Aspen’s backyard: Up, up, up Smuggler |

Aspen’s backyard: Up, up, up Smuggler

Dale Strode
The Aspen Times

Take a hike.


And when Aspen takes a hike, Aspen hikes Smuggler Mountain — residents, visitors, aliens, everyone.

“It’s known as Aspen’s backyard. You see everyone up there,” said John Armstrong, a ranger with Pitkin County Open Space and Trails, who is there most days.

“It really has become a huge multiple-use area,” Armstrong said of the popular Aspen hiking road/trail managed by the county open space and trails branch.

The Smuggler trailhead is located along Aspen’s northeastern edge at the base of Smuggler Mountain near the Smuggler Mine works.

A pair of parking areas service the trail, which also provides access up into the Hunter Creek Valley.

On sunny summer days, the parking areas can fill up, Armstrong said.

A We Cycle bicycle station recently opened near the Smuggler trailhead, integrating the community cycling system with it’s most popular local hike.

“We have huge numbers,” Armstrong said. Recent trail counts show 400 or more users a day on the Smuggler Mountain trail. The figure can reach 600 or more on some picture-perfect hiking/biking days, according to estimates.

Armstrong said the multiple use includes lots of hikers and dogs along with mountain bikers. Many mountain bikers use the uphill Smuggler route to access popular singletrack trails in the Hunter Creek Valley.

“Smuggler also is an active country road,” Armstrong said. As such, vehicles, including motorcycles, can be encountered on the trail.

And as a county road, the vehicles have the right of way, along with a 10 mph speed limit.

The hiking road/trail climbs from Smuggler Mine up about 1.5 miles to the viewing platform. The trail continues up into the Hunter Creek Valley.

“Smuggler is one of the things you do when you come to Aspen,” Armstrong said.

“You go to the Maroon Bells; you hike up Smuggler. It’s on the list for (visitors).”

Smuggler’s also on the daily to-do list for scores of residents and part-time residents.

“It’s a good hike. It’s my routine of late,” said Dr. Gordon Gerson, of Aspen.

A former competitive triathlete and longtime head coach of the Aspen Speedos swim team, Gerson said a spirited hike up Smuggler is good for you physically and socially.

“You always run into a few people you know. Unlike at a party where you can’t hear anything, you can stop and enjoy good conversation. Enjoy the nice views,” said Gerson.

“I like to be out there practicing what I preach,” said the Aspen cardiologist.

“I’m a firm believer that in life the front nine is for competing and the back nine is for completing,” Gerson said.

Smuggler can help in both areas of life’s golf course.

While competitive mountain trail runners beat feet up Smuggler with a close eye on their heart monitors, more senior “athletes” hike along at their own pace.

“I’ve found that the healthier people in their later years are the ones getting out and enjoying the outdoors … hiking Smuggler,” said Gerson, who’s practiced in Aspen for 13 years.

The Smuggler hike grows on you, Gerson said.

“I always enjoy it, even in bad weather.”

And that’s another story.

“In the winter, the sledding has just boomed up there. Especially in the last two years,” Armstrong said, adding to the multiple-use evidence.

For more on hiking Smuggler, check out the On the Hill summer debut video on The Aspen Times website,