Buffalo Mountain Loop – Eagles Nest Wilderness

Mountains abound in all directions and the trail drives forward through alpine grasses and wildflowers spreading out as far as the eye can see

It doesn’t matter how many times we head up into the mountains in Colorado, it never gets old and it always rewards us with the most amazing opportunities for viewing sunsets, sunrises, snowcapped peaks, wildlife and otherworldly landscapes seldom seen. The Buffalo Mountain Loop in the Eagles Nest Wilderness certainly held up to its end of the bargain by providing the alpine experience we have to come to love and enjoy in the Colorado high-country. The Gore Mountains, just outside of Silverthorne, are absolutely beautiful, rugged, demanding and yet fragile in nature as understood by those who push through the climbs to visit its alpine vistas. Snow-fed creeks, jagged rocky peaks and lush meadows full of wildflowers are common here. What you won’t find are crowds, modern society and its aggressive energy or the hustle and bustle that accompany it.

The loop is best done counterclockwise. Starting at the Buffalo Cabin trailhead (no overnight parking) or the Meadow Creek trailhead, head out towards Buffalo Mountain and connect in with the Gore Range trail via the Willow Creek connector. Once on the Gore Range trail, also part of the CDT, follow this gradually climbing trail to Eccles Pass. Once above treeline take time to soak in the incredible views and absorb the undeniable peace in the high meadows before the pass. The sheer immensity will leave you feeling quite small and full of respect for such an incredible landscape not meant for man, long term. This would be a great place to camp on an overnight backpacking trip. Water is abundant on both sides of the pass as the snow melt provides all summer long.

Reaching Eccles Pass marks the midway point, but certainly not the end of the views. Once you crest the ridge the valley floor expands before you inviting the hiker to drop in and explore more of this serene wilderness. Mountains abound in all directions and the trail drives forward through alpine grasses and wildflowers spreading out as far as the eye can see. Take time at the pass, soak it all in, this is a special place that pictures, videos and descriptive comments will most always fall short to depict and portray. Seeing this pass is best left to the eye of the beholder who can not deny how little is really seen in media format, it is just impossible to capture it all, much less the emotional connection.

The Gore Range trail flows down into the adjacent valley and comes to a split where it is time to connect in with the Meadow Creek trail and soon enter back into the subalpine, the lower valley and welcome shade from the exposure of the intense Colorado sun. There are plenty of camping sites here as well, look towards the base of Buffalo Mountain as there are opportunities for solitude from the trail there. Once again, water is not an issue, nor is there any lack of views. Sunsets and sunrises are wonderful here. Look for moose in the reeds and wake to the sounds of songbirds in the early morning as you sip on warm coffee and welcome in the purity of a new day in the Eagles Nest Wilderness.

The Meadow Creek trail segment begins a long decent, hence our recommendation to go counterclockwise, and eventually makes its way back to either the Meadow Creek trailhead (overnight parking allowed) or the Lilly Pad Lake connector that will take you over to the Buffalo Mountain trailhead. The entire loop is a 13.4 mile trail consisting of mixed loose rock, root and packed dirt. This single-track trail with its 3,000′ of elevation gain and loss, are just mere numbers, as the highcountry experience will help you to forget about being out of breath and tired from the climbs, mileage and long day on trail. Again, our recommendation, counterclockwise with an overnight camp at treeline just before entering onto the high alpine shelf before Eccles Pass.

The Eagles Nest Wilderness has many opportunities for day hiking and backpacking overnight to even multi-day outings. Many of the trailheads are easily accessible and taking advantage of the nearby towns of Dillon, Silverthorne, Frisco or Breckenridge before or after your hike is a great way to fuel up, take care of any gear needs or just kick back and relax in a great mountain town that has many wonderful offerings. If coming from out of state by air and flying into Denver International Airport, take the A-Line train to Denver’s downtown Union Station where you will want to take the Bustang bus to the Frisco transfer center and then use the Summit Stage “free” bus to get to the Buffalo Mountain trailhead. Self issue backcountry permits at the trailhead are required for overnight stays.

After your hike, an additional overnight stay in town to enjoy a meal, get cleaned up and explore a bit before return to the airport the way you came. If driving or renting a car, grab a hotel and make it an early morning on trail the next day. Another night after the hike to enjoy some town fun or even a scenic drive in the area before heading back home would certainly be a worthwhile adventure, you are after all at the base of the Continental Divide and surrounded by the Colorado Rocky Mountains.

Peace, MAD

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