Hiking The Gore Trail #60 – Copper to Silverthorne

  • 21.4 Distance
  • 8 Difficulty (1-10)
  • 4508 Total Ascent
  • 11,950 High Point

Living in a mountain community with 4 seasons does little to limit our range of human-powered activities. If anything, our fitness levels trend upward year after year because we can never burn ourselves out on a single sport before the season ends. We could even have 5 seasons up here at 9300-foot elevation if you count mud season, that crazy time in early spring where the snowmelt turns the trails to muck and renders them useless and forbidden, all the while sending out the beacon of distant adventure.

When summer warmth and mountain storms bring the flowers to bloom, thoughts of staying indoors for any measure of time get pushed aside in the pursuit of the picturesque. Our mountain beauty is experienced in lush meadows, high mountain lakes, and jagged peaks under blue Colorado skies. You will discover the caress of the summer breeze bringing with it the scent of the wilds, ensnaring your senses and coaxing you further into the adventure. The call of our mountains will render you speechless at times and ask you just how far you can go as you extend your personal boundaries. The Eagles Nest Wilderness is one such place where the views and the experience will give you new insight into yourself and what you are capable of.

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The Gore Trail from Copper Mountain to Silverthorne will challenge and reward you with the mountain experience at around 22 miles from bus stop to bus stop. I hiked this trail on July 20 when the flowers were in bloom, and there were no threats of afternoon showers or thunderstorms. I was on the trail for eight and a half hours and had a moving time of 7:08:50, carrying 2 cameras and a pack. The trail climbs 4500 feet over two passes, Uneva and Eccles, and descends around 5300 feet, where I planned to finish at the Willowbrook Trailhead in Silverthorne. Both Uneva and Eccles Passes are right around 12,000-foot elevation and can be quite strenuous near their summits.

Directions

The free Summit Stage buses will be your best bet if you don’t have 2 cars to park at the trailheads. You can park at the Frisco Transit Center and take the Summit Stage to Copper. Get off at the first stop on Copper Road and make your way back to HWY 91. You will want to stay on the east side of HWY 91 and cross I-70 on the overpass. You will see a foot trail cutting the 20 or 30 feet to the Gore Trail #60 directly after the overpass to your left. Once you are on the Gore Trail, you will see the Gore Trail Sign. On the Willowbrook end in Silverthorne, you will need to hike down Willowbrook road almost all the way to HWY 9. There you will find the bus stop about a mile from the Trailhead. You will need to change busses at Silverthorne Station to catch the bus that will take you back to the Frisco Transit Center. The Free bus system in this area can solve many of your shuttling needs with summit counties point to point trails. Most major point to point trails are within a mile of a bus stop.

The Trail

This big trail between 9600-foot elevation in the beginning at Copper Mountain and 9000-foot elevation at the Willowbrook Trailhead in Silverthorne will leave you tired and thrilled at your accomplishment when you finish. With two mountain passes hovering around 12,000 feet and four alpine basins continually reminding you of the beauty of such a big hike, your stoke factor will be full. The endless views of the ever-changing landscape as you move in and out of the trees will have you planning your next adventure mid-route.

Starting out at Copper Mountain and walking alongside the busy mountain corridor of I70 will have you wondering why this trail was developed in such a spot for about 30 minutes. As you move up the mountain and settle into the climb, the freeway’s sounds will be replaced by the calm and serene sounds of the early morning. The first 2 miles are in the trees and hand out a steep average gradient between 12 to 15 percent with a 1,000-foot climb. When the views open to Copper Mountain, the Ten Mile Range, and Vail, you will undoubtedly stop and admire them as your hiking progress shifts from purpose to sightseeing.

You will see I70 far below you as it heads down to Vail, and you will see the mountains east of the Copper Mountain Ski Resort. Union Mountain, Jacque Peak, Elk Mountain, and Holy Cross take up some of the South East’s views. A little higher up the trail, you will reach a meadow that will give you some rest as you work your way towards Wheeler Lakes. These are the first lakes you will find on this trail, and the quarter-mile detour will be worth the deviation to see them. I hit this area at sunrise and took a lot of pictures.

Getting Back on the Gore Trail after Wheeler Lakes marks the 3-mile mark and nearly 1500 feet of climbing. From this point, the trail will climb another 800 feet over a mile and a half taking you through thick meadows of Lupin and other wildflowers and by a few unnamed lakes that were glass as I passed them. I also stopped at a cliffside viewpoint to the southeast and looked down upon Officers Gulch from up high. Shortly after this viewpoint is where I met my first hiker for the day. A backpacker who most likely set up camp near lost lake and had just started out for the day. We passed each other on the only boardwalk I found southeast of Uneva Pass.

At the five and a half mile mark and 2 hours into my journey, I reached lost lake. It is hidden by a berm/mound to the left as you climb by, but it is noticeable by nature trails that lead to it. It is easiest accessed from the top end and is scenic, although I did not spend any time there.

After lost lake, the trail moves above the treeline, and the views start to come into their own. You can see Copper Mountain and the 10 Mile range to the South East. The wall of Uneva Pass keeps you from looking to the north but does nothing but amplify the views, especially of the trail heading up to the pass.

Uneva Pass

At six and a half miles and two hours and twenty-three minutes, I rounded the corner of Uneva Pass. I had climbed nearly 2400 feet from Copper Mountain. From the pass, I could see Uneva Peak to the north and the basin below. I could also see Buffalo Mountain off in the distance and could just make out Eccles Pass. The basin was green interspersed with high alpine rock formations with a pond and wildflowers all over the place. On my way down through the rocks from the pass, I saw my first pika of the trip. I had brought my big lens with me to take pictures of wildlife, but so far, it had not seen any use. I found myself walking slower through the basin on my way to treeline, mostly due to the beauty of the surrounding area and the atmosphere it created. My steps were light, and I was in a great place!

Once down into treeline, I saw a nature trail heading off to the left, most likely to another pond I found on the map. I stayed on the main path and started downhill; it was business as usual. Before long, I began to have second doubts and felt like I may not have been on the right trail. Such is exploring a new route and hiking a trail for the first time. When in doubt, stick to the main trail!

From the basin directly below Uneva Pass, the trail descends 1400 feet in 2.3 miles to North Ten Mile Creek. After you find your way across the creek, you will see the Gore Trail sign marking the intersection of the North Ten Mile Creek Trail and the Gore Trail #60. At this point, I had hiked 10.3 miles in three hours and 39 minutes. This is one of a few bailout points and the easiest to convert to a bus stop if you must bail for some reason. The North Ten Mile Creek trail is 3.4 miles to the North East side of Frisco. You will find the Bus stop on the other side of I70, passed the big parking lot to the right and passed Ten Mile Creek.

North 1o Mile Creek

The North 10 Mile Creek intersection of the Gore Trail sits at right around 10,000-foot elevation. Just like the start of the trail at Copper, the climb out of the North 10 Mile Creek drainage is steep. From this point, the trail climbs 1250 feet over 2.2 miles before leveling out. I saw my first grouse during this climb, but it flew off right as I saw it. So much for the weight of the big lens!

A little over a half-mile after the trail smooths out, you will find a small meadow with a pond in it. It took me four hours and 46 minutes to make it this far, and I took a break for a little lunch before the final push to Eccles Pass. If it were not for the mosquitoes, I would have had a little bit more fun at that small pond, but I knew my most favorite part of the whole journey was coming up.

At Mile 13.7, I entered the basin just below Eccles Pass, and at mile 13.8, I intersected with the Meadow Creek trail, in the heart of some of the most scenic alpine meadows this trail has to offer! On both sides of Eccles Pass, the views are out of this world and well worth the effort to get up here whichever way you choose.

Eccles Pass

At mile marker 14.6, I had made it to the top of Eccles pass, and it was just me, the marmots, and the views for about 20 minutes before some of the hikers I passed in the basin below caught up. I could stay on Eccles pass for a long time enjoying the views, but on a big hike like this one, I didn’t have the luxury of allowing my legs to take a break with another 7 miles to go. I did take the time to take a bunch of pictures! Before too long, I left the marmots to their high alpine retreat and headed down to the north basin below.

The north basin below Eccles pass has these cool rock pile formations and a few lakes along with grassy meadows. It is an incredible place to be, and the views to Red Peak and over to Buffalo Mountain put you in the perfect mood. After you pass along the shores of one lake, you will follow the trail around a small hill to another much larger lake. It is at this lake I saw one hiker cooling off in the cold blue water. It is also at the edge of this lake that that trail splits.

You have the option to go to Vail from this point if you stay to the far left and hug the lakeshore. This trail will take you to Red Buffalo Pass and eventually down to the Gore Creek Trail and the Gore Creek Trailhead in Vail. If you end up going straight for some reason, you may get closer to Red Peak, but the trail disappears as I am looking at it with google earth. Following the trail to the right will take you down the South Willow Creek drainage to Willow Creek Falls, but I am getting ahead of myself.

A Snow Route Finding Adventure

On the 14th of June, I had decided to hike around Buffalo Mountain for the first time. The trails were dry down below, and I had gotten stir crazy wanting to get up high. If I could make it up to 12,000-foot elevation, well, that would scratch an itch that needed scratching. Due to the mountains blocking my views of the route, I was somewhat uninformed of conditions but convinced I could do it.

I started at the Meadow Creek Trailhead in Frisco and went out Lilly Pad Lakes to Buffalo Cabin to the Gore trail. My plan was to take the Gore trail up to Eccles pass and hike down the Meadow Creek trail back to the parking lot. I hit solid snow just below Red Peak and did not get out of it until I crossed a snow swollen Meadow Creek in the trees on the other side of Eccles Pass. It seemed that the middle of June was too early for this route. The north basin was a solid snowfield, and you could not see the water of the lakes, although the color of the snow told you they were there. I pulled out my phone and used the All Trails app to navigate and post hole to the top of Eccles Pass. The map and GPS positioning saved the day and I didn’t have to turn around.  Even though I got super wet, I had a blast and knew I had to come back. The scariest part was jumping across willow creek that was over 5 feet wide and full of rushing snow meltwater with both cameras and a pack.

Descending into Willow Creek Falls

From treeline, the top of willow creek falls is about 2.6 miles down the trail with an elevation drop of about 1300 feet. The views through the trees are good, and you may even see some playful marmots on the trail. I had one run up the trail at me, brush past my leg, and then high tail it off into the brush. It’s friend tor off up the hillside from a different spot on the trail. They were playing like squirrels! There are a few creeks to cross; one is large depending on the time of year and the moisture. I came upon an avalanche field full of debris to go through about a half-mile up from the falls.

Willow creek falls is a great place to stop for a while. The falls are more like a cascade, but they drop about 70 to 100 feet from the viewpoint up high. There is a trail junction further down the trail that will take you to the base of the falls. From here on, the trail will have more traffic as people hike in from various trailheads to visit the falls.

The gore trail below the falls becomes steep and rocky for about a half mile before moving into thick trees. After the Buffalo Cabin trail junction, the trail opens back up and moves through a meadow. Passing through the meadow, the trail becomes a double track and moves into the trees. From within the trees, you will have views of meadows on your right. Eventually, you will reach the Mesa Cortina Junction, where the Gore Trail turns left, and the Mesa Cortina trail crosses South Willow Creek. You will want to cross the creek and continue on the Mesa Cortina trail. Close to a quarter-mile past the Mesa Cortina Junction, you will find the South Willowbrook Trail on your left.

The South Willowbrook Trail is a little over a mile long and takes you out of the Eagles Nest Wilderness to the Willowbrook Trailhead. As short of a trail as it is, this trail has a few creek crossings and lots of greenery, and some boardwalk. It is a closed canopy and keeps the sun off you in the middle of the day. Once you reach the Willowbrook trailhead, you have about another mile to walk to the bus stop close to HWY 9 on Willowbrook Road.

Conclusion

I mentioned above that speed distance hiking is an excellent complement to mountain biking and road biking. With so much to see and do in summit county, the strength gained from cycling will help your legs and the rest of your body maximize what you can accomplish hiking our trails. Most of the good ones go up high! I have also found that transitioning back on the bike after a long hike makes me stronger because I am working different muscles; it is a win for sure. The Eagles Nest Wilderness Area is a beautiful place to visit, and since it does not allow bikes, foot traffic is the best way to see it. Nothing beats the views above treeline, and while many trails can take you above treeline in summit county, this trail is one of the best. If 21.4 miles with 4500 feet of climbing is a little long for you, you might try the Buffalo Mountain loop, which gets you up and over Eccles pass from the Silverthorne side and allows you to see this incredible area. Next year I plan to go from Silverthorne to Vail or Vail to Silverthorne and hike this Copper to Silverthorne trail with as little weight as I can safely carry. Stay Tuned!

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