[Top of the Sunnyside Trail. Photo: DigitalWheelie] Mention Aspen, Colorado and most people will instantly think of snow-covered slopes and some of the best skiing in the entire country. Aspen is all that of course, and it is rightly recognized for the unmatched winter destination it is, delighting skiers for over a hundred years. But Aspen is so much more, a town of rich history, stunning beauty and a wonderful place to start from when exploring the incredible natural wonders that surround it.
When the snow recedes as the seasons change, the mountains, slopes and valleys around Aspen become a tapestry of green just waiting to be explored. Throughout the Summer, nature lovers, hikers and those that just love the outdoor lifestyle flock to Aspen to enjoy the amazing natural environment and some of the most beautiful views you can find anywhere in the world.
With so much choice on offer though, it can be daunting planning a hike around Aspen. Where do you even begin when presented with miles of trails, endless viewpoints and places to explore?
Getting the most from your stay in Aspen means a bit of planning. While every trail has something to offer, and whatever you choose will give you some amazing memories, there are some trails that bring Aspen to life. Here are 7 of the best hikes in the area that we think give you that true Aspen experience. Whether you want a serious hike or a more relaxed time on the trails, there is something for everyone.
The Ute Trail
Within walking distance of downtown Aspen, simply head down Ute Avenue for half a mile, the trailhead is on the right and clearly marked. There is parking on the other side of the street for convenience.
If you are up for a challenge, the Ute trails offers a great workout and some fabulous views, taking in everything that Aspen has to offer along the way. From a glimpse into the lives of the rich and famous to the breath-taking views from high up on the ski slopes, the Ute Trail has it all.
A one-way trail, the 2.2 miles of clearly marked route takes you from the trailhead on Ute Avenue to the top of one of the most popular ski slopes, where you can ride the gondola back down, completely free of charge.For those interested in the celebrity lifestyle, the beginnings of the Ute trail wind through the Aspens, where you get a glimpse of the large houses that are used as winter getaways. The trail climbs over 1,300 feet in height over the 2.2-mile length, and in this early stage you gain height quickly as you navigate the tight switchbacks and dense foliage.
We soon leave the fancy houses behind though, as the trail opens out at the halfway stage of Ute Rock. Here the trail presents us with glorious views of Aspen itself, along with the mountains and valleys all around. It’s a great place to stop, take a rest, have a snack and just bask in the beauty of nature. If ever you need reminding of just how amazing the world that we live in is, this is the spot to visit.
The trail then continues to climb through shaded forest, finally reaching the top of the mountain to reveal some of the finest views you can find on any Aspen hiking trail. Once at the top, you can enjoy a free ride back down on the gondola, or if you are feeling fit, hike all the way back down again.
A difficult hike due to the constant climbing, but not to be missed if you have the legs for it.
The Lost Man Trail
Found on Highway 82, this trail starts from the Lost Man Campground about 7 miles outside of Aspen and winds its way 8.8 miles through stunning scenery to Independence Pass. The trailhead is on the left just past mile marker 55 on Highway 82, with plenty of parking available.
With substantial elevation, this is a difficult trail that takes around 6 hours to complete. There are car parks at either end, you can do the route in a single direction or both, although arranging transport from the other end of the trail is something to plan out beforehand.
What makes it so great is that you quickly get away from the sights and sounds of everyday life and find yourself enveloped in nature. A little way out of Aspen, it puts you right into the heart of mountain country from the start, and you really get a sense of the isolation and scope of the environment as you move along the trail.
With the sounds of the creeks all around you, the scent of the alpine wildflowers, and if you complete the whole trail a great chance to see wild mountain goats, the trail gives a real sense of life in the mountains. It is a very open trail, which can leave you exposed in bad weather, so bring appropriate gear as a precaution, but that openness ensures you have amazing views all the way up.
For those not used to altitude, the thinner air can make things a challenge. This is definitely a trail to do after you have acclimatized in Aspen for a few days first if you want the best experience. With many clear stopping points on the way, the lower levels of the trail can be great for an up and down hike, taking in a few miles of the climb, seeing the views and returning back to the car park, making this an adaptable hike to suit your fitness and ability.
Whether you go the whole route and see everything Lone Man has to offer, or sample a small part of it, the Lone Man Trail is an Aspen hike that gives you all the natural beauty and wonder of mountain existence in one place.
Maroon Bells Scenic Trail
This taste of the wonderful Aspen environment is reached by heading west out of Aspen, at the Highway 82 roundabout, and turning left on Maroon Creek Road. From June to September, the road is restricted to traffic from 9.00 am to 5 pm. Stopping at the Aspen Highlands Ski Area, you can take the shuttle which leave every 20 minutes to the trailhead.
For those driving outside of those restrictions, continue on to the Welcome Station roughly 4 miles down the road, where the mandatory vehicle fee will be collected, and then a further 5 miles to Maroon Lake where you find the parking lot and the trailhead itself.
It’s a short, easy hike that is suitable for almost anyone, but don’t let that fool you. The Maroon Bells Scenic Trail gives you some of the most beautiful views you can get around Aspen, making it one of the best hikes and a great place to start when exploring the area.Taking just a couple of hours to get through the 1.5-mile trail even at a leisurely pace, the hike starts at Maroon Bells, and takes you out into the wilderness across the rocky ground. The trail takes you around the lake, with some glorious views as you go.
For those seeking more of a challenge, you can extend the hike by a couple of miles on the Maroon Creek Trail, which follows the path of the creek itself and offers spectacular views of Maroon Bells and Pyramid Peak.
The Maroon Bells area is considered to be the most picturesque in Aspen, and with a choice of difficulty, the trails starting from the Maroon Bells trailhead offer everyone a chance to see the wilderness for themselves and enjoy all that this natural wonderland has to offer.
Whichever path you take, the regular bus service is there to bring you back to the trailhead at the end of your hike. It’s a relaxing and inspiring hike that gives you a taste of what you can expect from Aspen hiking trails, and in that way is a great place to start.
Hunter Creek Trail
Accessed from the well-marked trailhead on Hunter Creek Road, you reach the Hunter Creek Trail by heading out of Aspen on Red Mountain Road, turning right onto Hunter Creek Road after 1 mile. A quarter of a mile along you will find a steep left hand turn that takes you to the parking lot and the trailhead beyond.
A 5-mile loop that is easy to moderate and suitable for most hikers with a little experience, Hunter Creek Trail follows the route of the creek as it winds through the woodlands and rocky terrain around Aspen. The trail begins just a short walk from downtown Aspen, and it takes a gentle climb up and away from the city across stunning bridges and amazing natural surroundings.From the wide path to the gentle climbing, the lower part of the trail is suitable for anyone, even children can quickly get a taste of life away from the city, turning back before the harder upper section. The woodland environment with its wildflowers and abundance of wildlife provides a riot of sounds and colors. There are many beautiful bridges that open out to give you great views of the mountains, and you are constantly reminded of the creek nearby through the sounds of water babbling along. A waterfall is located about a third of the way along the trail on the left, providing a beautiful backdrop to your journey.
With several observation points along the way allowing you to stop to admire the scenery, this is an Aspen hiking trail that lets you relax and take in the amazing surroundings. Later on, the rocky ground and harder climb make the hike more of a challenge. This part is also more exposed to the weather, and taking appropriate gear with you is recommended.
As a trail that is easy to reach, can be as challenging as you want depending on how far along you venture, and immerses you in the sights, sounds and smells of nature almost as soon as you walk past the trailhead, Hunter Creek Trail is hard to beat.
This amazing trail is not too far out from downtown Aspen. Drive west out of Aspen on Highway 82 for about a quarter of a mile, then turn right onto Cemetery Lane at the stoplight. After crossing the bridge, take a left turn onto McLain Flats Road, you will see a small parking area on the left. Park here, the trailhead is opposite to the right.
Connecting Red Mountain to the Hunter Creek Valley, this 6 mile, moderately difficult trail is an open, dry trail that is one of the few that provides accessible hiking even in winter. The main attraction for this hike is that openness, which means two things. First, you are in the sun the whole way, hence the name, but also, the unobstructed views of the mountains and valley, with Aspen itself nestled among the grandeur of the scenery.An out and back trail, this is one you can do as much of as you like, making it a flexible choice for days when the weather may turn against you at some point, but the real attraction is the views. The openness of the trail along almost the entire route provides the clearest views all around the valley and mountains beyond. The walk along Sunnyside Ridge delivers endless, breathtaking vistas that will leave you in awe of the sheer scale and majesty of the Aspen area.
There are options to extend the hike, in fact you can turn this into a multiday wilderness camping journey if that is your thing. However, while you can enjoy the isolation and rugged surroundings of the wilderness, you are never too far away from civilization if you need it. A great way to try wilderness camping for the first time, or for taking the inexperienced on a first adventure.
The flexible hiking, relatively gentle terrain and simply stunning views make the Sunnyside Trail a wonderful option to build your Aspen hiking adventure from. Start here and see where it takes you.
Rio Grande Trail
Easily accessed from downtown Aspen, from Main Street turn north into Mill Street, then at the 4-way stop sign, turn left into Puppy Smith Road. The trail entrance is across the road from the Post Office.
Linking Glenwood Springs with Aspen, the Rio Grande Trail is a 42-mile long adventure that climbs 2,100 feet in height as it winds its way between the two cities. Designed for hiking and biking from the outset, it is an easy trail suitable for families and is the perfect way to take children into the natural world and see the amazing views and natural wonders for as long as you like.Following the path of the old railway, it is a wide, flat trail that you can walk as little or as much as you want. For beginners or those with families, it is the idea place to enjoy an Aspen adventure. You don’t have to travel far to enjoy stunning views and get the feel of being out in the natural world, leaving the hustle and bustle of city life behind.
For experienced hikers, a multi-day walk covering the entire 42-miles offers a challenge, and it provides an endlessly changing background of sumptuous views accompanied by the sounds of nature. A highlight is the first 8 or 9 miles outside Aspen, they are worth it for the views even if the hiking challenge itself is minimal.
Hiking in Aspen covers all levels and abilities, and the Rio Grande Trail is at the beginner end of that, even suitable for families looking for a short walk to see the views before returning. That accessibility, and the simply stunning views on show throughout the trail, are why it really is a great hiking trail in Aspen.
American Lake Trail
If views across mountain lakes is your idea of heaven, then the American Lake Trail is for you. Climbing 2,000 feet along its 6.5-mile length, it is a challenging trail, but at the end you find yourself looking over the beautiful American Lake itself, where you can take in the exquisite scenery.
The American Lake trail is easily accessible with a vehicle. Head west from Aspen on Highway 82 for half a mile, at the roundabout turn right on to Castle Creek Road. Follow this for 10 miles until you reach the Elk Mountain Lodge, where you turn right into the American Lake parking lot. The trailhead is found here.
Starting out at the trailhead, the trail gains height quickly along a series of switchbacks, as you work your way through the Aspen groves full of wildflowers, and from there moves through a spruce forest to open, bright wildflower meadows. With the landscape ever changing, you see the very best of everything Aspen hiking has to offer in one place, a truly stunning experience.
After the meadows, the trail reenters forest surroundings then open out to reveal a beautiful waterfall backdrop to the scenic beauty surrounding you. From here, it is a short walk to American Lake, with its rippling water contrasted by the rough granite cliff backdrop.
What makes this special for Aspen hiking is that continually varying environment, not just the natural phenomena like the lake itself, the waterfall and the imposing spruce forests, but also reminders of the past too. An old mining site sits untouched, a testament to the struggles that have shaped both the region and the country by those who came before us.
It is also flexible, with an appropriate permit, wild camping is allowed in the area, and the American Lake trail can become a multi-day adventure into the wilderness if that is what you are looking for from your Aspen hiking journey.
It is also flexible, with an appropriate permit, dispersed camping is allowed in the area, and the American Lake Trail can become a multi-day adventure into the wilderness if that is what you are looking for from your Aspen hiking journey.
Not every hiking trail in Aspen is suitable for every hiker, so when choosing the best Aspen hiking trails, we have chosen treks that appeal to a range of people. While simple, easily accessible trails like Rio Grande offer little challenge to experienced hikers, they allow the inexperienced or even families a way to get out into nature and see the wonders it holds.
However, that doesn’t mean Aspen hiking is one dimensional, with hikes such as the Ute Trail, Lost Man and American Lake offering enjoyable, challenging hiking for even the most experienced. While we have picked the very best trails for you, there are hundreds of Aspen hiking trails across the area all giving you a chance to enjoy the sights and sounds of this spectacular region. No matter how many times you visit Aspen, you will never be short of new hiking opportunities for your trip.