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 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 day hikes.
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 more challenging and technical adventure.
To view current trail conditions, visit AllTrails for updates and reviews from fellow hikers.
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.
Utilize my day hiking essentials checklist as you get ready for your hike to ensure that you don’t leave anything important behind.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 captivating 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.
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.
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 pitch your tent in Eagles Nest Wilderness.
Visit the Booth Lake Trail AllTrails page 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.
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
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.
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 out-and-back 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 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.
Click here to view the complete essential day hiking gear checklist.
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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!
Last Updated on July 12, 2023