Willow Falls, Mesa Cortina Trailhead, Summit County - Eagle County - Clear Creek County, Colorado
Willow Falls - 8.7 Miles
Mesa Cortina Trailhead
|Round-Trip Length:||8.7 Miles|
|Start-End Elevation:||9,237' - 10,020' (10,042' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||+783' net elevation gain (+1,374' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
Willow Falls is located along South Willow Creek, just west of Silverthorne, CO in the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area.
South Willow Creek forms on the slopes connecting Eccles Pass and Red Buffalo Pass, flowing east through a narrow gap between Buffalo Mountain's steep north flank, and Red Peak's long east ridge.
This tiered cascade is tucked in a thick pine forest just off the Gore Range Trail; the upper fills a shallow pool, and the lower drops through a granite chute and expands in a meadow below Buffalo Mountain.
The following route connects the Mesa Cortina and Gore Range trails, a versatile 3-4 season route. Mild grades and good trail conditions are suitable for families, backpackers, runners and winter recreation.
The Mesa Cortina Trail heads north through aspen and open sage flats framed by Buffalo Mountain (12,777') and Red Peak (13,189') to the west, and Ptarmigan Peak (12,498') and the Williams Fork Mountains (east).
The trail steepens past the Eagles Nest Wilderness Boundary (.77 miles : 9,235') in a busy forest carpeted in yellow arnica, fireweed and deadfall. This food-rich understory attracts bear, deer, elk and grouse.
The trail dips across a tributary and veers left past a marked spur with no public access (2.25 miles : 9,433'). Here the Mesa Cortina Trail is joined by another unmarked trail that originates in downtown Silverthorne.
It continues on mild grades to South Willow Creek, just over which is the Gore Range Trail junction (2.75 miles : 9,425'). Bear left (west) on the GRT.
The GRT meanders up the north bank of South Willow Creek through expanding glades, where moose are frequently seen in a string of larger marshes and ponds hidden between the trail and creek.
The path grows rugged and narrows into the slot between Buffalo Mountain and Red Peak's east ridge, climbing steadily to the Buffalo Cabin Connector Trail junction (3.85 miles : 9,640').
It continues west on a steeper grade to the Willow Falls Trail split (4.3 miles : 10,035'), which branches left on an unmaintained but well-worn path to rock slabs bisecting the falls (4.35 miles : 10,020).
The midsection of Willow Falls are easily crossed, and social trails run up and down either side. Those with time should consider continuing on to Red Buffalo Pass, an additional 3.25 miles from the falls.
GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84View these GPS points on a Google Map
- N39 37.446 W106 04.923 — Mesa Cortina Trailhead
- N39 37.780 W106 05.217 — .5 miles : Mild travel thru aspen stands and sage fields
- N39 37.868 W106 05.458 — .78 miles : Eagles Nest Wilderness Boundary
- N39 37.898 W106 05.656 — 1.0 miles : Steep climb into thick forest
- N39 37.897 W106 06.183 — 1.5 miles : Grade moderates on northwest heading
- N39 38.225 W106 06.087 — 2.0 miles : Gradual descent to cross small creek
- N39 38.377 W106 06.196 — 2.25 miles : X creek and bear left to remain on trail
- N39 38.233 W106 06.732 — 2.75 miles : Mesa Cortina - Gore Range Trail junction
- N39 37.957 W106 07.328 — 3.5 miles : Level travel beside South Willow Creek
- N39 37.947 W106 07.656 — 3.85 miles : Buffalo Cabin Connector Trail junction
- N39 37.814 W106 08.169 — 4.3 miles : Willow Falls Trail split
- N39 37.760 W106 08.219 — 4.35 miles : Willow Falls
- Mild grades and good trail conditions are well suited for families, runners and winter recreation.
- There are many unmaintained but frequently used backcountry campsites between the Mesa Cortina Trailhead and Willow Falls area. Camping terrain is notably good west of the Gore Range Trail junction and along South Willow Creek.
- Moose inhabit this part of the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area. If you see one, allow it plenty of space and enjoy the sighting from a distance.
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.
- 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 Mesa Cortina Trail, Gore Range Trail and within the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area. Dogs must be on a leash no longer than 6'.
- Horses are permitted on the Mesa Cortina Trail and Gore Range Trail.
- Bikes and motorized vehicles are not permitted on the Mesa Cortina Trail or Gore Range Trail.
Willow Falls are located within the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area and Dillon Ranger District of the White River National Forest. The Mesa Cortina Trailhead is located 1.6 miles west of Silverthorne, Colorado on Aspen Drive.
From I-70, exit #205 at Silverthorne and head north on HWY 9 to the first traffic light, which is Wildernest Road. Turn left on Wildernest Road and travel .15 miles to Adams Drive. Make a right on Adams Drive, then an immediate left on Buffalo Mountain Drive. Continue .8 miles to Lakeview Drive. Make a right on Lakeview Drive and travel .5 miles until it makes a sharp left onto Aspen Drive. The Mesa Cortina Trailhead is located .1 miles on the right (north) side of the road on Aspen Drive. Note that Aspen Drive becomes Royal Redbird Drive past the Mesa Cortina Trailhead.
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