Buffalo Mountain, Buffalo Mountain - Lily Pad Lake Trailhead, Summit County - Eagle County - Clear Creek County, Colorado
Buffalo Mountain - 5.5 miles
Buffalo Mountain - Lily Pad Lake Trailhead
|Round-Trip Length:||5.5 miles|
|Start-End Elevation:||9,774' - 12,777' (12,777' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||+3,003' net elevation gain (+3,042' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
Buffalo Mountain - 5.5 Miles Round-Trip
Buffalo Mountain is located in the Eagles Nest Wilderness, a prominent summit over Silverthorne CO with commanding views across South Willow Creek basin, Salt Lick Gulch, Red Peak, Eccles Pass, Red Buffalo Pass and the Gore and Ten Mile ranges.
The Buffalo Mountain Trail is fairly short but strenuous, gaining over 3000' in just 2.75 miles. Portions of the trail negotiate steep switchbacks and rugged talus fields above treeline, which require careful time management and equal exertion on the descent.
Start early for a comfortable pace, and extra time to explore the large summit. Visitors will enjoy long stretches of open tundra, and a good chance to see mountain goat in prime habitat:
The trail heads northwest on a moderate grade past the Eagles Nest Wilderness Boundary (.35 miles : 9,974') to the Buffalo Mountain Trail - South Willow Creek Trail split (.6 miles : 9,993').
The Buffalo Mountain Trail bends southwest and steepens on a wide, rocky path past two nondescript cabin remains. It narrows just past the second remain (1.05 miles : 10,355') and begins an arduous climb up steep, tightly wound switchbacks.
The trail rises quickly into a high subalpine forest, which thins to an abrupt break on the edge of a sprawling talus field (1.7 miles : 11,395'). A large cairn marks this important transition, at which point you'll ignore a false spur to the left and head straight into the rock field.
Travel slows considerably on a winding, uneven route through the talus. Cairns lead the way, but blend seamlessly with the landscape. Keep track of your progress, avoid deviating from the designated path and pass carefully over loose rock.
The trail reaches a ridge and bends northwest, where it leaves the talus for a welcome reprieve in the open tundra (2.1 miles : 12,029').
While terrain is friendlier the grade is not, curling steeply through open tundra on the mountain's northeast slope. Views include Eccles Pass (11,917'), Red Peak (13,189') and South Willow Creek basin. Look for mountain goat, marmot, ptarmigan and elk in this high alpine environment.
The trail grows rocky on the final approach to Buffalo Mountain's summit (2.75 miles : 12,777'), which is long, narrow and rugged. Social paths continue south to its bulbous southern tip, a deceptively long and rigorous scramble.
Mountain Goats range across North America's northern mountains, with large populations in Idaho, Montana and British Columbia .
They were introduced to Colorado in 1947 to bolster the state's hunting allure, though debate continues regarding their indigenous status. Mountain Goat live in small groups at high elevations, feeding on alpine tundra grasses, mosses, lichens and sedges.
Billies can weigh up to 300 pounds, and nannies are somewhat smaller. Both have sharp black horns that can reach 12 inches. Heavily cushioned, skid-proof hooves give them exceptional balance and traction, and double-layered wool coats can withstand extreme weather conditions.
Since they rarely venture below treeline, they have few natural predators. Avalanches and rocks slides are their primary concern, though eagles are known to knock smaller animals off cliffs, and mountain lion have some success hunting in their lower range.
- N39 37.213 W106 06.590 — Buffalo Cabin - Buffalo Mountain Trailhead
- N39 37.348 W106 06.902 — .35 miles : Enter Eagles Nest Wilderness
- N39 37.404 W106 07.155 — .6 miles : Buffalo Mountain - South Willow Creek split
- N39 37.141 W106 07.411 — 1.0 miles : Cabin ruin - begin steep switchbacks
- N39 37.217 W106 07.809 — 1.5 miles : Rapid climb through high subalpine forest
- N39 37.174 W106 07.898 — 1.7 miles : Forest breaks - begin travel through talus
- N39 37.206 W106 08.107 — 2.0 miles : Northwest bend marks transition out of talus
- N39 37.143 W106 08.443 — 2.4 miles : Rocky approach in open tundra to summit
- N39 36.974 W106 08.575 — 2.75 miles : Buffalo Mountain summit
- Arrive early to secure parking, avoid crowds and afternoon thunderstorms. Be mindful of changing weather patterns and leave the summit well before storms develop. Manage time wisely, and account for a slow descent back through the talus to reach treeline.
- Hiking poles and sturdy footwear are highly recommended to assist with steep grades and uneven terrain.
- Mountain Goat, ptarmigan and marmot are frequently seen on the high slopes of Buffalo Mountain. Scan the lower tundra, South Willow Creek drainage and Salt Lick Gulch area for elk, moose and bear.
Camping and Backpacking Information
- Dispersed backcountry camping is permitted in the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area. No permit is necessary. Camping is prohibited within 100' of any lake or stream. Group size is limited to 15 individuals.
- Free flowing water is limited along the Buffalo Mountain Trail. Adequately treat all water and be sure pumps are working to capacity prior to setting out.
- Campfires are permitted for dispersed camping in the backcountry, with potential seasonal restrictions. Campfires are not permitted above or within .25 miles (440 yards) of treeline, or within 100' of any lake or stream in the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area.
- Contact the Dillon Ranger District (970.468.5400) for the latest on weather, trail conditions and trail-specific usage guidelines when planning your trip. The office is open M - F from 8am - 4pm.
- For those not wishing to camp in the backcountry, there are several developed campgrounds within the White River National Forest. Contact the Dillon Ranger District for information on these sites.
- Fishing is permitted with a valid Colorado fishing license.
Rules and Regulations
- Dogs are permitted on the Buffalo Mountain Trail and within the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area. Dogs must be on a leash no longer than 6'.
- Horses are permitted on the Buffalo Mountain Trail.
- Bikes are not permitted on the Buffalo Mountain Trail. There is a $525 fine for riding bikes on this trail.
Directions to Trailhead
Buffalo Mountain is located within the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area and Dillon Ranger District of the White River National Forest. The Buffalo Mountain - Lily Pad Lake Trailhead is located 3.6 miles west of Silverthorne, Colorado on Wildernest Road.
From I-70, exit #205 at Silverthorne and travel north on HWY 9 to the first traffic light, which is Wildernest Road. Turn west on Wildernest Road, which turns into Ryan Gulch Road. Continue on Ryan Gulch Road up the winding hill past numerous condo complexes. At the top of the hill there is a parking area on the left for Buffalo Cabin. The trail begins on the north end of the parking area. A second trailhead, located 50 yards south of this first parking area, leads to Lily Pad Lake.
Dillon Ranger District
680 Blue River Parkway
Silverthorne, CO 80498
M - F from 8am - 4pm
White River National Forest
900 Grand Ave.
P.O. Box 948
Glenwood Springs CO 81602