Aspen-area forest facilities ready for summer
Campers will be all set up with few places to go during Memorial Day weekend in the White River National Forest.
Just about all of the major campgrounds in the Roaring Fork, Crystal and Fryingpan valleys are open, but most trails remain snowpacked or muddy, according to officials in the Aspen and Sopris ranger districts.
The road to Maroon Lake will open at 8 a.m. Thursday. Recreation facilities “will be limited” until mid-June, the Forest Service said. The trail from Maroon Lake to Crater Lake still has substantial snow, according to Peggy Jo Trish, manager of Maroon Bells summer operations. The amphitheater area by the bus stop remains full of snow.
“There’s a lot of snow up there,” Trish said. “We were a lot more melted out up there at this time last year.”
Meanwhile, Colorado Department of Transportation crews are working dawn to dusk to try to achieve the goal of opening Highway 82 over Independence Pass on Thursday, according to agency spokeswoman Tracy Trulove. Plow crews met one another on the east side of the summit on Tuesday, she said. The goal remains to open the road over the pass at 2 p.m. Thursday. (See related story below.)
Cyclists and hikers heading up to the Maroon Lake area should be aware that no potable water is available yet at the Maroon Bells Scenic Area. They should bring their own water.
The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s shuttle service to the Maroon Bells will start operating June 14. Vehicles will be restricted between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. A $10 fee will be charged.
Forest Service officials are urging people to beware of the moose frequently seen at Maroon Lake. Visitors should keep their distance because moose are temperamental and can charge when they feel threatened.
Brian Porter, visitor information specialist at the Aspen Ranger District, said he is starting to field inquires from visitors about trail conditions. The pickings are slim. Some parts of Sunnyside and a bit of the Hunter Creek Valley are drying out, Porter said. The first part of the Ruedi Trail is clear, but it has snow about 40 minutes into the hike, one user reported.
“If you do decide to go out in the backcountry, there still is a risk for avalanches,” Porter stressed.
Visitors figure that since it’s been warm where they come from, it’s been warm in the mountains, Porter said. But low temperatures this spring have preserved an above-average snowpack. The Forest Service is advising people that it will likely be late June before the popular Four Pass Loop is clear enough for hiking this year, depending on the weather, Porter said. A big cornice on Buckskin Pass makes the going tough there, he said.
There have been dry spells in recent years that allowed trails to open earlier than usual, but typically trails won’t open until mid- to late June, Porter said.
“People tend to forget about average years,” he said.
Martha Moran, recreation staff supervisor with the Aspen Ranger District, said gates would be opened by the weekend on the roads headed to Avalanche, the Four Mile area and Dinkle Lake. Summer workers are just starting to work, and they are checking out conditions on more roads and trails. Users should expect to find snow and mud just about everywhere, she said.
“It’s still ski season, you know?” Moran said.
Among the national forest campgrounds in the Aspen area, Difficult Campground and Weller opened Friday. The fee is $23 per night at Difficult and $20 at Weller. Lincoln Gulch will open Friday, and the fee will be $19. Lost Man and Portal won’t open until June 13.
In the Maroon Creek Valley, Silver Bell will open Thursday, according to the Aspen Ranger District. Silver Bar and Silver Queen open Friday. The fee at all three campgrounds is $15.
In the Crystal River Valley, the Avalanche, Bogan Flats and Redstone I and II campgrounds are open. Fees vary.
In the Fryingpan River Valley, every campground except the southern section of Chapman is open. There are 43 sites open in North Chapman. The 41 sites of South Chapman are holding snow. The fee at that major campground is $22 this year.
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There is a lot of pent up energy among hikers and bikers to get into the high country, but snow fields, avalanche debris and high stream crossings are presenting challenges later than usual. Forest rangers with the Aspen-Sopris District provide trail condition reports that are updated each week so hikers and backpackers aren’t caught unaware.