Location: Vail, Colorado
Distance from Denver: 79 miles (~1.5-2 hours depending on traffic) ♡ ♡
Hike: 3.2 miles (one way); then take the gondola back down (free; check the schedule for closing times) ♡ ♡
Difficulty: Hard ♡
Parking Situation: Large lot with free shuttle service to Lionshead Village ♡ ♡ ♡
Parking Fee: N/A
This hike was a doozy! On paper, a three mile hike sounds pretty easy, but factor in a steep climb and that is where things get dicey.
Let's rewind to the beginning, shall we? We first went to Vail together last year and rode the Eagle Bahn gondola up Vail mountain. It was gorgeous and we both loved the sweeping views at the top! Fast forward to this year, we thought it might be a good idea to hike up the mountain and then take the gondola back down.
Yeah, I'll be the first to admit it was a very half-baked idea. What AllTrails fails to mention in its moderate rating is that the incline is brutal and it will wear you down. And we were certainly not ready for it (not sure what I was thinking - like duh YOU ARE HIKING UP A SKI SLOPE). The first quarter of a mile is straight up and my goodness it burns your quads and calves like no other! The trail then flattens out as you go through the forest, then there is another incline where the Berry Picker trail meets the mountain bike trail. Repeat this pattern about 5 times and you are at the top of the mountain!
There are so many wildflowers in bloom that the forest has this delicate perfume-y scent which we could not get enough of!
The spectacular views really start to emerge during the last mile of the hike. The views are absolutely sweeping and you definitely do not get the same awe-inspiring feeling when you ride the gondola. There's honestly no way to describe how small, yet accomplished you feel as you hike up the mountain. We both loved how we had the trail relatively to ourselves; most of the tourists ride the gondola which we envied for the first two miles of the hike, but quickly changed our minds once the landscape opened up.
Once you see the bear totem pole, you are within the last mile of the hike! It doesn't feel like it, but you are almost to the top! Just past here on a switchback, you will start to see curious tourists that wander down a little ways from the top, but it doesn't compare to the great feeling of accomplishment that we worked so hard to get to experience these views.
Once you reach the top, you are greeting by the many tourists that partake in the "adventure zone" area. They have tubing, jungle gyms, go-karting, and an alpine slide set up to entertain all of the kiddos that visit each year with their parents. We didn't want to mingle with the crowds, so we took a few pictures at the viewing deck overlooking the Mount of the Holy Cross ...
... & walked past the Vail wedding deck to the little trail that we got engaged at! To my surprise the trail is fully paved now (it was gravel last year) and has a lot of informational activities along the side. One of our favorites was an interactive exhibit showing the different strides of moose when they walk or run (up to 8 feet!). We naturally had to try our hand at matching their stride which was hilarious! (PSST - if you look closely, you can see the hanger on Brandon's face. He was pretty ready to head back down for dinner!)
Unless you really want to hike back down the mountain, we highly suggest riding the Eagle Bahn gondola back down (free for the way down, not up). It was surreal for us because the last time we rode it was when we were still dating and little did I know that Brandon was going to propose that afternoon!
Overall, we absolutely enjoyed our day (see our complete guide to Vail here!) and have no regrets hiking the Berry Picker Trail...although next time, we will just take the gondola :)