A unique, scenic and really fun four-wheel drive trail, used frequently by bikers, hikers and four-wheelers. This trail starts from the heart of Vail Village, and runs right up the face of the ski mountain, switching back on the international race hill aptly named "International".
This section is the best place in the area for large scale pictures of Vail Village and the beautiful Gore Range to the east. The first portion of the trail is a graded dirt road, and many ski resort trucks and mountain bikes race through this area... watch out!!
The road takes you past several small waterfalls and creeks, and is lush and green in the summertime. At 5 1/2 miles from the start, you'll see a major spur road to the left (east)--take this trail, it is the start of Benchmark (you can't continue on the ski mountain road from this point due to a locked gate with no access to public vehicles).
At this point, the road becomes a true four-wheel drive road, and it gets continually tougher, culminating with a very steep and bumpy climb to the summit.
There is an abundance of wildlife on this trail, keep your eyes open and you may see any variety. From the turnoff onto Benchmark, there are NUMEROUS spurs--always take the left fork!! Other spurs quickly become mud bogs or end at hunting camps.
Take your time, and stay out of the ruts to avoid becoming high centered. The road finishes with a very steep hill climb to the top of the world with 360 degree views. This mountaintop often hosts large herds of sheep, their herders and dogs... a neat experience. Follow the road around, it will loop back to the start of the last steep climb. Backtrack your way to Vail Village.
Be sure to watch out for heavy traffic on this road. Bikers especially tend to travel fast, and aren't always aware of traffic! There are many "speed bumps" on the start of the four-wheel drive section. These large mounds with deep dips after them are for water flow. Be sure to travel them slowly, as the dip size varies, and can do damage to shocks and undercarriages of vehicles!
The last 2 miles of this road can be snowy or wet. Do not attempt under these conditions as large ruts and holes will be hidden and potentially can cause major problems! Be sure to use "4-low" and gear down appropriately before attempting the last steep climb to avoid slipping and spinning.