Red Buffalo Pass, Buffalo Mountain - Lily Pad Lake Trailhead, Summit County - Eagle County - Clear Creek County, Colorado

Red Buffalo Pass - 11.2 miles

Buffalo Mountain - Lily Pad Lake Trailhead

Looking over Red Buffalo Pass from the slopes of Red Peak

Looking over Red Buffalo Pass from the slopes of Red Peak

Round-Trip Length: 11.2 miles
Start-End Elevation: 9,774' - 11,742' (11,742' max elevation)
Elevation Change: +1,968' net elevation gain (+3,124' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Strenuous
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: Yes
Related Trails:

Red Buffalo Pass - 11.2 Miles Round-Trip

Red Buffalo Pass is located in the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area and Dillon Ranger District of the White River National Forest. Red Buffalo Pass spans a divisive ridge between the South Willow Creek basin (east) and Gore Creek drainage (west).

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

The pass offers commanding views that include Eccles Pass, 1.5 miles south along the same ridge. Red Buffalo Pass is the primary east-west route for thru-hikes between Silverthorne and Vail.

Visitors will enjoy good fishing and camping along South Willow Creek, and several waterfalls and alpine lakes en route to the pass:

The trail heads northwest to the Eagles Nest Wilderness Boundary (.35 miles : 9,974') and Buffalo Mountain Trail - South Willow Creek Trail split (.6 miles : 9,993').

The South Willow Creek Trail levels to a small talus field (.8 miles), just over which a notched tree marks the way. A few steps up the trail makes a hard right turn and drops sharply on a rocky path, beginning a shifting series of rugged undulations.

Look for arrows, cairns and tree notches on this ill-defined segment. South Willow Creek is soon audible, confirming you're on the right track. Travel eases to a bridge over South Willow Creek (1.65 miles : 9,621') and the Gore Range Trail junction (1.8 miles : 9,678').

The Gore Range Trail turns west and rises steadily to the South Willow Falls Trail split (2.35 miles : 10,037'), then steepens away on switchbacks. Avoid spurs that turn back to the creek.

The trail straightens above a deep, narrow gulch carved by South Willow Creek between Buffalo Mountain (south) and Red Peak (north). It moderates through the gap to a clearing (2.9 miles : 10,405') between the creek and base of a rock slide.

The trail re-enters timber (3.25 miles : 10,432') and resumes a moderately steep, rugged pace up the south flank of Red Peak.

The trail bends southwest (4.45 miles : 11,186') in a thinning forest to treeline (4.8 miles : 11,356'). It emerges in a vast alpine bench at the base of a north-south ridge connecting Eccles Pass and Red Buffalo Pass. Excellent camping terrain can be found throughout this area.

Travel continues on a faint path to a sparingly marked split on the edge of a large alpine pond (5.0 miles : 11,424'). Note that a clear path breaks north from this point - ostensibly the correct route - but it in fact soon fades in the grass.

To find the correct trail, head northwest over the pond and look for cairns - you'll soon find a clear-cut path that steepens up to Red Buffalo Pass (5.6 miles : 11,742').

Views range over South Willow Creek basin and Gore Creek valley. Eccles Pass (11,924') is located at the south end of the ridge, Buffalo Mountain (12,777') to the east and Grand Traverse to the west.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N39 37.213 W106 06.590 — 0.0 miles : Buffalo Cabin - Buffalo Mountain Trailhead
  • N39 37.404 W106 07.155 — .6 miles : Buffalo Mountain - South Willow Creek split
  • N39 37.658 W106 07.659 — 1.25 miles : Bear right to remain on trail
  • N39 37.878 W106 07.611 — 1.65 miles : Cross South Willow Creek
  • N39 37.948 W106 07.656 — 1.8 miles : Gore Range Trail junction
  • N39 37.814 W106 08.173 — 2.35 miles : Willow Falls Trail junction
  • N39 37.777 W106 08.558 — 2.75 miles : Climb thru gap between Red and Buff pk
  • N39 37.743 W106 08.968 — 3.15 miles : Travel through meadow and rockslide
  • N39 37.579 W106 09.407 — 2.0 miles : Rugged travel up Gore Range Trail
  • N39 37.406 W106 10.037 — 2.6 miles : Steady travel up valley
  • N39 37.216 W106 10.221 — 3.0 miles : Nearing treeline on SW bend in trail
  • N39 37.156 W106 10.253 — 4.8 miles : Break treeline in large alpine expanse
  • N39 37.017 W106 10.333 — 5.0 miles : Faint trail split at pond - bear NW
  • N39 37.216 W106 10.480 — 5.35 miles : Final approach on steep climb to pass
  • N39 37.389 W106 10.592 — 5.6 miles : Red Buffalo Pass

Worth Noting

  • Those with time should consider a short excursion to Eccles Pass, approximately .6 miles from the faint split by the alpine pond described above.

  • Snow may linger well into summer and obscure portions of the upper trail. Be patient with route finding and help minimize erosion by staying on the designated path.

  • Arrive early to secure parking, avoid crowds and afternoon thunderstorms. Be mindful of changing weather patterns and aim for treeline well before storms develop.

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 Information

  • Fishing is permitted with a valid Colorado fishing license.

Rules and Regulations

  • Dogs are permitted on the Buffalo Cabin 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 Buffalo Cabin Trail and Gore Range Trail.

  • Bikes are not permitted on the Buffalo Cabin or Gore Range Trail. There's a $525 fine for riding on this trail.

Directions to Trailhead

Red Buffalo Pass 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.

Contact Information

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

Trip Reports

There are no trip reports on this trail.


"Awesome. Buffalo Mountain is beautiful when approaching from the east and passing north and and the valley to the north west is full of wildflowers and views of peaks all around. We didn't actually go to Red Buffalo Pass; we continued past the pond (point 13 on the trail map) and went to Eccles Pass, which had fantastic views of Wichita Mountain and many others."
FunkShway  -  Boulder, CO  -  Date Posted: October 6, 2013


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