Hiking in Snowmass provides solitude and views that canʹt be beat
Editor’s note: This story also appears in Summer in Snowmass, an annual publication of The Aspen Times.
Hikers who are looking for a pleasant jaunt along an irrigation ditch in the woods, a steady climb that alternates between patches of forest and open, flower-choked meadows and slogs through dark timber have it all in their backyard in Snowmass Village.
The town has done a good job over the years of creating an extensive trail system that now boasts 26 miles of natural-surface trails and 8 miles of paved.
The paved trails are a great introduction to the mountain environment without making a backcountry commitment, according to Andy Worline, director of parks, recreation and trails. Summer maps of the trail system can be found at Town Hall, the recreation center, bike shops, various trailheads and online.
Worline recommended the Ditch Trail as a transitional route for visitors to the village. It’s flat and easy and is the gateway to the White River National Forest after covering 2.5 miles. It also has the advantage of offering plenty of parking on the end closest to the village.
After you acclimate to the elevation, Worline recommends the South Rim Trail, which starts with a 700-foot vertical climb. The smooth trail surface and perfectly sculpted switchbacks take some of the pain out of the gain.
Hikers who stick with it are rewarded with an “epic view” at the Yin/Yang platform on a short spur after the trail tops out, Worline noted.
All of the town of Snowmass trails are multiuse, so hikers are likely to encounter mountain bikers.
Snowmass Ski Area offers some trails dedicated to hikers. Steve Rausch, the ranger and summer trails manager at Snowmass Ski Area, recommended riding the Elk Camp Gondola out of the village to mid-mountain. The Rabbit Run Nature Trail is a pleasant, 1-mile walk that can be combined to make the Sierra Club Loop, a 2-mile intermediate route perfect for people who aren’t quite ready to charge up the slope, he said.
Visitors who are ready to tackle a longer jaunt should check out the Vista Trail, according to Erica Berens, a hiking guide with Blazing Adventures. It’s another of the handful of dedicated hiking trails on the Elk Camp section of the mountain.
She likes taking the trail up from Base Village, climbing through pine forests, aspens and meadows to Elk Camp Restaurant, the headquarters for summer adventure for the ski area. The route climbs about 1,200 vertical feet in 2.2 miles, so it “definitely gets your heart rate up,” Berens said.
The Vista Trail is really good for wildflowers, Berens said.
But there’s more, should you so desire. After a rest at the restaurant, hikers can continue to the top of Elk Camp on the Summit Trail, also dedicated to hikers. It’s a stiff, steady climb, but the payoff is great, with immense views at the summit at 11,325 feet.
The good news is that hikers don’t have to subject their knees to the stress of descending. They can take the Elk Camp lift and gondola back to the base.
For true backcountry flavor, there are several trails just a short distance from the village, according to Berens and Chase Harrison, an 18-year resident of Snowmass who has hiked, biked and skied its trails extensively.
Berens likes to hike the Snowmass Lake Trail, accessed from a trailhead a few miles outside Snowmass Village on Campground Road. The hike meanders along the creek. About 4 miles in, “you pass some humongous boulders,” she said. They make a great place for lunch and to turn around.
Snowmass Lake is a popular destination for backpackers, so it’s likely a hiker will encounter people on the trail. Harrison said a good alternative is West Snowmass Creek Trail, which parallels its busier twin and requires crossing the creek. The rugged route eventually climbs to Moon Lake on iconic Mount Daly. It offers stunning views of the majestic mountains and gives a true taste of wilderness.
Harrison said he didn’t want to share too many secrets about one of his favorite hikes. His advice was for curious hikers to bust out the guidebooks and study his recommended alternative to make it a true adventure.
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