Vail Day Trips: Exploring the Flat Tops from Edwards

Cover Photo: Trappers Lake in the Flat Tops Wilderness | Photo Credit: Blaine Harrington III

Welcome to the adventure of a lifetime! Nestled in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, just a short drive from Edwards, Colorado, lies a natural wonder waiting to be discovered: the Flat Tops Wilderness. In this article, we'll take you on a virtual journey to explore the beauty and majesty of the Flat Tops and share why a day trip to this remarkable destination should be on your bucket list. 

Discovering the Flat Tops

Stretching across more than 235,000 acres of pristine lakes, streams, and alpine tundra, the Flat Tops Wilderness Area is a true gem. This expansive landscape, characterized by its vast plateaus and rugged peaks, offers a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. Whether you're an avid hiker, a wildlife enthusiast, or a nature lover, the Flat Tops have something for everyone.

One of the most remarkable features of the Flat Tops is its namesake, the flat-topped mountains that give the area its unique character. These ancient volcanic basalt flows, sculpted by time and weather, create a mesmerizing tableau of towering cliffs, deep canyons, and cascading waterfalls. As you traverse the trails, you'll be greeted by breathtaking vistas that seem to stretch on forever, revealing nature's grandeur at every turn.


Flat-Topped Mountains in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area | Photo Credit: iStock Images

A Day Trip Adventure

Embarking on a day trip from the Vail Valley to the Flat Tops promises an exhilarating experience. Lace up your hiking boots, pack your camera, and get ready to be amazed! Your journey starts from Edwards, where you'll wind your way through picturesque valleys and along the meandering Eagle River, soaking in the stunning views of the surrounding mountains.

As you venture deeper into the wilderness, the trails of the Flat Tops beckon. Choose from a variety of hiking options ranging from leisurely strolls to challenging summit ascents. The Devil's Causeway, a narrow ridge with sheer drops on either side, offers an adrenaline rush for the brave-hearted, while Trappers Lake, known as the "Cradle of Wilderness," offers serenity and solitude amidst its pristine beauty.

While exploring the Flat Tops, keep an eye out for the abundant wildlife that calls this area home. Majestic elk, elusive mountain goats, and playful marmots are just a few of the fascinating creatures you might encounter along the way. The wilderness provides a sanctuary for these animals, and glimpsing them in their natural habitat is a humbling experience that reminds us of the delicate balance of nature.


Fly Fishing on the North Fork Near Trappers Lake | Photo Credit: George H. H. Huey

The Devil’s Causeway

The Flat Tops Wilderness Area offers a plethora of incredible trails, each with its own unique appeal. While popularity may vary depending on personal preferences and the time of year, one of the most renowned and popular trails in the Flat Tops is the Devil's Causeway Trail.

The Devil's Causeway Trail is an exhilarating and challenging adventure that draws hikers from all over the world. This trail features a narrow, exposed ridge with steep drops on either side, offering stunning panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. It provides a thrilling experience for those seeking a bit of adrenaline and a chance to test their courage.

The trailhead for Devil's Causeway can be accessed from the Stillwater Reservoir area, offering a moderate to difficult 7-mile round trip hike. The journey begins with a gradual ascent through picturesque meadows and forests, gradually leading to the highlight of the trail—the narrow ridge known as the Devil's Causeway. As you navigate the spine-tingling section, you'll feel like you're walking on a knife's edge, surrounded by jaw-dropping beauty.

The Devil's Causeway Trail is known for its dramatic views and the sense of accomplishment it offers to hikers who conquer it. However, it's important to note that this trail requires experience, proper preparation, and caution due to its exposed nature. It's advisable to check weather conditions, bring appropriate gear, and be aware of your own limits before attempting this hike.

While the Devil's Causeway Trail is popular, there are numerous other remarkable trails in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area that cater to varying skill levels and interests. Trappers Lake Trail, for example, is a scenic and less demanding option, offering a serene and picturesque experience. It leads hikers through wildflower meadows, dense forests, and along the tranquil shores of Trappers Lake, known as the "Cradle of Wilderness."

For those seeking a longer and more challenging trek, the Chinese Wall Trail is another notable option. This 15-mile round trip trail leads to a stunning vertical cliff face resembling the Great Wall of China. Along the way, hikers can marvel at cascading waterfalls, lush greenery, and the grandeur of the surrounding mountains.

Each trail in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area holds its own allure, captivating visitors with its unique features and natural beauty. Whether you choose the Devil's Causeway Trail, Trappers Lake Trail, Chinese Wall Trail, or any of the other fantastic options, you'll be treated to an unforgettable adventure in the heart of Colorado's Rocky Mountains.


The Devil's Causeway Trail | Photo Credit: Darin Colvey

Getting to the Flat Tops

Reaching the Flat Tops Wilderness area from Edwards, Colorado offers various options for adventure-seekers. Many people simply make the drive, which allows you to follow scenic routes and explore at your own pace. Alternatively, local shuttle services provide convenient transportation, eliminating the need for driving and parking concerns. A drive to the Flat Tops Wilderness Area from Edwards will take you about an hour.

When embarking on a day trip to the Flat Tops, it's essential to pack accordingly. Bring plenty of water, snacks, and a packed lunch for sustenance throughout the day. Don't forget to wear sturdy hiking boots, dress in layers for changing weather conditions, and carry essentials such as sunscreen, insect repellent, a hat, sunglasses, and a camera to capture the breathtaking scenery. It's also wise to carry a trail map, compass, and a fully charged cell phone for navigation and safety purposes.

Driving Route:

  • Take I-70 or U.S. Route 6 until you reach the town of Eagle, Colorado.
  • In Eagle, take a right onto Eby Creek Road and follow the signs for Sylvan Lake State Park.
  • From Sylvan Lake State Park, you can access various trailheads within the Flat Tops Wilderness Area. Check the specific trail you intend to hike to determine the best access point from Sylvan Lake.

Google Maps Directions

If you prefer not to drive, you can consider using shuttle services that operate in the Vail Valley area. Contact local shuttle companies or check with your hotel in Edwards to inquire about shuttle services that offer transportation to the Flat Tops Wilderness Area. These shuttle services typically provide convenient pick-up and drop-off locations, allowing you to relax and enjoy the journey without worrying about navigation or parking.

Regardless of the route you choose, it's recommended to have a map or GPS navigation system handy to ensure you stay on the right path. Additionally, it's essential to check road conditions, closures, and any necessary permits before heading to the Flat Tops. Be prepared for mountainous terrain, potential wildlife sightings, and changing weather conditions, especially at higher elevations.

The Flat Tops near Vail are a hidden gem in the Rocky Mountains, just waiting to be explored. From the awe-inspiring flat-topped mountains to the exhilarating hiking trails and abundant wildlife, the Flat Tops offer an adventure like no other. Whether you're seeking solitude, a thrilling outdoor experience, or a chance to reconnect with nature, a summer or fall day trip to the Flat Tops from the Vail Valley is an absolute must.