Best Hiking in Aspen (for Every Type of Hiker)
Hiking in Aspen, Colorado, is world-famous for many reasons.
First, it is a year-round activity. Most people think of hiking in the summer, but you can venture out in spring, fall, and even winter. And all these excursions take you through some of the most breathtaking, awe-inspiring natural beauty imaginable.
The weather is well-suited for it, as well. Aspen gets an average of 246 days of sun each year. It receives only 20 inches of rain on average yearly, which is a little less than half the national average.
Aspen also has one of the most extensive trail systems in the United States. The local Parks Department maintains over 22 miles of trails in the area for hiking, from fully paved walking paths to steep and rocky trails. So, there's a wide variety from which to choose.
Hiking is one of the great pastimes here, and it means different things to different people. So whether you're looking for an intense cardio workout or to do some botanical sketching, you're sure to find something that meets your needs.
With that in mind, we've compiled a list of some of the best Aspen hikes.
Easy Hiking in Aspen: Hunter Creek Trail
We'll start our list with a popular hike accessible to almost anybody. The Hunter Creek Trail is easy and family-friendly but still takes you into some honest-to-goodness nature.
The trailhead is located just a few minutes from downtown. You can access it from Red Mountain Road, Lone Pine Street, or the Rio Grande Trail; plenty of parking is nearby.
The path runs through the Hunter Creek Valley, parallel to the creek for most of its length. It also intersects with other picturesque Aspen hiking trails, making it an excellent place to start.
The valley is a rich source of natural beauty and offers close-up views of historic miners' cabins. So whether you're a nature lover or a history buff, you'll find something to pique your interest along the Hunter Creek Trail loop.
The trip is about 5 miles long and takes 1 to 4 hours. It features approximately 1,000 feet of elevation gain, beginning at 7,900 feet and reaching 8,800 feet at its highest point. The first mile is the steepest section and requires the most exertion, but it gets much easier afterward! It's well worth it when you reach its upper valley and enjoy the stunning scenic vistas.
Best Hiking for Photographers: The Maroon Bells
Colorado is renowned for its majestic mountains. It has some of the most breathtaking peaks anywhere on Earth, and none are more impressive or photographed than the Maroon Bells.
The "Bells" (Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak) are two of Colorado's "fourteeners" (summits higher than 14,000 feet). Climbing them is dangerous and challenging. They connect via a problematic, one-third-of-a-mile route called The Maroon Creek Traverse. This path travels through some of the most gorgeous terrain in North America.
But the Maroon Bells are attractive to more than just experienced hikers and climbers. The area offers a range of fantastic hiking for all abilities. And they are incredibly photogenic in every season. The surrounding alpine meadows are full of wildflowers in the spring and summer. And in the fall, the Aspen groves burst into their golden glory.
All this natural beauty creates the opportunity for life-changing photography, no matter what time of year you go.
Remember that Maroon Lake and the Maroon Bells are exceedingly famous, so access is limited. But you do have several transportation options.
The Maroon Bells Scenic Area is open to the public between May and October. If you plan to drive, you will need to make parking reservations. An RFTA shuttle is also available, and reservations are required for this service. For more information, please call 970-930-6442 or email email@example.com. You may also make reservations on the US Forest Service website.
Here are several of the most popular options for Maroon Bells hikes.
Maroon Lake Scenic Trail
The Maroon Lake Scenic Trail should be mentioned alongside Hunter Creek Trail as another easy hike in Aspen. It has an elevation gain of a mere 120 feet over 1.5 miles.
It's one of Aspen's most popular trails and well-trafficked hikes, so its semi-paved trails are well-maintained. If you're new to hiking and trying to develop a love of walking in nature, the Maroon Lake Scenic Trail is an excellent place to start.
It also lets you take in Maroon Bells' signature wildflowers and the majesty of Pyramid Peak without walking a great distance. So, if you're traveling with kids or anyone struggling with mobility, the Maroon Lake Scenic Trail is a good choice. It lets you enjoy the Rocky Mountains' beauty without heading out into the backcountry!
Here's a Maroon Bells hike that's slightly more challenging but less crowded.
The Maroon Creek Trail is longer than the Maroon Lake Scenic Trail. The whole out/back round trip is about 7 miles. However, there are several bus stops along the way, so don't let the length deter you if you're still getting used to hiking long distances. It begins at the end of Maroon Creek Road (at Maroon Lake) and winds downhill alongside Maroon Creek for about 3.5 miles.
Along the way, you'll be able to glimpse some of the area's fauna and its postcard-worthy vistas. Seeing mule deer, red foxes, and porcupines in their native habitat is an experience you'll never forget.
It's also one of the most popular trails for equestrians. So, mark it on your Aspen hiking trail map if you've been looking for an excellent place for horseback riding.
Crater Lake Trail
We round out our Maroon Bells list with the most strenuous hike - and the most stunning! The Crater Lake Trail is still quite enjoyable if you're used to hiking. This moderately challenging 3.5-mile route is near a picturesque alpine lake and a mighty spruce forest.
This breadth of scenery is one thing that makes hiking in Aspen so legendary, that such wild, inspiring nature is so close by and accessible. In other places, views like these often require several days of backcountry exploration.
But in Aspen, they're less than an hour away. They're even well-maintained enough that they're family-friendly. So, to inspire the next generation of nature lovers, we suggest you include the Crater Lake Trail on your itinerary.
Best Moderately Challenging Hike: Aspen Mountain
Of course, Colorado is well known for its technical trails as much as its nature hikes and pleasant strolls. If you want to push the envelope to reach some rarefied environs, put the Aspen Mountain Trail on your map.
It's also one of the best hikes in Aspen if you're building stamina and strength. But it has a gondola at its peak. So, after you conquer its relatively steep, relatively long inclines, you can relax and take the gondola back down.
So, if you're asking, "Can you walk up Aspen Mountain?" the answer is "Yes!"—with a bit of preparation.
The Aspen Mountain Trail is somewhat lengthy on top of being rather steep. It climbs 3,231 vertical feet throughout its 8.8-mile round trip. Nevertheless, you'll be treated to majestic views and rewarded with inspiring bird's-eye views of Aspen.
Aspen Mountain is especially glorious in the autumn. So, if you will be hiking in Aspen, Colorado, in the fall, include Aspen Mountain on your itinerary.
The Aspen Mountain Trail mostly runs along a relatively heavily trafficked dirt road. Passing traffic can sometimes kick up dust. There's occasionally heavy machinery on that road as well.
Best Quick Hike: Smuggler Mountain
Having world-class nature in your backyard means you can get out in the mountains whenever the mood should strike. So, if you're in Aspen and want a quick hike that takes less than two hours, Smuggler Mountain is for you.
Smuggler Mountain Road is just a few minutes from downtown, so it's a popular choice for an after-work hike. That's the other thing that is so great about Smuggler Mountain. In Colorado, hiking is a social activity, like a shopping mall in a less sporty area.
Smuggler Mountain is a fantastic site to run into people you know or meet friendly new faces.
The Smuggler Mountain Trail is moderately steep and has a series of dirt road switchbacks that wind their way to the top. Unfortunately, there's virtually no cover, so bring plenty of sunscreen and fluids! Also, remember to keep your head up while hiking, as this is also a popular biking trail.
Best Lake Hike: Lost Man Trail
In many ways, the Lost Man Trail is an amalgam of everything so excellent about Aspen hiking. For one thing, Aspen's lakes are almost as famous as its mountains and alpine forests. The Lost Man loop takes you past three of them - Lost Man Reservoir, Lost Man Lake, and Independence Lake, near the breathtaking Independence Pass.
Along the way, you'll pass some legendary rivers and creeks in the White River National Forest.
Secondly, Aspen hiking is so famous because of the elevation. The Lost Main Trail gets you above 12,000 feet with little climbing. The trail starts at 10,507 and reaches 12,800 at its highest point.
Finally, the Lost Man Trail runs through some of Aspen's most picturesque landscapes. It's almost hard to believe that this alpine paradise of Aspen trees and wildflowers is just minutes from downtown Aspen and not in the heart of Switzerland.
Remember that the Lost Man Trail isn't a loop like most Aspen hikes we've discussed. There is a parking lot at each end, though. Many will take several cars and park one at each parking area to save from having to retrace their steps.
Best Winter Hike: Difficult Creek Trail
Aspen, Colorado, is synonymous with winter sports. We'd be remiss if we didn't mention at least one epic winter hike on our list of best Aspen hikes. We'll round out our list of Aspen hiking with Difficult Creek Trail.
Difficult Creek Trail is a winter wonderland of peaceful snowshoeing. Like the Lost Man Trail, Difficult Creek brings together the charms of several different hikes. It's relatively mild, for one thing, with a gentle elevation of only 1,340 feet.
You'll still get a workout, though, as one length of the trail gets rather steep. So you'll get your cardio—and a peaceful day hike!
It's also a good hike for history lovers, as the trail runs past the remnants of several historic cabins.
Difficult Creek Trail deserves its reputation as the Best Winter Hike, but it's gorgeous in spring, as well, when the nearby Roaring Fork River swells. So add it to your spring hiking list as well as winter.
When you look at the Aspen hiking trail map, you quickly realize the area is as notorious for hiking as it is for skiing. The fact that hikers don't talk more about Aspen is more a testament to the skiing than a comment on the hiking.
Now that you've seen some of our top picks, you'll have an answer next time someone asks you, "Is there hiking in Aspen?" Tell them, "There's only some of the best hiking on Earth!"
More of the Best Hikes in Aspen
There are so many places to hike near Aspen, CO, that we can't detail them all. So here's a quick list of other hikes we know you'll love:
- American Lake American Lake Trail
- Ute Trail
- Conundrum Hot Springs and Peak Trail up Castle Creek
- Sunnyside Trail
- West Maroon / West Maroon Pass / West Maroon Trail
- Rim Trail
- Weller Lake
- New York Creek
You can find the scoop on all these trails at alltrails.com.
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