Sunday, July 19, 2009

Wilder Gulch

Distance: 5.22 miles round trip
Elevation: 10,600 ft - 10,935 ft
Elevation Gain: 335 ft
Date Hiked: 28 June, 2009
Bathroom at the Trailhead: Yes
Dogs: Off leash

The gentle hills and verdant views of Wilder Gulch

Wilder Gulch, near Vail Pass, is a serene journey through several miles of meadow transected by a melodically flowing stream. In the distance, Ptarmigan Hill (12,143 ft) dominates the view and in late July wildflowers are reported to be stunning.

Vail Pass lower parking lot viewed from the upper
Vail Pass bike path along a more scenic section

The downside of this area is that to get to the trail itself, one must park at the upper lot of the Vail Pass Rest Area since the lower lot has a time limit. From the parking area, one must then travel either 0.86 miles down the bike path or travel 0.76 miles across several rolling hills. The latter route is far more preferable, but is only passable in late summer when the creek that bisects the area has stopped flowing since there is no bridge over it. On this trip, we took the bike path down and took the creek path back since it did not matter if our feet got soaked on the return trip.

The sign for Wilder Gulch on the Vail Pass Bike Path. The underpass for I-70 is in the distance.

The guidebook we used (Colorado's Best Wildflower Hikes: Volume 2) indicates the junction on the bike path route is 0.5 miles but by GPS it was 0.86 miles. The difference may be related to where you have to park. The bike path route is frustrating because it drops significantly through a series of winding turns and, not surprisingly, bikes are zooming by in both directions. We had our dogs with us, which made this doubly frustrating. Parts of the bike path are hidden from I70 and follow a pleasant stream, but other parts are right next to the cars whisking by at 70 miles per hour. You will know you have reached the trail when you see a a brown sign saying "Wilder Gulch" at an underpass for I-70. Without the sign, you might miss the overgrown, narrow trail.

Heading up from the underpass into the Gulch

I did not measure the elevation gain from the underpass to where the alternate route intersects with the trail, but I am guessing it is at least an additional 150 ft of elevation gain over 3 tenths of a mile.

The trail follows the stream until the trail turns into the trees 2.66 miles from the parking lot

From the intersection, the trail seems relatively flat and follows a cut in the hillside about a hundred yards to the right of the stream. The trail is boggy in places but the forest service has put large stone steps on either side of the many intersecting rivulets so it is easy to keep one's feet dry.

A little farther in, the Gulch really opens up and becomes your own personal meadow. Ptarmigan Hill (12,143 ft) is in the distance.

We traveled up the gulch for 2.66 miles, measured from the parking lot, to the point where the trail leaves the meadow heads up into the trees. We weren't interested in walking through the forest and another couple familiar with the trail indicated that the route to Ptarmigan Pass, a worthy destination, would not be clear until late July. Normally, we would not have turned around so early but we had hiked both Lower Crystal Lake and West Hoosier Pass the day before and frankly we were ready to get home.

Looking back down the gulch towards I-70. That is a beaver pond to the right of the trail. We only saw dams and no lodges.

Wilder Gulch is know for its wildflowers, but I don't think they start to appear in great numbers until mid-July. Once you get to the trail, this could be a pleasant outing for those who have trouble with elevation gain. The green grass, open sky, and pleasing sense of solitude will make you want to linger in Wilder Gulch. If you do, be advised the snows come early on Vail Pass.

Near our turn around point. The trail heads up into the trees to the right.


  1. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  2. Wow! Such beauty! Places like that really exist! Thanks so much for sharing such great pictures with those of us who don't live in such gorgeous places!

  3. Wow...thank you so much for posting! I'm planning on taking my mom (from CA) out the end of May. Hope we see *some* flowers. But the green is worth the walk!