Aspen / Snowmass
February 11, 2004
(H) This strenuous yet popular hike leads through groves of aspen and pine to a high-mountain lake. From mid-June to mid-August, expect to see a virtual palette of wildflowers. Drive west on Highway 82 from Aspen, then turn onto Castle Creek Road from the roundabout. Drive 10 miles up the Castle Creek Valley until you see the Elk Mountain Lodge, a large log structure, on the left. The trailhead, and parking, are on the right. The trail starts steeply, switchbacking for about 1.5 miles before reaching a spruce stand where it levels out. Continue hiking to large meadow divided by aspen trees. The trail then rejoins the forest and rises more gently. About a half mile before the lake, the trail crosses areas of rock slides. The lake, at 11,365 feet, is just beyond the second slide. 6.4 miles roundtrip.
(H) The Braille Trail, the first of its kind when it was dedicated in 1967, was designed to offer blind visitors a feeling of independence in the natural world. Those who walk it are encouraged to feel, hear, inhale and even taste nature. The trail winds nearly a quarter mile through a dense spruce and fir forest and crosses a wooden footbridge over a mountain stream. Twenty-three stations along the way let visitors read (in Braille or in print) about the local flora, fauna and geological formations. The trail is located off Highway 82 on the way to Independence Pass about 10 miles from Aspen near milepost 55. .5 miles roundtrip.
(H) Given its proximity to the most-visited tourist attraction in Aspen, the Maroon Bells, this steep trail is well-tread. Many use it as a launching pad for backpack trips into the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. The trail starts at Maroon Lake; at the far end of the lake bear right to merge with the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Lake Trail. HIke this trail to Crater Lake. At the bulletin board near the lake, take the right fork, which climbs steadily through the trees up Minnihaha Gulch. In about a mile the trail exits the gulch into a vast alpine meadow. Buckskin Pass looms ahead. You’ll come to a sign for the Willow Lake trail junction in another half mile. Take the left fork, pass through a meadow and climb the steep switchbacks to Buckskin Pass, where you’ll be rewarded with a breathtaking panorama of the Elk Mountains. 9.6 miles roundtrip. Through Labor Day, the access to Maroon Lake is limited to shuttle buses only, from 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. daily. After Labor Day, the buses will run on weekends through September. Buses depart regularly from the base of Aspen Highlands. It’s $5.50 for adults, $3.50 for children six-16, free for children under six.
(H) This is a good backpacking hike with access to many other wilderness trails. The trail itself goes to Capitol Lake. The trail actually starts with a half-mile of downhill before crossing Capitol Creek. It then parallels the creek most of the way up the drainage. Note that camping is not allowed in the meadows or within 200 feet of Capitol Lake, where 14,130-foot Capitol Peak looms overhead. From Aspen, drive 14 miles west on Highway 82 to the Old Snowmass Conoco. Turn left there, and drive two miles to the “T” intersection. Take a right onto Capitol Creek Road. The road is paved for the first 7.5 miles. When the pavement ends, drive another three miles to get to the Capitol Creek trailhead. The last mile of this trip requires four-wheel-drive, so if you don’t have it, park two miles below the trailhead in the meadow.14.6 miles roundtrip.
(H) Both tough and extremely popular, the trail follows Pine Creek canyon, ascending through forest, alpine meadows and scree fields to a high-mountain lake. It’s a steep climb for the first section, then levels out at the top of the canyon before ascending again. As you’d imagine, the views of the Elk Mountain Range from the trail are spectacular. If you’re up for hiking farther, the trail continues up to Electric Pass. From Aspen drive west on Highway 82 to the roundabout; from there turn onto Castle Creek Road. Drive 12.2 miles up the valley. Turn right shortly after passing the Ashcroft ghost town on the left. Follow the gravel road a half mile to the trailhead. 6.4 miles roundtrip.
(H) This popular trail starts at Maroon Lake and leads to the base of the Maroon Bells. To encounter fewer people, hike it early or late in the day. (For access to the trail, see Buckskin Pass, above). Traverse the meadow to the far end of Crater Lake, then pick up the Maroon-Snowmass Trail to the right. You’ll face a steady climb through aspens up to the lake. Note that dogs are not allowed within 100 feet of Crater Lake. 3.6 miles roundtrip.
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(H) Several trails will get you to Crested Butte, a summer neighbor and winter stranger. The shortest (and hardest) route goes along the West Maroon Trail from Crater Lake, over West Maroon Pass and down to Schofield Park, about14 miles from donwtown Crested Butte. (You can arrange for a taxi pickup from here to bring you to Crested Butte.) This 11-mile hike includes a 3,000-foot ascent and takes approximately eight hours. It’s easy enough for inexperienced-yet-fit hikers who want to try something different but will still keep experienced hikers entertained. The easiest, most direct route to Crested Butte follows the East Maroon Trail over East Maroon Pass to Gothic; it’s 16 miles one way. Given the complexity of such a journey,seek out good topo maps and directions at the Aspen Forest Service ofice (806 W. Hallam).
(H) This moderate trail is used most frequently by backpackers seeking out the warm waters of the Conundrum hot springs, a set of natural pools at 11,200 feet. Given the popularity of the springs, the Forest Service has issued special instructions regarding campsite useage, human waste and dogs. Pick up a “Conundrum Hot Springs Hiking Guide” at the Aspen Forest Service office (806 W. Hallam). To help alleviate overcrowding, try to limit your stay to one night. Not everyone on the trail is destined for the hot springs, however; many day hikers use it to access some pretty meadows and bridged stream crossings. The views of mountains and wildflowers are superb. To get to the trailhead, drive west from Aspen on Highway 82 to the roundabout. Turn onto Castle Creek Road, and go five miles to Conundrum Road. Make a right and continue for 1.1 miles to the trailhead. If the parking is full, backtrack to an overflow lot on Castle Creek Road-don’t park on Conundrum. 17 miles roundtrip.
(H) An easy, close getaway into the forest, the Difficult Creek Trail begins at the Difficult Campground east of Aspen. Drive Highway 82 east toward Independence Pass for about 3 miles; you’ll see signs for the campground on your right. Drive a half mile down the campground road and park at the picnic area. The trailhead is at the lot’s southeast corner. Follow the trail onto a gravel road, which heads toward the Roaring Fork River. At the river, the trail goes left. Cross the river via a wooden bridge; the trail then turns right and climbs the bank. Within a half mile, you’ll pass through an area of sagebrush and begin to parallel Difficult Creek. The trail peters out after you pass the remains of several old cabins. 4.8 miles roundtrip.
(H) This scenic wilderness trail near the Maroon Bells offers great views of Pyramid Peak. You’ll need to take a shuttle bus to reach the trailhead (see Buckskin Pass, above); ask the driver to drop you off at the East Maroon Portal. The trail starts by crossing a bridge, then bears right. In 1.5 miles, you’ll reach a fork. Continue left to stay on the East Maroon Trail; the moderate Maroon Creek Trail to the right follows the creek and ends at Maroon Lake, a nice shorter hike. At 4.5 miles, the East Maroon Trail branches again. Stay straight – the right fork leads to a horse camp. A mile or so farther on, you’ll spot two old cabins. At about the six-mile mark, just past a large avalanche area, is the first of two stream crossings. The second crossing is about one mile later. During spring runoff, these crossings can be treacherous. To reach East Maroon Pass, follow the trail two miles past the second stream crossing. When the trail forks, take the right branch (the left goes to Copper Pass, Triangle Pass and Conundrum Hot Springs). Cross a small stream and continue heading right on the main trail; soon you’ll reach the 11,820-foot pass. Up to 19.6 miles roundtrip.
(H) If you want to avoid crowds, head for this trail, which doesn’t get as much useage as many of the others described here. It’s steep, and therefore camping is limited, but it does allow you to access Willow Lake, a pretty spot surrounded by rolling tundra. You may encounter some snowfields through late July. Take Highway 82 west from Aspen to the turnoff for Snowmass Village. Turn left onto Brush Creek Road and follow it for 5.4 miles. Make a right on Divide Road, which turns into gravel and goes past the Krabloonik Restaurant. The road then descends steeply to the valley bottom, where it forks. Take the left fork; the trailhead is just beyond the wooden bridge. 16.4 miles roundtrip.
(B, H) This local favorite is especially popular with mountain bikers and trail runners. It’s also the site of the Golden Leaf Mini Marathon held each September. The trail starts partway up the Snowmass ski area; you can easily access it via the Burlingame lift. Another good access point is at the top of Wood Run in Snowmass Village. Mountain bikers will find this trail requires strong technical riding ability because of stream crossings, rocks and other obstacles along the way. After traversing the ski area at Snowmass, the trail cuts across Burnt Mountain and eventually runs across Buttermilk Mountain ski area. It ends at Maroon Creek Road in Aspen near Iselin Park. A recommended option is to take the bus to Snowmass Village, then hike or bike backto Aspen. 9.8 miles one way.
(H) This high-alpine lake is in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness, at the foot of the Continental Divide. The trail follows a moderate route that traverses forests, meadows and rocky crags before switchbacking more steeply up to the lake. The wildflowers are plentiful in high season. The only catch is that you’ll need a high-clearance vehicle, preferable four-wheel-drive, to reach the trailhead. From Aspen, follow Highway 82 east for 11 miles to Lincoln Creek Road. Turn right and follow the bumpy road for 6 miles to Grizzly Creek Reservoir. The trailhead is on the left before the Portal Campground. The trail, which follows Grizzly Creek the entire way, climbs steeply for the first half mile; the next 1.5 miles are easier, as you climb through pine and fir forests alternating with wildflower-strewn meadows. For its last third, the trail climbs a steep rocky shelf, then winds through alpine tundra toward a long hillside traverse. Once you crest the knoll on top, Grizzly Lake pops into view. 7.2 miles roundtrip.
(H) Extremely popular because of multiple waterfalls and interesting rock formations, the Grottos is also easy to get to from Aspen and is a great picnicking and sunbathing spot. Drive nine miles east on Highway 82 to the Weller Campground. Continue past the campground on 82 for almost a mile, then look for a trailhead on the right. Turn here and drive about 200 feet to the parking area. You have several options for short hikes: The main hiking trail crosses a bridge and heads left. The easiest trail is 30 yards past the bridge, on the right of the Old Stage Road. The intermediate trail is on the left, just before the bridge. It is 200 yards long and follows the Roaring Fork River upstream. The longest and most challenging trail is the Old Stage Road, 100 yards past the bridge on the left. It’s a scenic trail with a fishing dock and streamside picnic tables. Distances vary.
(H) Another crowd-avoider, this trail is a good launching point for backpacking trips, as it links with the Avalanche Creek and Capitol Creek Trails. As a day hike, it offers access to Hardscrabble and Williams Lakes. From Aspen, drive 14 miles west on Highway 82 to the Old Snowmass Conoco. Turn left and drive for two miles to the “T” intersection. Take a right onto Capitol Creek Road, which is paved for the first 7.5 miles. When the pavement ends, drive another three miles to get to the trailhead (which is also the starting point for the Capitol Creek trail). The last mile requires four-wheel-drive, so if you don’t have it, park two miles below the trailhead in the meadow. From the Hell Roaring Trailhead, go straight through the green gate. When the trail forks in about a mile, take the right one to reach Hardscrabble Lake (.25 mile). Or stay straight on the main trail; in about 1.5 miles you’ll come to another junction. The right fork leads to Williams Lake. After this point, the trail climbs quite steeply up to above-treeline Hell Roaring Pass. Then it descends to eventually intersect with the Avalanche Creek Trail. 14 miles roundtrip.
(B, H) This is the gateway to Aspen’s backyard – the Hunter Creek Valley. Visitors and locals alike go for the beauty, the serenity and the feeling of being a world away from town. To get there from town, walk or drive north on Mill Street, bear left onto Red Mountain Road after crossing the bridge over the Roarking Fork River, then take the next right onto Lone Pine Road. Trail access is behind the Hunter Creek Condos (look for the sign). You’ll start out by descending some steps to a shaded path that follows Hunter Creek, climbing steadily to the Benedict Bridge, which crosses Hunter Creek. It’s then a somewhat steep uphill until the Forest Service boundary sign and the meadows of Hunter Valley, which stretch out around you. Hike into the meadow past the Forest Service sign, staying left at junctures. You’ll soon spot a side trail to the left, which descends to the 10th Mountain Bridge across Hunter Creek. After you cross the bridge, you’ll see the remains of several old cabins in a meadow. Follow the trail past these structures, paralleling Hunter Creek. After a mile or so, look for a small footbridge on the right; recross Hunter Creek and hike back down the other side of it. You’ll eventually wind up on the main trail again and can retrace your steps back to Aspen. An interesting note: Local governments and residents recently rallied and raised nearly $2.6 million to buy an 10-acre inholding in the Hunter Creek Valley called the Hummingbird Lode. The previous owners had the right to build a monster home there; the purchase prevented that and helps keep Aspen’s playground pristine. 6 miles roundtrip.
(H) Nearly all the way up Independence Pass, this high-alpine lake (with pretty decent fishing) can be reached from a moderate, fairly short trail. Take Highway 82 east from Aspen to the last switchback before the pass (about 18 miles). The parking area and trailhead are on the left side. From the parking area, the trail begins to the left of the Roaring Fork River. This also is the upper trailhead for the Lost Man Trail. In 200 yards, the trail forks; take the left fork to go to Linkins Lake. The trail ascends to a glacial cirque that shelters the lake, at 12,000 feet. Expect great views of the Continental Divide. And don’t mess with the three-foot trees along the way – they may be up to 200 years old. 1.2 miles roundtrip.
(H) This semi-loop hike passes three great mountain lakes. If you don’t like to climb a lot at 11,000 feet, start at the upper trailhead (see the directions for the Linkins Lake Trail, above). Also, be aware that the trail does make not a true loop – there is a gap of four miles along Highway 82 that you’ll need to set up a car shuttle for. To reach the lower trailhead, drive 14 miles east of Aspen on Highway 82 to the parking area directly across from Lost Man Campground. From the upper trailhead, take the right fork shortly after the parking area. About one-third mile ahead, the trail crosses the Roaring Fork River, where it begins to climb. Independence Lake, the first one you’ll come to, is surrounded by a flower-carpeted area with lots of marsh marigolds. From the lake to the top of the saddle, it’s a steep climb. From the top, you’ll be able to see Lost Man Lake below. This can be a good turnaround point if you want a shorter hike. The drop to Lost Man Lake is steep. Cairns mark the trail, which descends into a marshy, muddy valley floor. About two miles from the lake,you’ll come to a junction with the South Fork Trail. Go left to stay on the Lost Man Trail. At the seven-mile mark, the trail crosses a creek and Lost Man Reservoir is about a mile farther ahead. Beyond the reservoir, the trail splits. Stay straight and cross the wooden bridge to reach the lower parking area. 8.8 miles total.
(H) A less-crowded and mostly downhill alternative to viewing the Maroon Creek Valley, this trail begins at Maroon Lake and ends at the East Maroon Portal, where you can flag down one of the shuttle buses to pick you up. (And if you tire earlier, a couple of “escape routes” along the way lead to the road.) From the east side of Maroon Lake, right across from the interpretive signs, cross the bridge to the left and then take another left to pick up the trail. From here the trail heads downvalley. In about a mile, you’ll come to another bridge, on the left. Stay straight. Continue for another mile to the next bridge. Cross this one, stay left and follow the trail to the junction with the East Maroon Trail. Stay left at the junction continue hking downvalley to the East Maroon Portal. 4.5 miles one way.
(H) This is probably the busiest trail in the Aspen area, but it does afford an awesome view of the distinctive Maroon Bells, two pyramid-shaped twin peaks. Just be prepared for lots of company. (To access the Bells, see the directions for Buckskin Pass, above.) The trail follows the northwestern side of Maroon Lake and then leads to several beaver ponds. It’s great for families and lots of picture taking. 1.5 miles roundtrip.
(H) Never heard of this trail? Well, that’s the point. This lesser-known trek takes you through forests and meadows into the Hunter Fryingpan Wilderness; it’s a superb one-night backpacking trip, too. The trailhead is located at the Lost Man Campground. Drive east on Highway 82 from Aspen toward Independence Pass; the campground is 14 miles up on the left. The trail begins to the left of a bulletin board and immediately crosses a wooden bridge. At a half mile, the trail forks. Take the left one and begin a steep climb up switchbacks. Soon you’ll be in the wilderness and above treeline. The trail then contours through alpine meadows on the right side of the Coleman Creek drainage. After crossing the creek, you’ll reach Midway Pass, at 11,840 feet, which could be a good turnaround point for a shorter hike (about 5 miles roundtrip). If you continue, you’ll follow Midway Creek and gradually descend into the Hunter Creek Valley. Shortly before the junction with the Hunter Creek Trail, the trail crosses Hunter Creek itself. Turn left on the Hunter Creek Trail to hike all the way to Aspen. Up to 16 miles one way.
Trails (H) If you want good fishing, wildly profuse wildflowers and a fun four-wheel-drive access road, then these easy trails are for you. A bonus: you’ll enjoy views of the beautiful Collegiate Wilderness peaks. Take Highway 82 east of Aspen 11 miles to Lincoln Creek Road. Turn right and drive 6.5 miles on the rocky, rutted road to the Portal Campground. From the campground, the road gets even rougher. Either drive or hike the last 3.3 miles to a fork in the road. Take the right fork, cross the creek and park on either side. The trail follows Anderson Creek, gradually ascending an old jeep road as it passes through thick stands of fir before emerging into alpine tundra. You’ll see some privately owned log cabins at this point. About a mile in from the start, the road forks. The left fork goes to Anderson Lake, another .25 mile in. To access Petroleum Lake, retrace your steps from Anderson Lake and take the right fork. Petroleum is about .75 mile farther. Climb through some alpine meadows and tundra, and cross the lake’s outlet stream. Keep climbing; the lake is just ahead, beyond the rise on the left. Even more adventures await if you keep going uphill on the trail: an alpine pond and additional breathtaking views. Petroleum Lake: 3.5 miles roundtrip; Anderson Lake: 2.5 miles roundtrip.
(B, H) This well-loved trail for hikers, bikers, rollerbladers and joggers follows the old Denver & Rio Grande railroad right-of-way and parallels the Roaring Fork River. It’s primarily flat, and the first couple of miles are on pavement. An easy place to pick it up is across from the Aspen post office; from there you can go all the way to Woody Creek (about 9 miles). The scenery runs the gamut: from views of the ski areas to small canyons and waterfalls. A popular outing is to bike to the Woody Creek Tavern for lunch. And don’t worry: you don’t necessarily have to walk or bike back. Buses to Aspen stop near the trailhead at the Upper Woody Creek Bridge, or you can call a taxi from the tavern. 9 miles one way.
(B, H) Smuggler is Aspen’s most popular trail, for athletes from the casual to the near elite, because it is accessible and useable year-round. The vertical climb is about 800 feet, and getting up it in 20 minutes or less is considered good time on foot or mountain bike (really fast bikers can do it under 12 minutes, and local lore has some runners doing it in under 12 minutes, too). The trail follows a wide dirt road as it switchbacks and curves up the lower flanks of Smuggler Mountain. Most people’s turnaround point is a viewing platform in a small clearing off to the right, about 1.5 miles up; from here the view down into Aspen and across to Mount Sopris is excellent. About 3 miles roundtrip.
(B, H) Besides the popular Government Trail (see listing above), the village boasts about 18 other trails, ranging from adventurous to easy. Your best bet is to pick up the very detailed Summer Trail Map, published by the town of Snowmass Village. It gives great descriptions of trails, including elevation gains, distances covered and landmarks along the way. Snowmass Village has the added benefit of lift-served riding and hiking. The Burlingame lift is open daily for foot passengers and mountain bikers. Mileages vary.
(H) This 6.5 mile (one way) trail to West Maroon Pass is another of the heavily used Maroon Bells trails, popular with day hikers and backpackers who’ve got their eyes on bigger sites like Crested Butte. Begin at the Maroon Lake parking area (you’ll need to catch a shuttle bus from Aspen to get there) and traverse the meadow to the lake’s far end. From there, follow the Maroon-Snowmass Trail as it climbs through aspens to Crater Lake. Take the left fork at Crater Lake to get onto the West Maroon Trail itself. After the lake, the trail follows a stream for a short distance, then travels through forest and willow before reaching another stream crossing in an open area. From there, the hard-to-see trail angles to the right and climbs steadily into the tundra. You’ll be able to see the pass in the distance. Keep climbing the switchbacks and then follow the long traverse to the pass. On a clear day, the views are spectacular. From the top of the pass, the trail descends on the other side to East Fork Creek Trail and Scolfield Park, near Crested Butte.
(H) This is a moderately difficult and moderately used trail that gets you into some awesome alpine meadows. To access the trail, take Highway 82 for about seven miles west of Aspen to the Woody Creek turnoff. Turn right and follow the road downhill; after crossing a bridge, bear left and continue two miles to the Woody Creek Tavern. Just past the tavern, take a sharp right onto Road 103 and follow it for 8.5 miles to Lenado. About .75 miles past this rustic mining town, the road turns sharply left and crosses Woody Creek. The Woody Creek Trailhead is on the right. Follow the Woody Creek Trail about 1.75 miles to the Spruce Creek Trail turnoff. Turn left here (the Woody Creek Trail traverses another eight miles to Deer Park and loops into the Hunter Creek Trail). After about .25 mile, the trail crosses the creek and remains on the west side until Sawmill Park (see Aspen Norrie Trail, in the Basalt section, above). The trail then disappears in the park’s meadow. Return the way you came. 9.5 miles roundtrip.