You'll start in the tiny town of Minturn, then head up the Game Creek Trail
to Eagle's Nest in Vail (a great place to stop to take in the views and refuel).
From Eagle's Nest, keep ascending past Avanti, Wildwood, and Mountain Top lifts and come to the top of Vail's famed Back Bowls, at seven miles and 3,500 feet of gain.
From here, descend on Sleepytime Road through Sun Up Bowl, Sun Down Bowl, Tea Cup Bowl, and China Bowl, then turn down Two Elk Trail
for a beautiful singletrack journey through fields of flowers. You'll pop out at the base of Two Elk Trail
, where you'll have a 3-mile run on an easy and undulating dirt road with spectacular views of the back side of Vail, followed by a final 1.5-mile stretch down Main Street - ending at the Minturn Saloon.
Start from the Minturn Saloon, and head up the road toward the Lionshead trailhead. Head up the Game Creek Trail
, and cross a bridge to begin your climb in earnest. About 0.5 miles in, stay to the left to continue up Game Creek while the Cougar Ridge
trail cuts to the right. This section will alternate between steep uphill and some flatter sections; there are a few points where you can easily get water from Game Creek.
2.5 miles in, the trail will turn sharply left and you'll begin ascending through an aspen grove. This section has been recently redesigned (2021) so stay alert to logs across the main trail, indicating that an alternate route has been cut. You'll switchback up until you can see the majestic Game Creek Bowl to your right, then the trail will head toward Game Creek Bowl and pop you out on the access road. From here, it's a relatively easy 0.25 miles to Eagle's Nest (mile 5.5 and about 2,500 feet of gain), where you can get water, food / drinks, use a real bathroom, and even stop on the patio for some people watching while you refuel.
When you're ready to keep ascending, loop around the back of the trapeze area and then make your way up the access road toward the top of Avanti lift. You'll pass a few sun decks that would make great and more secluded spots to catch a break. When you get to the top of Wildwood Express, you'll reach a bit of a plateau that will give you a nice break - look to your left for some stunning views of the Gore Range. The access road will at first seem easy, but look ahead and discover you'll have a pretty brutal 0.25-mile stretch to the top of Mountain Top Express lift. While this uphill is tough, remind yourself that you are approaching the high point of the climb - it will be nearly all downhill on the other side!
Pass the top of Mountain Top Express Lift, and don't forget to take a picture under the wooden arch that proclaims you are at Vail's famed Back Bowls. Head through the arch and down the meadow to reach Sleepytime Road, a gloriously runnable dirt road that will wind through Tea Cup Bowl and China Bowl for three miles. Just before the hairpin turn at the bottom of China Bowl, you'll see the Orient Express lift station on the other side; turn sharply to the right to follow a singletrack mountain biking trail to the bottom of Tea Cup Express and Skyline Express Lifts. Say goodbye to Vail terrain - you've just run all the way across the Back Bowls, a trip that many people complain is too far to ski :)
At the base of Skyline Express, your unnamed singletrack trail will join up with the Two Elk Trail
. (If your legs aren't tired yet, you can turn left to head up Two Elk to the top of Mongolia Bowl for a few more thousand feet of gain.) Head right to descend Two Elk Trail
and complete the loop. Be alert for downhill mountain bikers on this section!
About two miles past Skyline Express, you'll come to a sign telling you Minturn is three miles ahead (or hike 30 minutes to the right to get to the base of Chair 5) - this is spot on, with the three-mile mark coming right as you reach the Two Elk Trail
. Keep descending, and two miles past that, you'll cross a bridge over the creek. You're almost there! You may hear gunshots from the shooting range at the trailhead, but don't let that deter you; they are shooting the opposite direction of the trail.
You'll finally reach the trailhead, and now you've got just an undulating two mile dirt road to traverse, which will end at the Minturn Bike Park. Stay to the left on the now-paved road, which will bring you past the Starlite Drive-In Theater and Little Beach Park. Cross the blue bridge (look left and right for beautiful views of the Eagle River) and take a right on Highway 6, then cruise one final mile down the sidewalk back to the Minturn Saloon. Then post up and grab a margarita - you earned it!