady climb through dense lodgepole
  • N39 35.564 W106 08.518 — 2.5 miles : Trail narrows in transitional forest
  • N39 35.754 W106 08.880 — 2.95 miles : Trail crest above first of three meadows
  • N39 35.696 W106 09.513 — 3.6 miles : Forest breaks on edge of second meadow
  • N39 35.800 W106 09.811 — 3.9 miles : Reach edge of third and largest meadow
  • N39 36.067 W106 10.153 — 4.45 miles : Gore Range Trail junction - bear right
  • N39 36.278 W106 10.364 — 4.75 miles : Final approach to Eccles Pass
  • N39 36.433 W106 10.321 — 5.12 miles : Eccles Pass
  • N39 36.672 W106 10.357 — 5.5 miles : Steep decent levels on upper valley bench
  • N39 36.852 W106 10.308 — 5.75 miles : First large alpine pond
  • N39 37.025 W106 10.334 — 6.0 miles : Second large alpine pond
  • N39 37.169 W106 10.469 — 6.25 miles : Steep approach to Red Buffalo Pass
  • N39 37.391 W106 10.591 — 6.6 miles : Red Buffalo Pass
  • N39 37.320 W106 10.607 — 6.72 miles : Find cairn south of pass - head downhill
  • N39 37.375 W106 10.727 — 6.85 miles : Steep descent downhill - bend south
  • N39 37.204 W106 10.765 — 7.0 miles : Steep descent on south heading
  • N39 37.008 W106 10.998 — 7.5 miles : Cross Gore Creek at its headwaters
  • N39 37.359 W106 11.337 — 8.05 miles : Rugged travel through cluttered forest
  • N39 37.531 W106 11.589 — 8.15 miles : Skirt edge of large meadow
  • N39 37.519 W106 12.024 — 8.6 miles : Shifitng, oft-obstructed travel in thick for
  • N39 37.492 W106 12.298 — 9.35 miles : Cross creek to Gore Lake Trail split
  • N39 37.511 W106 13.187 — 10.1 miles : Rough trail in mixed forest
  • N39 37.569 W106 13.654 — 10.55 miles : Large clearing in valley above Gore Creek
  • N39 37.733 W106 14.800 — 11.8 miles : Cross bridge over Gore Creek tributary
  • N39 37.810 W106 15.517 — 12.55 miles : Rugged drop to falls along creek
  • N39 37.751 W106 16.105 — 13.15 miles : Eagles Nest Wilderness Boundary
  • N39 37.662 W106 16.491 — 13.55 miles : Gore Creek Trailhead

Worth Noting

  • Wildflowers peak in late July on this route, and are one of the best collections in the Eagles Nest Wilderness.

  • Ideal camping terrain can be found three miles from Meadow Creek Trailhead all the way to Red Buffalo Pass. Suitable camping terrain resumes once down the steep drop west of Red Buffalo Pass, but is limited. Note that fires are not permitted within .25 miles of treeline.

  • Poles or traction devices are recommended for steep areas with lingering snow, and rugged downhill segments west of Red Buffalo Pass. Anticipate significant deadfall and obstruction between Red Buffalo Pass and the second Gore Creek crossing at 9.35 miles.

  • While marked by cairns, the trail fades in the open alpine and is difficult to follow between the second large pond north of Eccles Pass and Red Buffalo Pass. To stay on course, head northwest over the pond and look for cairns. A clear-cut path soon emerges on the final run up to Red Buffalo Pass.

Camping and Backpacking Information

  • Dispersed backcountry camping is permitted in the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area. No permit is necessary. Camping is prohibited within 100' of any lake or stream. Group size is limited to 15 individuals.

  • Campfires are permitted for dispersed camping in the backcountry, with potential seasonal restrictions. Campfires are not permitted above or within .25 miles (440 yards) of treeline, or within 100' of any lake or stream in the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area.

  • Contact the Holy Cross Ranger District (970.827.5715) or Dillon Ranger District (970.468.5400) for the latest on weather, trail conditions and trail-specific guidelines when planning your trip.

  • If starting from Vail, one member of each party is required to register at the Gore Creek Trailhead and carry a copy of the registration with them during their visit. There is no registration fee. Permits are required to help measure visitation and manage impact.

    Gore Creek Campground - Facilities and Campground Information:
  • The Gore Creek Campground is located 2.5 miles east of Exit 180 from I-70 on Bighorn Road. It's located just past the Gore Creek Trailhead and holds 25 campsites with picnic tables and fire grates. A vault toilet is available. Campsite parking spurs are 30-40' long, but no electric hook-ups, running water or dump stations are available. Sites are first come, first served. There is a $16 fee, and 10 day occupancy limit.

Fishing Information

  • Fishing is permitted with a valid Colorado fishing license.

Rules and Regulations

  • Dogs are permitted on the Meadow Creek Trail and Gore Creek Trail. Dogs must be leashed at all times, on a leash no longer than 6'.

  • Horses are permitted on the Meadow Creek Trail and Gore Creek Trail.

  • Bikes are not permitted on the Meadow Creek Trail or Gore Creek Trail.

Directions to Trailhead

The Meadow Creek Trailhead is located north of Frisco, Colorado off of Exit #203 on I-70.

From I-70, take Exit #203 for Frisco - Breckenridge and follow the traffic circle on the north side of I-70. Go around the traffic circle to the gravel road with the US Forest Service sign and bear right (this road splits directly off the roundabout). Follow the gravel road .6 miles to the Meadow Creek Trailhead and parking area.

Contact Information

Dillon Ranger District (Frisco)
680 Blue River Parkway
Silverthorne, CO 80498
M - F from 8am - 4pm

Holy Cross Ranger District (Vail)
24747 US Highway 24
Minturn, CO 81645

White River National Forest
900 Grand Ave.
P.O. Box 948
Glenwood Springs CO 81602


"Hi guys. So me and my buddy just hiked it yesterday. Weather wasn't great but it wasn't bad. First of all ppl what is wrong with you?!? Beer can, water jags and bottles around trailhead!!! Take your trash with you!! Leave no trace! Trail is well marked, got confused after hiking down from Eccles pass. 2 beautiful lakes and a lot of small ponds. After second lake between Eccles and Red Buffalo trail desapered but we found it. You can see trail from Eccles but you can't see it from the meadow. Views from both passes are just amazing. Can see Frisco, Copper, Silverthorne. Be careful crossing gore creek next to grave site, rocks aren't big enough and pretty slippery, cross creek through logs, it's safer. Great day hiking. Highly recommended! Stay safe and happy trails."
Olya  -  Vail  -  Date Posted: August 11, 2016
"This is one of the best wildflower hikes in Summit County. The sparingly marked but intuitively followed connection between Eccles pass and Buffalo Pass is one of the coolest alpine stretches I've ever seen,"
 -   -  Date Posted: December 16, 2011


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