Shrine Ridge Trail: Hiking, Wildflowers & Birding in Vail, CO

The Shrine Ridge Trail is a moderate 4.8 mile round trip that climbs almost 900 feet to 11,905 feet. Summer wildflowers, birds and sweeping views reward the hiker.

Just an hour’s drive from Denver, Summit County offers a range of mountain experience throughout the year. Home to 4 major ski areas, Keystone, Breckenridge, Arapahoe Basin and Copper Mountain, the county is best known for winter recreation. Summer activities are also popular, especially fishing, mountain biking and hiking. Wildflowers are abundant in the summer, as are resident and migratory birds.

Wildflowers and Birding in Summit County, Colorado

Dozens of high country hikes are available in Summit County, providing a full range of ratings from easy to extreme. Some, like Lower Cataract Lake, offer spectacular waterfalls, and most, like Loveland Pass, showcase phenomenal mountain views.

From June through August, wildflowers proliferate throughout the county, providing nature enthusiasts and photographers added reason to hike the trails. In addition, migratory and resident birds breed and raise their young in the summer, drawing birders to the same trails. One of the more popular summer trails is a 2 plus mile climb to Shrine Ridge.

Getting to the Shrine Ridge Trail from Denver, Colorado

From Denver, take Interstate highway I-70 west to exit 190, 15 miles west of the Silverthorne/Dillon exit. Exit 190 is also the exit for the Vail Pass rest area, and you will see a sign on the adjacent dirt road to Shrine Pass.

Follow the Shrine Pass road 2.3 miles to a parking area on the left. The road is dirt and rough in some spots, but is easily driven with any automobile. From the parking area, follow a trail on the left side to the gated entry to Shrine Mountain Inn. Hikers can reach the Shrine Ridge summit by crossing the Shrine Mountain Inn property on the marked trail or by following a forest service trail to the left of the gate. There are 3 communal cabins at the Inn, so please respect the privacy of guests if you choose to cross the Inn’s grounds.

Hiking to Shrine Ridge via the Shrine Mountain Inn

Passing around the Inn’s gate, follow the road, staying to the right of the one fork. A sign 4 tenths of a mile from the parking lot points left toward a toilet/restroom. Follow this trail past the toilet and on through the Inn property to a signed junction with the forest service trail, a little over a mile from the parking lot. The ridge summit is only about a mile and a quarter from this sign, although nearly 600 feet of vertical climb remain.

The trail crosses some wetlands and a treed meadow area. Wildflowers carpet the ground around the trail, including Fireweed, Elephant’s Head, Giant Red and Western Indian Paintbrush, Rocky Mountain Fringed Gentian and Silvery Lupine. From the meadow, the trail climbs through a forested area, levels out briefly, and then climbs a steep ascent up the ridge. Once on the ridge, the trail turns right and makes a final short climb to the highest point, 11,905 feet, about 2.4 miles from the parking lot.

The 360 degree views from the summit are magnificent. Hikers are rewarded with spectacular views of the Ten Mile range, Sawatch range and Gore range. To the southwest lie Colorado’s 2 highest peaks, Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive. Directly to the west is Mount of the Holy Cross, with its obvious cross of snow, and for which Shrine Pass and Shrine Ridge were named. A beautiful rock wall lies below and to the east of the ridge, and makes a stunning photographic subject late in the day.

The Birds Along the Shrine Ridge Trail

Gray Jays are friendly and common along the first half of the trail, where American Robins, Northern Flickers, Pine Grosbeaks and Clark’s Nutcracker can also be found. White-crowned sparrow families frequent the meadow’s streams, and Yellow-rumped and Wilson’s Warblers can be spotted in the stream-side shrubs.

Once the trail enters the wooded area, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Mountain Chickadees and Hairy Woodpeckers can be seen. Fewer birds are observed on the upper slopes of the ridge, but Dark-eyed Juncos are common near the summit.

Shrine Ridge Trail a Colorful Summertime Hike

With so many scenic destinations in Colorado, those with limited time will not be disappointed by choosing the Shrine Ridge Trail. Spectacular views, summer wildflowers and migratory birds are all to be found along this alpine hike.