Shrine Ridge Trail is a 4.3 mile trail located near Vail Pass between Copper Mountain and Vail in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. It’s rated as moderate, and has about 1,000 feet in elevation gain. This hike is easily one of the best wildflowers hikes in the area, and it draws people from all over the state for a good reason – the trail offers stunning mountain views and endless wildflowers that really showcase all that the mountains have to offer. It’s called “Shrine” Ridge because it offers an excellent view of the Mount of the Holy Cross.
Note: Every time I hike Shrine Ridge Trail, I always see people sitting in the flowers for pictures. Don’t do this! It ruins the flowers and damages the fragile alpine environment, which can sometimes take years to recover to full strength. Follow the 7 principles of Leave no Trace and STAY ON THE TRAIL. Please. Let’s preserve this area for generations to come.
This trailhead can be accessed from either westbound or eastbound traffic on Hwy I-70, meaning you can come from either the Vail side or the Copper Mountain side (unlike nearby Wheeler Lakes which can only be accessed by westbound traffic). Take exit 190 towards the Vail Pass Summit and Rest Area.
From there, follow signs for Shrine Pass Road / Redcliff – this portion starts out as paved but quickly turns to red dirt, so if you’re still on a paved road after 50 yards, you’ve gone the wrong way. The pass was originally a Ute Indian trail and later serviced miners and settlers travelling in search of gold.
From the start of the dirt road, it’s about 2.3 miles to the trailhead, which is an obvious parking area on the left that has a vault toilet. Park in this lot, or if it’s full you can park along the road. In order to better guarantee you a parking space during peak season, visit early in the morning, or later in the day, and always avoid weekends.
The Hike – Shrine Ridge Trail
Access the trail near the vault toilet by continuing down the dirt road that leads into the trees. Just before the gate, take a left and this is where the trail begins. The very first section of the trail is relatively flat and easy, and offers great views looking east over a meadow towards the back of the 10 Mile mountain range and Copper Mountain. Pretty soon, the trail will start heading uphill, and this is where the elevation gain begins.
The trail will continue steadily upwards as it passes through pine forest and some smaller wildflower meadows. You will encounter a split in the trail with a unmarked post – continue straight uphill and do not turn right. This uphill section of the trail will continue for about 1.2 miles from the trailhead, at which point the trail will make a pretty decent U-shaped turn to the right. It will open up into a meadow with a rocky cliff on the left. Continue through this flatter section, which pretty soon turns into the most difficult portion of the hike.
Between approximately 1.3 and 1.6 miles, you’ll come across the most difficult elevation gain. It’s very doable, it’s just more difficult than the other elevation gain on the hike. Once you summit the saddle (you’ll see uphill on both your right and left), you’ll take the trail to the right and continue uphill just a little bit more – but you’re almost there! This is when you really start to see the wildflowers.
Somewhere around 1.8 miles, there will be another fork in the trail. Once you’re up on this ridge, you’re basically there in the thick of it and now it’s up to you where you explore. Take a right to see the best view on the hike, which includes a massive rock formation that looks like a red rock Titanic (see this post’s featured image at the top of the page). If you go left at the fork, this is where you’ll find the best wildflower meadows, which is my favorite spot to photograph the beautiful flowers. I highly recommend taking your time up here and exploring the many social trails that go in both directions, so you get to see the views and the flowers. Keep your eye out for marmot and lots of birds and hummingbirds zooming by you.
Note that this area is quite exposed, so you shouldn’t be up there in the afternoon when there’s a possibility of pop-up thunderstorms. The first time I hiked Shrine Ridge Trail, I got stuck in a lightning storm and had to hunker under a large boulder. It was scary! The second time I hiked this trail, I started super early and was heading down as thunderstorms were heading in. Despite my warnings, there was still tons of people heading uphill while storms were in the area. Don’t be that person!
We highly recommend Shrine Ridge trail not only as a casual hike, but also as one of the best wildflower viewing areas during peak season, which is typically the end of July. While some portions of this hike are more difficult than others, it’s very do-able, especially if you just take your time on the harder parts. Bring your camera, pack lots of water, and enjoy the wildflowers while exploring a beautiful ridge with great mountain views.