VAIL, Colo. - If you like waterfalls, cascades, lakes and incredible scenery, don't miss Booth Falls and Booth Lake.
Four years ago, I hiked to Booth Falls, but Booth Lake was just too far. Finally, it was time to go back.
The Booth Falls trailhead is just 1.2 miles from I-70 in East Vail (directions below). The trailhead parking lot is small, so if you get there late, you may have to hike up the road from the overflow lot.
-- See a slideshow of the hike: http://ch7ne.ws/14MUkrO
In the main parking lot, you'll see a gate. Walk around the gate, take a few steps and you'll see a board with a map and a sign says "Booth Lake Trail." Sign in at the register box and begin hiking the steep trail.
The trail starts with several switchbacks as it climbs to the Eagle Nest Wilderness about 0.25 miles from the parking lot. You may notice some traffic noise at the beginning of this hike, but it may be drowned out by the sound of your heavy breathing as you climb this trail.
As you hike, enjoy the flowers next the trail. Starting in June and lasting several weeks, the wildflowers here put on a colorful show. I saw more than a dozen different kinds of flowers over Fourth of July weekend and I may have been early. When I did this hike in August 2009, the flowers were even more incredible.
As you hike, you'll see several social trails leading to Booth Creek. I was quite surprised to find the trail didn't follow the creek very closely. Typically, trails by creeks are actually by the creek, but not here. "Social trails" to the creek do appear in areas where you can hear the running water. I hiked a few of the social trails and saw cascades, other times the vegetation was too thick to see much.
About a mile up the trailhead, there's a good view of a cascade on the other side of the creek. You don't have to hike a social trail to see this, just watch for it to appear. I took about three steps off the trail to get a good picture.
I turned around to look back at the trail and spotted something I didn't expect -- ski runs. You can see some of the runs at Vail Ski Resort. After a photo, it was time to continue on.
A lot of people assume this is an easy hike, I saw a lot of families with kids under 10. While the hike to the falls is short -- about two miles -- the elevation gain makes this a hard hike. You'll be climbing about 1,200 feet in two miles. I stopped and talked to several families within a quarter mile of the falls and many of the kids were ready to turn around. They agreed to keep going when I told them how close they were.
Also make sure your group has good shoes, there are a couple stream crossings and at one point, the trail actually goes up a stream of sorts.
About 1.75 miles up the trail, you'll see a sign that says "trail" and points to the right. Climb up this steep, rocky grade. Near the top of the climb, you'll pass through a wide, rocky area that looks like a rock landslide. Go over this, around the bend to the left and when the trail bends right, consider taking one of the social trails on your left to a little rocky ridge. That ridge has a view of the big drop of Booth Falls. There is no sign and the trail doesn't go by the main drop, so many people miss it. I didn't know I had missed it the first time until I suddenly found myself at the top of the falls. If you don't see it on the way up, do some exploring on the way back to find this beautiful spot.
For now, let's continue on to Booth Lake. There's still three miles and 1,800 feet of elevation to climb to the lake.
About 0.4 miles from the falls, the trail winds its way back to the creek and a trail in a valley. The trails drops down to the water here and follows the creek for a short distance. Enjoy the sounds of the water crashing over the rocks in the stream bed. Remember, when the trail drops here, that means you'll be hiking back up this section on the way out.
From here, the trail gets pretty steep at times. When that happens, stop, catch your breath and make sure you turn in a 360 degree circle and enjoy the views around you.
Don't worry, the trail will mellow a bit as it winds through several meadows. When the valley opens up, enjoy the rocky peaks above you and the wildflowers below you.
After passing through the meadows, the trail turns slightly left and begins the last big climb to the cirque that holds Booth Lake. As you hike up, look for the cascades/waterfalls from the outlet of Booth Lake. When you suddenly crest the ridge at the top, you should see Booth Lake.
Booth Lake is a large lake in a scenic cirque. The lake is so wide, you may have trouble getting a photo of the entire lake. You can walk over to the lake's shore to enjoy lunch or a snack. However, I highly recommend turning left at the first sight of the lake and going to the east end of the lake. This may be the best area to get photos showing most of the lake. It's also a good spot to see the island in the lake.
Take your time in this beautiful place to enjoy the amazing scenery and you're amazing feat -- climbing 3,000 feet of elevation in five miles.
When you're done exploring, return the way came, maybe with a side detour to find the big cascade at Booth Falls.
Details: The hike to Booth Falls is about 4 miles RT and 1,200 feet of elevation. The hike to Booth Lake is about 10 miles RT and 3,200 feet of elevation gain (with a few uphill stretches on the way back).
Directions: From I-70, take exit 180 (East Vail). At the stop sign, make a right, then a quick left onto the frontage road. Watch your speed; I spotted the 25 mph speed limit sign as a state trooper went by. Take the frontage road about .8 of a mile to Booth Falls Road, turn right. From here it's about a quarter mile to the trailhead parking lot.
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