Rio Grande Trail: Aspen to Glenwood
June 5, 2008
ASPEN More than a decade after a consortium of local governments forged a complex deal to jointly purchase a railroad corridor linking both ends of the Roaring Fork Valley, bicyclists can finally pedal the Rio Grande Trail all the way between Aspen and Glenwood Springs.The last remaining unimproved segment of the trail, below Carbondale, was paved in the spring of 2008. The trail is a hit with bicyclists, pedestrians and inline skaters. While few regularly ride the entire length of the valley, between Aspen and Glenwood, the trail offers an opportunity for shorter rides between Basalt and Carbondale, or Carbondale and Glenwood, for example.In all, the Rio Grande Trail covers roughly 41 miles, with an elevation change of 2,120 feet between the heart of Glenwood Springs and Aspen.On the Aspen end, though, a segment of the trail still sports a gravel surface. Between Woody Creek and the Slaughterhouse Bridge below Aspen, the trail is better suited to mountain biking than road biking, though it can be ridden on a road bike (just not pleasantly). The alternative for road bikers remains McLain Flats Road, which bypasses the unpaved section. Take note: Its a winding, narrow road without shoulders and a steep ascent/descent. Vehicles travel it at a speedy clip, and a gravel pit in the area puts dumptrucks into the mix.There have been grumblings among the biking set about getting the gravel stretch paved, but equestrians, novice mountain bikers and other fans of the softer surface oppose the move. The outcome of the debate remains to be seen, but for now, road bikers face a choice: six miles of crushed gravel or McLain Flats Road.A GUIDE TO THE RIO GRANDE TRAIL
Surface: Paved plus soft surfaceDistance: 2 milesElevation change: 152 feetParking: No designated trail parking near trailhead behind Aspen post office (and parking in one of the nearby commercial lots could get your vehicle booted). Small parking lot available at Stein Park (it often fills up, especially on weekends).Trail description: This scenic path starts behind the Aspen post office, crossing over both the Roaring Fork River and Hunter Creek before closely paralleling the river most of the way down to Stein Park. Mature trees on both sides offer plenty of shade. Soft surface for joggers alongside pavement occasionally splits off from the main trail, giving joggers a path all their own. This stretch sees heavy use by walkers, joggers, bicyclists and people walking their dogs (which are supposed to be leashed, but often arent). Dont stray over the center line in the hilly, curvy section midway along this stretch or youre likely to collide with oncoming traffic. Trail crosses beneath Slaughterhouse bridge at bottom end and turns to gravel at Stein Park.
Distance: 6 milesSurface: GravelElevation change: 376 feetParking: Small parking lot available at Stein Park (it often fills up, especially on weekends). On lower end, trail parking designated along Upper River Road, below the Woody Creek Tavern. Near Woody Creek end, parking available at Jaffee Park.Trail description: The only unpaved section in the upper valley, the hard-packed gravel surface is probably rideable on a road bike, but is far more enjoyable with fatter tires. The entire stretch sees heavy use by bicyclists, walkers, joggers and some equestrians; the ride from Aspen to the Woody Creek Tavern makes it especially popular. Watch out for plenty of traffic traveling in both directions. This segment offers some of the most varied terrain of any piece of the Rio Grande, climbing out of Woody Creek onto a sunny mesa of sagebrush and other scrub vegetation, with the Roaring Fork River occasionally in view in the gorge far below. Also offers a glimpse of all four ski areas Snowmass, Buttermilk, Aspen Highlands and Aspen Mountain simultaneously for upvalley travelers. Power lines running overhead and the roar of jets en route to and from the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport can mar the experience. Higher up, the trail passes an eye-catching, intermittent waterfall that tumbles off a shale cliff into a clear pool alongside the trail. The upper stretch is far from Highway 82, and highway traffic is inaudible. Its lush, with plenty of trees and shade, and the river here is in almost constant view and accessible. There are views of the Roaring Forks confluence with Maroon Creek, as well as Slaughterhouse Falls, popular with rafters and kayakers in spring and early summer. Use caution at the road crossings (marked with stop signs) on the lower end, where motorized traffic is often moving fast, and can approach the trail from a blind curve.
Distance: 8.5 milesSurface: Paved with soft shoulderElevation change: 575 feetParking: On the upper end, trail parking is designated along Upper River Road, below the Woody Creek Tavern. There is no designated parking on the lower end, though there are plans to create parking at Wingo Junction. Midway, the Arciero trailhead offers parking at the lower end of Snowmass Canyon. From Highway 82, take the bridge over the Roaring Fork River at the Old Snowmass Conoco intersection, turn left immediately after bridge and drive a short distance to parking lot.Trail description: Offers views of everything from large homes, big barns and horse pastures to open space and the Roaring Fork River. Watch for a pair of old rail cars alongside the trail that have served as housing off and on. Blind corners and hills on this stretch of the trail make it important to stay on the correct side of the center line. This segment follows Upper and Lower River roads; use caution at road crossings, where trail users will encounter stop signs. The trail also crosses numerous little-trafficked driveways, where motorists are supposed to stop. Some shady stretches, but much of it is sunny. Overhead power lines on the upper stretch. Watch for pieces of the old railroad, where the trail has been constructed alongside the former rail line and the tracks and ties remain in place. Near the Wingo Junction end, the Rio Grande connects with Basalt-Old Snowmass Trail, which offers a hilly ride through Holland Hills and into downtown Basalt.
Distance: 3.5 milesSurface: Paved with soft shoulderElevation change: 167 feetParking: No designated parking on upper end, though there are future plans for trailhead parking. On lower end, trail parking available at old Emma Schoolhouse, accessed off Emma Road.Trail description: Built as a soft-surface trail in 2001 and paved late last year, this sunny section crosses over Highway 82 on a bike-pedestrian bridge at Wingo Junction and over the Roaring Fork River on a second bridge, then bisects the Roaring Fork Club golf course at its upper end (watch for errant balls). The golf cart path crosses the trail at a couple of points, but the carts are supposed to stop. Below the golf course, this segment of the Rio Grande boasts some of the most agrarian, undeveloped views along its route, passing through agricultural fields on both sides, except for a short section when it passes by Basalt High School and homes on the south side of Basalt. On its lower end, the route offers a peek at the collection of old vehicles and farm equipment in a fenced salvage yard not visible from the highway. This section of the Rio Grande is straight and wide, with plenty of room for two bikers to ride abreast and move to single file at the sight of an approaching bicyclist or pedestrian. Soft shoulder used by equestrians and joggers; gravel likely spread across pavement unless its been swept recently. Watch out for horse apples.
Distance: 1.2 milesSurface: Paved with soft shoulderElevation change: 100 feetParking: On upper end, trail parking available at old Emma Schoolhouse, accessed off Emma Road. At lower end, parking available along Hooks Spur Road next to intersection with Hooks Lane.Trail description: This short stretch passes by a few homes on its lower end, but offers mostly a pleasant, sunny, flat ride past horse pastures. Highway 82 noise is noticeable. Trail underpass to reach downtown Basalt goes beneath the highway at the Emma end. This stretch sees a lot of use by equestrians; gravel scattered across at least half of the paved trail and horse apples typically present.
Distance: 4.25 milesSurface: PavedElevation change: 125 feetParking: On upper end, trail parking available at old Emma Schoolhouse, accessed off Emma Road. On lower end, parking available off County Road 100 (Catherine Store Road) on both sides of Roaring Fork River.Trail description: This hotly debated and highly anticipated link debuted late last year. The lower half of it, between Catherine bridge and Rock Bottom Ranch, is closed annually from Dec. 1 through April 30, and dogs arent allowed in this stretch at anytime both measures are to protect wildlife. The lower half of this segment offers some shade; it hugs the Roaring Fork River on one side and cliff bands on the other. Expect to see wildflowers. There are no houses and the highway is well out of earshot. It is wild enough that the Colorado Division of Wildlife posted a sign earlier this summer notifying trail users of the potential for encounters with a mountain lion. The trail passes beaver ponds near Rock Bottom Ranch; above the ranch, horse pastures and the occasional house maintain the areas rural feel. Theres plenty of sun on the upper half. When the trail is closed, bicyclists must take a detour involving Willits Lane, the frontage road in front of the El Jebel City Market complex and the frontage road (Valley Road) that parallels Highway 82 below El Jebel, linking up with County Road 100 at Catherine Store.
Distance: 2.8 milesSurface: PavedElevation change: 222 feet (from Catherine bridge to Highway 133)Parking: At upper end, parking available off County Road 100 (Catherine Store Road) on both sides of Roaring Fork River. At lower end, on Main Street in Carbondale.Trail description: Pastures, cows, horses and a rodeo arena dominate this bucolic straight stretch outside of Carbondale. The trail is wide and riding two abreast when there is no approaching traffic is easy. Likely encounters include inline skaters, parents pushing strollers, joggers, dog walkers and young bicyclists along this segment, which hooks into Carbondales quaint Main Street on its lower end.
Distance: 1 mileSurface: PavedParking: Available on Main Street at the upper end; a park-and-ride lot across Highway 133 at Village Road on lower end.Elevation change: 222 feet (from Catherine bridge to Highway 133)Trail description: A quick link from the upper end of Carbondales Main Street, where it intersects with County Road 100, to busy Highway 133. Heavily used by families, children, young bicyclists, joggers, and dog walkers, among others. Trail passes behind a not-too-scenic commercial and industrial area near Hwy. 133, but offers views of Mount Sopris to upvalley riders. At Hwy. 133, the trail parallels the highway for about a block; the corridor continues on the opposite side of the highway at Village Road.
Distance: approximately 5 milesSurface: PavedElevation change: 331 feet (from Highway 133 to Glenwood Springs)Parking: Park-and-ride lot off Highway 133 on the upper end. No designated trail parking yet on lower end, but there is parking to be found on both sides of the intersection of Highway 82 and County Road 114.Trail description: This newly paved section of the Rio Grande Trail made its debut in spring 2008. It offers some shade on its upper stretches, but is mostly sunny. Highway 82 is nearby for most of the route, and traffic noise is ever-present. Trail passes by the Aspen Glen golf course and residential development and, near Carbondale, offers views of the Roaring Fork River and the old pink bridge, currently closed to use. For upvalley riders, Mount Sopris dominates the view.
Distance: 5.2 milesSurface: PavedElevation change: 331 feet (from Highway 133 to Glenwood Springs)Parking: No designated trail parking yet on upper end but there is parking to be found on both sides of the intersection of the highway and County Road 114. Residential street parking available in 23rd Street area.Trail description: This section, paved in 2007, closely parallels Highway 82. At 23rd Street (the turnoff to the Midland Avenue bypass in Glenwood Springs), the Rio Grande Trail connects with Glenwoods concrete River Trail, a pleasant stretch along the lower Roaring Fork River that connects to the heart of Glenwood Springs, and to Two Rivers Park. From there, riders can make their way to the Glenwood Canyon bike path.