Aspen is home to so many wonderful outdoor activities year round but the summers are when the options really become endless. You’ve got biking (road or trail), running, floating, swimming, climbing, skateboarding, blading, even skinning for the real diehards that aren't ready for ski season to end. One of my personal favorites and probably the easiest for anyone to start, is hiking. Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley has an abundance of trails ranging all skill levels and landscapes. Here is a list of some of my favorites around town.
Sunnyside Trail begins just outside of downtown Aspen on McLain Flats Road. It is an intermediate trail that stretches 10 miles from Red Mountain to the Hunter Creek Valley. Although the 10 mile option is extremely beautiful with big Aspen meadows and views, most people (including me) tend to do the shorter route of hiking up to either the Radio Tower (2.4 Miles from trailhead) or just passed the Shadyside sign (3.0 Miles). If you couldn’t guess by the name, Sunnyside gets tons of sun so it’s advised to hike earlier rather than later. It heats up quick. I love Sunnyside because in my opinion, it provides some of the best views of the Aspen Valley. You can see all the way east towards Independence Pass, look straight ahead to Pyramid Peak and then West to Snowmass and Capitol Peak. It is also well balanced in that it is not a constant climb and has several leveled out points to catch your breath. Remember the sunscreen and enjoy taking in the diverse landscape!
The Ute Trail. This one is a beast. I would say it is one of the more difficult trails Aspen has to offer. Again, that is just my opinion but I think most people would agree. The Ute trailhead is located on Ute Ave and climbs 3,200 feet to the top of Aspen Mountain. If you are short for time or just don't feel like battling the extra 2 miles to the top, you have the option of stopping at Ute Rock. Ute Rock provides incredible views of town as well as up valley towards Independence Pass. Ute Rock is about 0.9 Miles from the trailhead and allows you to climb just under 1,400 feet. Unlike Sunnyside Trail, The Ute is a constant climb with many switchbacks. It is also very narrow until you get to Ute Rock. One nice benefit if you do decide to hike all the way to the top, you can take the Gondola down. And it’s free! Your knees will definitely thank you. I highly recommend the Ute if you're really looking to push yourself and get a great workout.
Smuggler Road/Hunter Creek
Now, for those that would enjoy more of a leisurely hike to catch up with a friend, give the pup (and you) some exercise, or to just get some fresh air, I would recommend the Smuggler Mountain Trail/Hunter Creek Loop. Smuggler Mountain Trail/Road starts just off Park Circle and climbs approximately 1.44 miles to an overlook where the trail then connects to Hunter Creek or continues on up to Warren Lakes 5 miles away. For the Hunter Creek Loop you take a left at the overlook and follow the trail signs leading you back down into town. I love this loop because it gives you such a great variety of landscapes and features. Smuggler is very open and exposed while the Hunter Creek section is more sheltered and lush. You also get to cross several bridges over the river which is probably my favorite part of the whole hike. The entire loop is about 4.3 miles with a total elevation gain about 1,000 feet. As I said, this is a fairly moderate hike that almost anyone can do and enjoy.
Lost Man Loop
For those of you that would like something a little longer and more “remote”, I would highly recommend The Lost Man Trail. This trail is approximately 9 Miles and although Aspen Trail Finder classifies it as difficult, I think it is fairly intermediate. It begins 14 miles outside of Aspen along Independence Pass at the Lost Man pull off just across from The Lost Man Campground. This parking area is considered Lower Lost Man and where the trail ends is Upper Lost Man. I would recommend traveling with a partner or group to which you can coordinate dropping off a car at Upper Lost Man and parking the other vehicle where you begin at Lower Lost Man. (The Lost Man Loop refers to the entire section of hiking from Lower to Upper and then back to the Lower Lost Man parking lot.) As a 5 year local, I am embarrassed to admit that last Summer was the first time I had ever done this hike. But, I fell in love. From the incredible mountain valley to the rivers, to the alpine lakes, Lost man has so much to offer and enjoy. Because this trail reaches a summit just below 13,000 feet, it is highly advised you are well hydrated and well equipped with food and snacks.
This last trail has become one of my favorites after only doing it for the first time last summer. It is located near Basalt just off Highway 82 on Bishop Lane. The full trail for Arbaney Kittle covers around 18 miles. Of course that is much too long for most people, including myself, so I tend to favor the 1.70 mile hike to the first overlook. This trail is fairly difficult, especially within the first mile providing a steep climb. The views are certainly worth it from the lookout giving you a true range of what this valley consists of. On one side, you get a direct view of Basalt Mountain and the red cliff valley below. The other side provides a direct view of Mount Sopris and the more alpine type terrain you get driving up the Roaring Fork Valley. I truly love the change of scenery Arbaney Kittle provides as well as a great excuse to venture past the roundabout.
Obviously, Aspen and The Roaring Fork Valley are in no way limited to just these five trails. There are boundless possibilities for hiking that span all difficulties. Honorable mentions include Grizzly Reservoir, Cathedral Lake, American Lake, Independence Pass, Grottos, Rim Trail, to name a few. As I’ve said, these are just some of my personal favorites I have frequented over the last five years. For more trail information and ideas, www.aspentrailfinder.com is always my go to. Happy Hiking!