Top 3 Winter Hikes

In + Around Eagle River Valley

The Valley might be home to two world class ski resorts, but that doesnt mean skiing is the only thing to do here once the snow arrives. Winter hiking in and around the Eagle River Valley gets you away from the bustle of ski crowds and the stress of trying to find a parking spot and gives you an all-access pass to some of the best snow stashes in the rugged Rockies without having to fork out for a lift ticket. Grab your snowshoes or ice grips, and check out three of the best winter hikes in the Valley this season.

Shrine Ridge Trail

Starting at the eastern end of the Valley, Vail Pass is a high-altitude playground for winter sports and will deliver hands down the best views of the surrounding mountains. Shrine Pass was originally a Ute Indian trail until it was taken over by silver miners, and the Shrine Ridge Trail, one of the most popular hikes in the Sawatch Range, delivers all the gifts of a high alpine hike without much climbing at all. Because this hike is a little more remote, its a good one to pack a picnic for.

Take exit 190 from I-70, and pay the small day use fee at one of the fee stations in the parking lot. Begin on the well-signposted Shrine Pass Road, and at the first switchback, join the snowshoe track and head up for about two miles to reach Shrine Pass. From here, look out for the trailhead on the left to join the trail to Jays, Chucks and Walters cabins, which together make up Shrine Mountain Inn. From the cabins, the trail then winds through the forest to Shrine Ridge, with spectacular panoramic views of the surrounding mountains, including Holy Cross. Retrace your footsteps to return to the parking lot.

West Grouse Creek Loop

Minturns Meadow Mountain is a favorite amongst locals, but its popularity with snowmobilers can make it a little less tranquil for those adventuring on foot. Just a little further down Highway 24, however, youll find the Grouse Creek trailhead on the right, and from here, West Grouse Creek loop gets you away from the hum of snowmobiles and into dense, peaceful forest.

Pick up the trail from the trailhead, and go straight at the first junction. At the second signposted junction, bear right to stay on the West Grouse trail, and after about 1.5 miles, youll come across an old, unsigned logging road. You can turn back here or take a right onto this road and follow it along the hillside to the retired ski slopes of Meadow Mountain and splendid views of the Gore Range. To complete the loop, head down the ridge keeping the valley you just ascended on your right, and when the trail begins to flatten out, youll see a signpost on the right to return to Grouse Creek via a wooden footbridge. Follow the trail back to your car, and head into Minturn to warm up over a hot meal and a cold brew.

Paulies Plunge/Stone Creek

Over in Eagle-Vail, Paulies Plunge/Stone Creek is popular with both snowshoers heading uphill and skiers and snowboarders leaving Beaver Creek for some backcountry chutes. This 2.2-mile trail begins with some gentle walking before serving up some more strenuous uphill terrain as you wind through quiet alpine forest and aspen groves along a babbling brook from Eagle-Vail all the way to the resort. Though it doesnt provide the same wide-open vistas as the other hikes here, youll get a real feel of seclusion in a lovely forest setting without having to travel very far at all.

From 70, take the Walmart exit and turn left on Highway 6. Turn right on Eagle Drive, and follow the winding road uphill to the small parking area at the cul de sac. The first mile is delightfully flat, and the snow will be well packed down. At the fork, go left (the route to the right heads down to the golf course, so take a moment to gather your bearings here for your return journey), and you will cross the creek and now start climbing — keep your eyes and ears open for skiers leaving the resort. The snow here is often untouched, and you will climb steadily through deep forest before emerging onto a ski run on Beaver Creek after a couple of miles. Return the same way you came, and then you have your pick of lunch spots between Eagle-Vail, Minturn, Avon and Beaver Creek to refuel.

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