Your Guide to Backpacking Gore Lake, Colorado

Last Updated on April 5, 2024 by foxintheforest

A few years back my partner and I decided to camp at Gore Lake, Colorado for our anniversary. We packed our backpacking bags and headed out into the Gores to go on one of the most scenic backpacking trips in Colorado. Here’s your guide to Gore Lake.

After several years of exploring the Gores, I’ve done nearly every named trail in this pristine wilderness. Gore Lake is by far one of most beautiful lake hikes in Colorado and should be on everyone’s bucket list. As a resident expert, I put together this trail guide and trip report so you can plan the ultimate adventure at Gore Lake.

A large alpine lake named Gore Lake with jagged rocky peaks in the background.

Where is Gore Lake, Colorado?

You’ll find the Gore Lake Trailhead on the east side of I-70 in Vail along Bighorn Road. There are several trails from this parking area including Deluge Lake and the Gore Creek Trail (where the turn-off for Gore Lake is located).

The Gore Range stretches along the border between Summit and Eagle counties with Gore Pass in the north and Tenmile Creek in the south.

This rugged range’s striking peaks are complemented by the difficulty it takes to reach them. Access points are limited, trails are tough, and it takes a substantial amount of elevation gain to reach their commanding vistas.

The kicker: There isn’t a single peak in this range that makes the top 100 tallest mountains in Colorado. However, with plenty of serrated ridgelines and gravity-defying rock, the drama of this range makes up for the lack of elevation. These peaks scream mountaineering playground, and I have been captivated by them since I first laid eyes on the range.

Gore Range - Gore Lake

Practical Information for Gore Lake, Colorado

You can opt for a day trip to Gore Lake (long) or haul in your backpacking gear. Camping at Gore Lake is a magical experience. As one of the best backpacking trails in Colorado, spending the night at this lovely spot is worth the effort.

Mileage: 12.5 miles round trip
Elevation Gain: 2,890 feet. Most of the elevation gain is completed in the last 1.5 miles of the trail.
Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult
Trip Duration: 3 and half hours to reach the lake, 3 hours to descend back to the car.
Dog Friendly?: yes.
Red Tape: No campfires. Must pack out all toilet paper

Gore Lake Permit

All overnight hiking in the Eagles Nest Wilderness requires a permit. The good news is that permits are self-issuing at the wilderness boundary sign (typically along the trail). They are free and unlimited, so no advanced reservations are required.

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Here’s an insider look at my many trips to Gore Lake. You’ll get some insider secrets on hidden views and hot spots right here!

Hiking the Gore Lake Trail: A Trip Report

The trail starts off like most do in the Gores, rather boring and uneventful. Surrounded by foothills, the destination seems far off.

You meander around Gore Creek for the majority of the trail, until you reach the junction about four miles in with two prominently marked graves. We stopped here for some lunch, as we knew the next leg would be a struggle.

After snacking we started the grind. Surprised, I found the steep ascent to be relatively easy. I kept a good pace and felt great. Squirrel, on the other hand, experienced some trouble with the altitude.

However, all of the climbing quickly paid off as we passed through a few beautiful alpine valleys. The scenery gave Squirrel the mental boost he needed to reach the lake.

backpacking gore lake Colorado

Arriving at the lake, I had to pinch myself. I couldn’t believe how stunning the alpine bowl was. Pictures don’t even do it justice. During the first week of July, much of the basin was still snowed in. We managed to find a spot about as far from the lake as the snowfields would allow.

Since we opted for an earlier start, we had the entire place to ourselves for the majority of the day. Trust me, I’ll be back early next summer to tackle some of the incredible snow climbs in this basin.

Pro Tips for Hiking to Gore Lake

If you’re like me and you like to hike around where you end up, there are plenty of wonderful vistas along the ridgelines surrounding the lake. We circumnavigated most of the lake, gaining a rather steep ridgeline.

There are plenty of options to scramble and summit here, however, most routes would require class 3 scrambling at a minimum. If scrambling isn’t your thing, there are plenty of high points that don’t require the use of your hands, granted everything is quite steep here.

Camping at Gore Lake

There are ample high-altitude, backcountry camp spots at Gore Lake, Colorado. When you reach the lake, there are a few camp spots right near the trail. Alternatively, you can walk around the hiker’s right side of the lake for several spots that are set back 200 feet from the lake.

Keep in mind, that the Gore Range takes a while to melt out each year. Camping at Gore Lake is extremely limited until mid-July. Expect to see at least large patches of snow prior to mid-July.

Backpacking and hiking to Gore Lake should definitely be on your bucket list. This incredible trail offers scenic mountain beauty that you have to see to believe.

Local Tip: Campfires are prohibited at the lake, so pack plenty of layers!

When to Visit Gore Lake?

The Gore Range holds snow well into summer. Due to avalanche concerns and the steep nature of the Gore Lake Trail, you’ll want to attempt to reach this beautiful spot when it’s mostly melted out.

By the 4th of July, you’ll typically be able to snag a few key camping spots at Gore Lake. When we visited in the last week of June, there was just enough clear ground to avoid camping on the snow.

The best time to visit Gore Lake is between mid-July through early September. The trail will be mostly snow-free, the wildflowers are blooming, and the lake is something out of a fairy tale.

The Spirit of the Gores

One major draw of the Gores for many alpinists and backpacking enthusiasts is the lack of people. With no 14,000-foot peaks, much of this range goes unnoticed by most people. And I have to admit, I like it that way.

There’s a special kind of person that visits the Gores. The kind of person who doesn’t mind long approaches, excessive vertical, poorly marked trails, and bushwhacking.

The spirit of the Gores is to go and explore them for yourself. They are a place for experienced mountaineers, climbers, and backpackers to put their skills to the test. Conducting a play-by-play simply destroys that spirit.

However, with that being said, the Gore Lake Trail is arguably the most popular and well-maintained trails in the range, so if you have what it takes to hike this difficult trail, then Gore Lake is a great introduction to the range.

A woman is backpacking to Gore Lake while wearing shorts in a lush alpine meadow with a large backpack.

Additional Colorado Backpacking and Hiking Resources:

Bucket list backpacking loop in Colorado. Best backpacking trail in Colorado. Scenic backpacking in Colorado. Intermediate backpacking trail. #backpacking #wildernesscamping #colorado #travel
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Meg Atteberry

Meg is a long-time Colorado local and outdoor industry professional. She's spent the last 15 years hiking, climbing, mountaineering, and canyoneering all over Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and Nevada in search of the best views. She's written for Outside Magazine, REI, Backpacker Magazine, and appeared on the Weather Channel.

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Meg Atteberry standing on a mountain sticking her tongue out

Meg aka Fox is a 30-something who's born to explore. Toddler mom, queer, and neuro-spicy her favorite things to do are climb in the alpine and camp in the desert. Her mission is to get you out on your greatest adventure.