Despite the U.S. Forest Service shutdowns, which includes vehicular access to the popular Maroon Bells, the Aspen area has many alternatives for those seeking a glimpse of the fall wonder and color happening right now.
Here are four options for those looking for a different vehicular route to enjoy the local outdoor splendor:
• Independence Pass
With an elevation of 12,095 feet, Independence Pass represents the highest paved Colorado state highway on a through road. The pass is located between Aspen and Twin Lakes. The views of alpine tundra are unique as the pass takes visitors above the mountain treeline. It’s a challenging drive with steep grades and hairpin turns, but the view of Mount Elbert, Colorado’s highest peak, is worth the drive alone. In fact, on a clear day, one can see the Maroon Bells from Independence Pass. Remember, you’re going up to 12,000 feet in elevation. Stay hydrated and be aware of the thin air.
It’s a 20-mile drive from Aspen to the top of Independence Pass on Highway 82.
A ghost town located south of Aspen at 9,500 feet above sea level, the drive up to Ashcroft is one of the real gems of the area. There’s no shortage of Aspen groves along the route and a visit through the ghost town is recommended. Currently there are no guided tours, yet people are allowed to take “self-tours” throughout the fall and winter months. Self-tours are free, but there is a donation box with brochures describing the town and a suggested tour fee of $3. There are still a few of the original buildings standing as a reminder that the town once had a population of 3,500.
To get to Ashcroft from Aspen: Go 10 miles south on Castle Creek Road from the Aspen roundabout on the west end of town.
A reservoir located 15 miles east of Basalt within the White River National Forest. The drive to the reservoir from Basalt parallels the Fryingpan River, a Gold Medal stretch of water. The narrow canyon walls and occasional wildlife sightings make for a unique drive. Once you reach the reservoir and the Ruedi Dam, the views open with expansive views of the surrounding forests. The reward is great for a relatively short drive.
To get to the Ruedi Reservoir from Aspen: Take Highway 82 to Basalt. Head east from town for 15 miles.
Owl Creek Road toward Snowmass
A short drive off of Highway 82 near Aspen, the road connects to Snowmass Village. Midway through the drive, the road crests over a sea of golden aspen trees. Owl Creek Road is also a favorite for locals to bike. One of the best and easiest accesses to some amazing views of the Aspen-Snowmass area. If you travel at dawn or dusk in the fall and winter you might see the elk that frequent the area.
To get to Owl Creek Road from Aspen: Take Highway 82 from Aspen heading west (or downvalley) for almost two miles. Turn left onto Owl Creek Road and follow the road uphill. It takes less than 10 minutes to reach Snowmass Village.