The Gore Lake trail hike combines everything you want in a challenging Colorado trek: winding through picturesque pine tree forests, beautiful views from the depths of a tranquil valley, and a steep, final ascent to a crystal-clear lake deep in the Colorado mountains near Vail.
The hike is made even prettier in the fall, when the changing color of leaves provide vibrant pops of color. No matter what time of year, this hike is a great way to experience the Colorado wilderness.
In this article, we’ll lay out everything you need to know to decide if you are up for taking on the challenging hike to Gore Lake!
Hi there! We’re Sarah and Matt, and we’ve been road tripping across the United States, making a new place our home month to month. We spend any free time we can get hiking, camping, backpacking and exploring new places!
- About Gore Lake Trail
- Gore Lake Hike Details
- Planning your hike to Gore Lake
- Other useful resources
About Gore Lake Trail
Gore Lake Trail is a challenging 13 mile hike located in the Eagles Nest Wilderness, just a few minutes from Vail Ski Resort in Colorado. The hike is difficult, climbing 3,200 feet in elevation from a starting elevation of 8,500 feet. As the name suggests, the hike ends at Gore Lake, perched in the midst of craggy Colorado peaks.
Gore Lake Hike Details
Hiking distance | 13 miles
Elevation gain | 3200 feet
Total time | 6 – 8 hours
Epic-ness rating | 8
Difficulty | hard
Find this hike on AllTrails: Gore Lake
Please note that we found the distance and elevation details to be inaccurate on AllTrails. Others have also commented that they found this to be the case.
Before you take on the hike to Gore Lake, please be aware that this is a challenging day hike. How difficult you find the hike may vary drastically depending on whether you are acclimated to the altitude. When I hiked Gore Lake, I had traveled from Virginia just a few days before, and found the hike significantly more challenging than usual due tot he high elevation.
Be sure to start the hike early in the morning to ensure that you have enough time to get back to the trailhead before dark.
Getting to the Gore Lake Trailhead
The trailhead for Gore Lake trail is located 10 minutes from the Vail Ski Resort, on Vail Pass off Interstate 70. The parking lot is small, but there is plenty of space to park on the street just past the trailhead. To find the trailhead by GPS, look for Gore Creek Trail (not Gore Lake Trail) located just next to Gore Creek Campground.
Hiking along Gore Creek
For the first four miles, you will hike on Gore Creek Trail, following Gore Creek the entire way. The trail winds through a forest of beautiful Aspens nestled in the heart of a valley.
The first half mile immediately starts out with a steep climb that may make you question your decision to take on this hike. Soon enough the path levels off to a steady and consistent, but less grueling, incline.
You will walk alongside a bustling creek and through a pine forest, the quiet interrupted only by the sound of trees falling and elk calling in the distance. The scenery is incredible, especially in the fall when the leaves are bright yellow and underlying bushes are vivid red.
The final ascent
At 4.3 miles into the hike, you will come upon “the graves,” a good place to camp if you are backpacking. Look for a sign for Gore Lake, and take a sharp left. This is where the trail once again becomes very steep.
The next mile is non-stop incline, brutal especially if you are not accustomed to the elevation, like me! I really struggled here, but the views of the mountains peaking out from behind the pine trees and the vivid pop of the yellow Aspens helped to ease the pain and motivate me to keep pressing forward.
The trail flattens out for a brief time before one last sharp incline for a tough final half mile push up to the lake.
Arriving at Gore Lake
After one last steep climb, you will finally make it to your destination, Gore Lake, and will quickly realize the beauty is worth the pain. The turquoise waters stretching out in front of a striking mass of rock rising up on the opposite side of the lake make for the perfect place to rest after a long hike.
Have some lunch along the lake shore and take some time to enjoy the beauty of this incredible spot.
The return hike
When you are ready to head back, retrace your steps to return to the trailhead. Once again, make sure you leave yourself enough time to get back to your car before dark. Remember, you’ve still got a 6.5 mile return hike!
Planning your hike to Gore Lake
Best time to hike Gore Lake
The best time to hike to Gore Lake hike is from July through October, as the trail is not well marked nor maintained for the winter and crosses an avalanche path.
September is the best month for this hike because the changing color of the Aspens is simply stunning. We hiked in mid September and it was prime fall foliage season. In early October, you may still catch some of the fall colors, but the leaves are likely to be more sparse – it’s hit or miss.
Where to stay
Gore Lake trailhead is only minutes outside Vail, Colorado, making it a great hike if you are staying at the ski resort. The trailhead is also about a 50 minute drive from Breckenridge and two hours (without traffic) from Denver. Keep in mind that the traffic on I-70 from Denver gets backed up on weekends, so anticipate an extra hour or so if you are planning to make the drive before hiking
Camping near Gore Lake
There are several options for camping within 30 minutes of the Gore Lake trailhead.
Dispersed camping at Shrine Pass
We camped at Shrine Pass, which offers free dispersed camping and is located 25 minutes from the Gore Lake hike trailhead in Vail. The area was beautiful and remote – you couldn’t see another soul from our campsite. At one point we even questioned whether we were too far out.
For more details on camping at Shrine Pass, see Campendium.
Tip: the road leading to the campsites is very rocky and you will likely have to pull your car off the road to park. Best not to drive a small car – 4WD is recommended, but not necessary to reach less remote spots.
Gore Creek Campground
There is also a traditional campground conveniently located right at the trailhead that offers designated campsites and has restroom facilities. The sites come equipped with a picnic bench and fire pit, and the nightly fee ranges from $25-$27.
Gore Creek campground is a more convenient option for those who are hesitant about dispersed camping. However, there are only 34 campsites so book early.
Gore Lake as a backpacking trip
Instead of trying to squeeze the entire hike to Gore Lake in one day, you may opt to turn the hike into a backpacking trip. Camping is permitted by the lake or at “the graves” located off to the righthand side of the trail just about 4 miles in.
While advance permits are not required for backpacking, you must fill out a registration form available at the trailhead for overnight use. Please be aware that fires are not permitted in this area. You may find more information on backpacking in the Eagles Nest Wilderness here.
What to pack for hiking to Gore Lake
Before your hike to Gore Lake, make sure you are prepared with the following essentials:
- Hiking poles | I had always thought trekking poles were silly until one very steep, exposed, slippery hike in Death Valley left me feeling quite insecure even with solid tread on my boots. Immediately after I bought my Black Diamond Distance Z poles and haven’t hiked without them since.
- Backpack with bladder | Pack at least 2-3 liters of water. My Camelback Helena is comfortable, lightweight and just big enough to hold the essentials without weighing you down – having a women’s pack that actually fits well makes a huge difference hiking!
- Hiking boots | This is a long hike, and the trail is muddy and slippery in places. Do not try to hike this in tennis shoes. (I can’t recommend my Danner Mountain 600’s enough, Matt loves his Salomon X Ultra 4).
- Hiking pants | these Athleta Headlands pants are my absolute favorite! Plus all the pockets make them more stylish, so they can double as normal pants. Matt’s go to hiking pants are his PrAna Stretch Zion Pants.
- Down Jacket | My Arc’teryx Cerium LT Hoody Women’s Down Hoodie is lightweight and incredibly warm with 850 fill down. If you hate being cold (like me) this is the jacket for you! The quality is top notch and totally worth the extra warmth.
- Pullovers | I have two Smartwool Merino 1/4 Zips and I absolutely love them! Warm, comfortable and stylish, they are the perfect base layer for colder hikes. Matt also has the men’s version of the Smartwool Merino 1/4 Zip.
- Long sleeve base layers | Again, I love my Smartwool long sleeve base layers. They’re a bit pricey but the quality is worth it – they’ll last forever!
- Tanks | I’m obsessed with the Athleta Conscious Crop – a sports bra and tank all in one, and so comfortable for hiking!
- Gloves and hats | If hiking in early spring/late fall, the start of the hike will likely be cold.
- Rain jacket | We both bought ponchos at the last minute and they were the best $10 we could’ve spent. Be prepared for the chance of rain inside the canyon, even if it seems clear when you start out. The inside of the canyon is its own ecosystem and the weather is unpredictable and changes quickly!
- Sunscreen and sunglasses | There is no shade for the majority of this hike.
- Trail map downloaded with AllTrail Pro (or other hiking app) | while the majority of the trail is very well marked, having the map downloaded makes navigation easy and gives you some peace of mind.
- Hearty snacks and lunch | Clif bars, peanuts, trail mix, sandwiches – make sure you have enough fuel to get you through the hike.
- Counter Assault Bear Spray | Since there are bears in the area, carrying bear spray with you is a must. Each person in the group should have their own can and carry it within arm’s reach (ie. attached to your hip – it’s nearly worthless packed away in your backpack)
- Garmin InReach Mini GPS | The one piece of gear you hope you never need to use, but is worth its weight in peace of mind. We always carry our Garmin In-reach Mini in case of emergency in areas without cell service and it gives us (and our parents) peace of mind.
- Bathing suit | Is there anything better than laying in the sun on a warm summer day beside a beautiful alpine lake? The water is cold, but taking a plunge feels great after long day of hiking!
- PackTowl lightweight towel | This compact lightweight towel packs down small, making it great for carrying on backpacking trips and perfect for drying off after taking a dip in the lake!
- Water Filter | There is plenty of water along the trail so we highly recommend packing a water filter to save some water weight. The Katadyn BeFree 1.0L Filter is small and couldn’t be easier to use.
Other tips for a great hike
- This is a long hike, so make sure you are prepared to be on the trail for 6 to 8 hours. Pack lunch, heavy snacks and plenty of water.
- It’s not uncommon to see a variety of wildlife throughout this hike, including mountain goats, elk and moose. We could hear elk or moose calling in the distance at one point. If you run into an elk or moose, do not try to approach them!
- There are also black bears in the area, so carry bear spray just to be safe.
- Dogs are allowed but must be kept on a leash.
- If you are not use to the elevation, its best to acclimate for a few days before attempting this hike.
Other Useful Resources
Looking for another challenging hike in the area? Are you ready to tackle a 14er? We absolutely loved the hike to Quandary Peak, a tough but manageable hike for those who want to take on their first 14er:
Questions about hiking to Gore Lake? What’s your favorite hike in Colorado? Let us know in the comments section below!
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