Booth Falls Trail to Booth Lake: A Superb Vail Day Hike

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Creeks full of water point towards a distant mountain on the Booth Falls Trail in Vail, Colorado

Booth Falls Trail to Booth Lake: A Spectacular Vail Day Hike

 

Booth Falls Trail to Booth Lake Hike

Where: Eagles Nest Wilderness, Vail, CO
Distance: 10 miles | 16 km
Elevation Gain: 3,051 feet | 930 meters
Time to Complete: 5-9 hours
Difficulty: Difficult

Best Time to Hike: July-September
Park Fee: Free
Hiker Traffic
Moderate
Cell Service:
Yes
Noel’s Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars  4.5 out of 5 stars

I’d been eyeing Vail’s Booth Falls Trail to Booth Lake day hike for a couple of years, and on a perfect Colorado July day, I finally pulled the trigger. The ensuing adventure was a breathtaking and ass-kicking journey through the Gore Mountain Range’s more rugged and raw terrain. It was well worth the trip.

Tucked away in the idyllic Eagles Nest Wilderness, this 10-mile out-and-back trail is a stunning uphill march through alpine forest, blooming wildflowers, curious wildlife, and cascading waterfalls. 

While most day hikers choose the easy-to-reach Booth Falls as their destination, the trail reaches its true crescendo at Booth Lake, which awaits 3.2 hard-earned miles beyond. Those willing to conquer the 3,052 feet of steep ascents along the Booth Falls Trail to Booth Lake will be rewarded handsomely.

If you’re considering a Booth Falls Trail to Booth Lake hike of your own, keep reading. I’ll tell you what gear to bring, how to get to the trailhead, the lowdown on backcountry camping, and my personal experience along one of Vail’s most breathtaking, grueling, and rewarding day hikes. 

Preparing for Your Hike

Aspen trees near the Booth Falls Trailhead

Your gorgeous Vail day hike starts here

 

When to Hike

The best months to hike Vail’s Booth Falls Trail to Booth Lake are July, August, and September – after the previous winter’s snowpack has melted but before fall blizzards have covered the trail once again. It is possible to hike the trail with snowshoes during off-season months, but doing so means a far more challenging and technical adventure.

To view current trail conditions, visit the Booth Falls Trail AllTrails page for updates and reviews from fellow hikers.

What to Bring

Your day hike to Booth Lake should take at least five hours round-trip, so pack plenty of food (2,000+ calories) and plan on drinking a minimum of two liters of water. If you want to save weight, pack a water filter to purify as you go to avoid carrying heavy water bottles.

Wear sturdy hiking boots, heavy-duty sunscreen, and bring a set of trekking poles to protect your knees during the 10 miles of aggressive ascents and descents. Bring along altitude sickness pills if your body is not adjusted for high elevations and a pack a rain jacket to protect against volatile alpine storms.

If you decide to camp in Eagles Nest Wilderness for one or more nights, check out my lightweight backpacking gear list and backpacking meal planning posts to prepare for your upcoming trip.

Trail Maps

The Maps.me smartphone app offers a free offline GPS map of the entire Booth Lake Falls Trail to Booth Lake hike. I use Maps.me for every hiking and backpacking trip I take — their detailed offline maps are incredibly helpful and always accurate.

Getting to the Booth Falls Trailhead

 

The Booth Falls Trail to Booth Lake Trailhead is tucked away in a small Vail subdivision but is easy to find with GPS navigation. The parking lot is usually full during peak months and has a three-hour time limit, although park rangers told me that it’s not strictly enforced.

Overflow parking is available at the nearby Vail Mountain School, and although there is no time limit for parking displayed, I recommend checking in at the reception desk if you plan on leaving your car in the lot for an extended amount of time

Hiking the Booth Falls Trail to Booth Lake

A view of Bald Mountain in Vail, Colorado

Eagles Nest Wilderness is steep, harsh, and scenic

 

As long as the weather holds out, day hiking to Booth Falls and Booth Lake is an absolute joy. Hiker traffic during the first two miles to Booth Falls can get quite heavy during peak season but should thin out after the falls. The remaining trek to Booth Lake should be more or less wide open.

Beyond Booth Falls, the trail rewards hikers with stunning backcountry vistas, wildlife viewing opportunities, and fields of gorgeous Colorado wildflowers (if you get your timing right, of course).

This 10-mile out-and-back gains 3,051 feet of elevation at an 11.4% grade, which rates it as a ‘difficult to very difficult’ hike. Much of the hike takes place above 10,000 feet in elevation, so hikers must acclimatize to high altitudes before beginning their trip.

I only recommend this hike to experienced hikers who are well adjusted to high elevations. If you start feeling symptoms of altitude symptoms, stop hiking immediately, and analyze your options going forward.

Reaching Booth Falls

A view from the top of Booth Falls waterfall looking down towards Booth Creek

Crashing views from above Booth Falls

 

The first two miles to Booth Falls is a typical trip for Vail day hikers, so expect some company along the way. The trail climbs steadily through open terrain, winds through alpine forests, and eventually links up alongside Booth Creek (which seems to be more of a river than a creek to me). The Booth Falls viewpoint is actually atop the waterfall.

For me, Booth Falls was a bit anticlimactic. The waterfall was large and booming, yes, but the views were obstructed and I couldn’t catch much of a view of the falls as a whole. I tiptoed to the mouth of the waterfall gazed downwards, snapped a few photos, grabbed a quick snack, and went on my way. More dramatic scenery awaited three miles up the trail.

Blooming Colorado Wildflowers

Two blooming Columbine flowers along the Booth Creek Trail

The Columbine – Colorado’s state flower

 

Wildflower season in Eagles Nest Wilderness is typically mid-July to late-August. Hike the trail in that time frame, and you’ll have a great chance at enjoying copious blooming Colorado wildflowers along the way. Keep your eyes peeled for the purple and white Columbine – Colorado’s beautiful state flower, and my personal favorite.

Picking wildflowers is illegal in Colorado, so keep that in mind along your hike. Look, don’t touch, as they say.

Eagles Nest Wilderness: Home of the Marmot

A marmot peaking its head over the top of a rock in White River National Forest

Scanning the horizon for potential threats

 

Marmots thoroughly enjoy grazing the land surrounding the trail on the hike up towards Booth Lake, so keep on the lookout for them. What seemed like every few minutes, I’d hear a shrill “bark” and meet eyes with a wary marmot carefully observing me from afar. I’ve never seen so many marmots in my life. They were everywhere.

I continuously scanned my surroundings for some of Eagles Nest Wilderness’ more dramatic wildlife — elk, moose, eagles, hawks, and bears — but I didn’t have any luck. These creatures are known to make occasional appearances near the trail, though, so keep your eyes open and your camera at the ready. Maybe you’ll get luckier than I did.

(More) Majestic Waterfalls

A waterfall down the side of a rugged rock outcropping while hiking in the Gore Mountain Range

Waterfall flowing down the side of a rock outcropping

As I huffed and puffed my way towards Booth Lake, I spotted several backcountry waterfalls dotting the trail. These nameless falls, in my opinion, were far more awe-inspiring than Booth Falls itself. Fed by Booth Lake’s ice-cold runoff, they seemingly appear from nowhere, their water cascading peacefully down towers of rock back towards the trailhead.

Majestic waterfalls, like marmots, are littered throughout the scenic journey towards Booth Lake.

Frozen-Over Booth Lake

Booth Lake in Vail, Colorado frozen over with a layer of snow on top

Frozen over Booth Lake? Unusual for mid-July

Mountain peaks covered in snow in White River National Forest

Snow-covered peaks surrounding Booth Lake

 

After five miles and three long hours of calf-burning ascent, I finally arrived at an icy Booth Lake, socked in by deep, sprawling snowbanks. Brisk winds rolled over the mountains surrounding the lake as chilly rain showers blew down from the cloudy skies above. The blustery conditions weren’t what I was expecting for mid-July — Vail was 80 degrees and sunny earlier that day — but I couldn’t be bothered. 

When Booth Lake isn’t blanketed with ice, it offers scenic backcountry trout fishing. Bring your gear (and a Colorado fishing license) and cast away if you’re so inclined. I can’t imagine a much better landscape to cast a line and soak in the scenery.

Backcountry Camping in Eagles Nest Wilderness

A small stream running towards mountains on a blue sky day in White River National Forest

Eagles Nest Wilderness is a backcountry backpacker’s dream

 

If you want to stretch your Booth Lake adventure beyond a day hike, opportunities for dispersed backcountry camping along the trail are plentiful and free. You don’t need a permit to camp in Eagles Nest Wilderness.

Visit the Booth Lake Trail AllTrails page to for current trail conditions and information from fellow hikers. 

If you decide to camp along the Booth Lake Trail or beyond, prepare adequately ahead of time. Scout out potential camping destinations, research the trail, study the forecast, pack enough food, and bring a backpack full of quality, lightweight gear.

Rules and Regulations

A trailhead sign reading "WHITE RIVER NATIONAL FOREST"

White River National Forest: Rules and Regulations

 

There are some important rules and regulations to keep in mind when hiking and camping in Eagles Nest Wilderness. Open the trailhead sign above in a new window to view a full-sized image, or just read my summary of the regulations below.

  • Dogs must be leashed at all times
  • Group size is limited to 15 or less
  • Bikes, motorized equipment, and hang gliders are prohibited on the trail
  • Camping is not permitted within 100 feet of lakes, streams, and developed trails
  • Campfires are not permitted within 100 feet of lakes, streams, or trails

Leave No Trace

Pack out everything you bring with you, clean up after your pet, and do your best to leave the trail untainted for the rest of the world to enjoy.

For more information on leaving no trace, visit LNT.org.

Final Thoughts

Snowbanks along the Booth Creek Trail near Booth Lake

The Booth Falls Trail to Booth Lake is a must-hike Vail gem

 

Looking for a rugged, glute-busting, jaw-dropping backcountry day hike adventure near Vail? Look no further, because the Booth Falls Trail to Booth Lake hike will deliver. The 10-mile trek through Eagles Nest Wilderness is bound to take your breath away, in more ways than one.

So, prepare properly, strap on your backpack, and lace up your boots. It’s time to get moving. The Booth Lake Falls to Booth Lake Trail hike will serve as an aggressive reminder as to why hiking in Colorado’s rugged and raw backcountry is hard to beat.

Soak in the blooming fields of wildflowers, march past the brilliant backcountry waterfalls, rest your weary legs as you overlook the splendid Booth Lake, and don’t forget to tell the marmots I say hello. 

Plan Your Trip: Travel Tips & Resources

Book Your Flight

Find cheap flights by searching with Skyscanner or Momondo. Both sites pull fares from a huge network of airlines to help you find an affordable flight every time.

Book Accommodation

Use Booking.com — my go-to booking website — to reserve hotels and hostels. Search Hostelworld to browse a gigantic database of affordable hostel options. Book with Airbnb to rent apartments, houses, or rooms from locals.

Rent a Car

Search RentalCars.com to compare prices among hundreds of car rental brands. Use Turo to rent cars, trucks, campervans, (and more) from locals.

Protect Your Trip

Travel is unpredictable. Use World Nomads to insure your trip against illness, theft, injury, and cancellation. They’re widely trusted among backpackers and travelers worldwide.

Travel & Hike Better

Browse through my 9.8 lb ultralight backpacking gear list or learn how to meal plan for multi-day backpacking trips. Check out my travel resources page to see exactly what tools, websites, apps, and gear I use to move about the world.

Have you ever hiked the Booth Falls Trail to Booth Lake? What are some of your favorite day hikes in Vail? What’s your favorite Colorado wildflower? Let me know by leaving some feedback in the comments below!


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