Hiking Vail (Northeast Rim / Ridge Trails)

August 23, 2021

Hiking Vail, Gondola to Gondola

Most folks know Vail primarily as a skiing and winter destination. And few would argue that this storied resort truly shines brightest when dressed in powder. But the “mothership” of America’s largest skiing company offers myriad recreational opportunities year round.

In the summer months, Vail runs both its out-of-base gondolas (Gondola One and the Eagle-Bahn). These lifts hoist you 2000 vertical feet above the valley floor, allowing casual hikers to wander atop the resort’s gentle ridge lines, taking in big mountain views.

Two gondolas run in summer, which means hiking Vail involves big mountain views without the typical huffing and puffing.
Two gondolas run in summer, which means hiking Vail involves big mountain views without the typical huffing and puffing.

Your hike can begin and end at just one gondola. But using both turns the affair into a giant “loop”, with a stroll through the village and along Gore Creek.

Nothing comes for free in this world. And Vail’s gondolas are sadly quite expensive in the summer. Adults can pay roughly $30-40, last I checked. And of course this does not include any skiing. That said, Epic Pass holders get free gondola rides all summer long.

The Northeast Rim Trail

My hike began with an ascent on Gondola One from the main village. This rises roughly 2000 vertical feet to “mid-Vail” where skiers normally take a second chairlift to “summit” ridge.

Hikers can choose from several hiking options in mid-Vail. A “meadows loop” takes you around the upper “front side” of the resort. A “green” rating designates this as an easier walk. You can also simply walk along a dirt road from gondola to gondola (“Eagles Nest Road”) … which will only take 30-40 minutes at a relaxed pace.

The Northeast Rim trail begins amongst lift machinery, but quickly turns secluded.
The Northeast Rim trail begins amongst lift machinery, but quickly turns secluded.

I chose to take the “Northeast Rim” route. Among the front side hikes, this brings you through the most wooded areas. Beyond offering shade and seclusion, this route also features sweeping views of the northeast bowl, and Gore Range beyond.

Hiking Vail's Northeast Rim trail brings you through pine forests coated in green undergrowth.
Hiking Vail’s Northeast Rim trail brings you through pine forests coated in green undergrowth.

The trail rises roughly 1000 vertical feet over a couple miles. It switchbacks through the woods. Occasionally the trail crosses steep open ski runs like Riva Ridge and Prima. Along these stretches, the trail affords gorgeous views of the rugged Gore Range across the valley.

Indian Paintbrush and other wildflowers festoon the ski trails.  In the distance, the rugged peaks of the Gore Range line the far side of the valley.
Indian Paintbrush and other wildflowers festoon the ski trails. In the distance, the rugged peaks of the Gore Range line the far side of the valley.
A log bench and views of Vail's northeast bowl.
A log bench and views of Vail’s northeast bowl.

This trail also crosses right along some of the resort’s most infamous (and steep!) terrain. Towards the summit you wander along the upper slopes of Prima Cornice which is known for difficult lines through avalanche-prone chutes and trees.

The trail crosses a very steep gladed ski run.
The trail crosses a very steep gladed ski run.
Passing beneath a dormant chairlift while hiking Vail.
Passing beneath a dormant chairlift while hiking Vail.

Along the Summit Ridge to Eagle’s Nest

Eventually I reached the summit, roughly 1000 vertical feet above the gondola. I then began a gentle descent along a series of trail segments (Sunlight, Kinnikinnick, and Ridge Route). Along this segment, the trail features views of Vail’s “famous” back bowls.

China Bowl and Blue Sky Basin, seen while hiking Vail in summer.
China Bowl and Blue Sky Basin, seen while hiking Vail in summer.

Along the way you pass “Steady’s Deck” complete with a porch and picnic tables. Across the way from the rolling grass bowls is “Blue Sky Basin”—Vail’s most remote ski runs. Even further in the distance, the Mount of the Holy Cross looms large over the landscape.

Steady's Deck provides prime year-round picnic spots.
Steady’s Deck provides prime year-round picnic spots.

Eventually I made it to the Eagle’s Nest, the top of Vail’s second gondola, the Eagle Bahn. Unlike Gondola One, the Eagle Bahn deposits you directly on the high ridge line (though at a lower elevation than the summit area). The spot features outdoor dining, a mountain coaster, and other family activities.

Sundown Bowl (foreground) and the Mount of the Holy Cross (background) seen while hiking Vail in summer.
Sundown Bowl (foreground) and the Mount of the Holy Cross (background) seen while hiking Vail in summer.

I descended the Eagle Bahn back to the village. From there it was a 20 minute stroll along Gore Creek and through the Village back towards Gondola One. In true Vail fashion, you can treat yourself to a gourmet meal at myriad spots in town. That said, I opted for a couple slices of pizza at Vendetta’s, near the main lift.

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