I WANTED to backpack somewhere unreachable by car, to hike an unknown trail — and not have to drive too far from Denver. The Gore Lake Trail near Vail, Colorado, looked like the perfect option.

With cars on the highway still in sight, my hiking partner Tyler and I pull into a small parking, lace up dirt-caked boots, lift packs onto our backs, and make our way towards the trailhead. The Gore Lake Trail is a 12-mile round-trip route in the Eagles Nest Wilderness, which leads through rolling meadows, aspen groves, dense pine forests, fields of alpine wildflowers, up to a sparkling alpine lake.


The dirt path of Gore Lake begins fairly steeply and takes the hiker into pines, aspens, and meadows brimming with wildflowers. It winds over grassy hillsides and between groves as it follows the Gore Creek. At about a mile in, there's a rocky overlook with a cascading view of the creek.


With a section of the Gore Range in sight and the clouds looming above us, Tyler and I make our way along the well-defined path. We keep a close look at the sky as we walk towards the pine forest and a bridge that sits about 1.8 miles in.


The first section of the trail stays fairly consistent in elevation gain. After reaching a well-marked split, which guides hikers left, we start up a 700-foot elevation gain over half a mile, though there are plenty of spots to view the falling creek, catch our breath, and sip on water.


We come into a field of wildflowers and sub-alpine forests as the terrain levels out. We decide to snarf down a snack as we catch our breath, and Tyler goes onto an epic overlook which has views of the ridgelines and jagged peaks of the Gore Range.


The final push to the lake is full of interspersed steep climbs, but the scenery keeps getting more impressive. Finished with our up-hill hike and ready to find a home for the night, we make our way past ponds and patches of wetland.


The beautiful weather means fellow campers, and we have to make our way up the rocky hillside to find an open campsite with an established fire ring. Our extra uphill effort pays off, and we set our tent up on a modest flat spot, with views of the emerald waters of Gore Lake.


The first morning sunlight illuminates our tent as Tyler boils water to rehydrate our dehydrated food. I look up to see a mama goat and her kid making their way down the boulders near us. We back up slowly to give them some space as they make their way down toward the water. Their calmness in our presence was a good reminder of why to practice the 7 Leave No Trace Principles, and we pay extra attention to our campsite cleanup.


We make our way to the edge of a Gore Lake. A few other campers skip rocks and wade ankle deep in the ice-cold water. We happen upon a fisherman. He tells us stories of his days fishing around the world, and although he hasn’t caught any so far, he reassures us the prize of his trip won't be in the fish he catches.


As we make our way back up to the camp, we work our way through the hillside’s brilliant shades of purple, yellow, and red wildflowers.


We looked at each other and know it's time to go back, but first we have to do something. We strip and jump in to water fed by the nearby snow pack. We scramble to get out and let the sun warm our bodies, readying ourselves for the journey back down the trail.