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

Looking west across Eccles Pass and South Willow Creek basin from Buffalo Mountain

Looking west across Eccles Pass and South Willow Creek basin from Buffalo Mountain

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)
Skill Level: Strenuous
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

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.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

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
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.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • 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

Worth Noting

  • 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 Information

  • 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.

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.


"Parking Warning! If you park anywhere other than the parking lot. They will give you a $50 ticket. There is a place about a half-mile down the road that looks like you can park there. False. You may not. Other than getting a ticket, this hike was beautiful. The boulder field was rough, we got a little lost coming down and it got a little scary, but we found our way back to the trail. I would wear long pants and hiking boots so your legs and feet don't get scratched up. The views from the top were fantastic. Two mama goats and their babies decided to join us for lunch at the top. We didn't feed them, of course, they just appeared and hung out until we left."
Lisa  -  Denver, CO  -  Date Posted: August 26, 2019
"This was by far the most grueling climb of the season because of the deep snow in the talus/boulder field part of the climb. Staying on the rocks was essential to avoid deep post holing up to the waist. At times we had to crawl on our hands and knees to avoid deep holes in the snow. It was way harder coming down than going up. Views from the summit were magnificient on a perfect day for weather. It felt like a winter ascent with how much snow was on the trail and between the rocks. "
Tom Pileggi  -   -  Date Posted: October 13, 2018
"Did anybody hiked it to the summit this winter? the trail closer to the tree line was not very packed and snow was really deep..."
Inna  -  Denver, CO  -  Date Posted: January 23, 2016
"We had a fantastic time on this hike. As described, it can be a bit strenuous. We also camped at Lily Pad lake (below Buffalo Mountain) and had a moose encounter. I highly recommend this trail and area!!"
D.J.  -  Kentucky  -  Date Posted: September 8, 2015
"Description is good but distances can't be right, esp thru talus field which is way more than 03 mi. Gps gives you pt to pt not the whole length of the trail. "
victor gold  -  californis  -  Date Posted: July 5, 2012


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