Our Team's Top Leaf-Peeping Drives, Hikes and Sweet Spots

Posted on September 9, 2022 by Chris Klug

Temperatures in Aspen are finally starting to cool from the Indian summer we’ve experienced over the last two weeks, and with the cooling temperatures comes arguably the prettiest time of year in the valley! As locals, we are so lucky to welcome the changing of leaves every year. With how amazing the winters and summers are, we often take the off seasons for granted. It’s good to remind ourselves and acknowledge that people not only travel to Aspen to ski in the winter and hike in the summer but some travel solely to see the mountains in the fall as they catch on fire with vibrant yellows, oranges, reds, and every color in between. This year, we can expect the hills to really light up given the amount of rain we saw this summer. We are already starting to see tinges of yellow at higher altitudes so be ready to get out there over the next 3 weeks to experience the colors in full form. Keep reading for our team’s favorite drives, hikes, and sweet spots to take it all in!

Best Drives

The two most obvious and well-known leaf-peeping drives are up Maroon Creek and Castle Creek. They are easily accessible, not far from town, and almost any vehicle can make it up just fine as the gradient is not steep. These drives are iconic on their own. Add in the fall colors and you’re in for a drive you won’t soon forget! Independence Pass also offers fantastic views and colors, but it is steeper and a bit more treacherous than the previous drives. If heights and steep cliff drop-offs aren’t for you, stick to Maroon and Castle. For those with vehicles equipped to handle an off-road adventure, try Little Annie’s Road up the backside of Aspen Mountain or Express Creek up to Taylor Pass for an exceptionally rocky ride. Worth it for the views, though!

Best Hikes

If you want to hike to some great views points but don’t want to deal with steep grades, difficult terrain, or venturing far from town, try Smuggler Trail to BTS (Behind the Sign) Trail in Hunter Creek or Sunnyside near Cemetery Lane! Both offer gradual and smooth gradients while leading you to some great viewpoints where the Town of Aspen is visible among the colors. For those wanting to get farther from town, American Lake Trail, Capitol Lake Trail, and Crater Lake Trail are some of the most gorgeous yet still easily accessible trails in the Aspen Snowmass area. Seeing the fall colors reflect off the glassy alpine lakes is one of the most beautiful sights our valley has to offer.

Sweet Spots

If multitasking is your thing, it’s hard to beat fly fishing in the gold-medal Frying Pan River while taking in the colors all around. Something about the meditative nature of fly fishing combined with the vibrancy of the trees makes life feel rather surreal as the water rushes past you. On the other hand, if the opposite of multitasking is your thing, enjoy a leisurely ride up Silver Queen Gondola and relax as you soak up the colors surrounding Aspen. However you decide to take it all in, we hope you have a rejuvenating and pleasant start to the off-season. Have fun and stay safe!

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Categories: Off Season | Hiking | Outdoors

For decades, adventurers from all walks of life have sought out Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley for being the hiker’s paradise that it is. Whether it’s the expert only multi-night trek across the Four Pass Loop or a paved path for beginners, the scenery through fields of wildflowers, across rushing streams or deep into a dense forest will stay with you forever. You can find endless options for day hikes and backpacking trips surrounding Aspen. Use this blog as a way of determining the best day hikes in town from some of our most sought-after trails, starting from easiest to hardest.

Easy Trails

Rio Grande Trail: Elevation: 7,700 ft. – 7,900 ft.

This is both a hiking and biking trail. The trail starts behind the Post Office on Puppy Smith Road. The first two miles of the trail are paved and then becomes a dirt trail after crossing Cemetery Lane. Very flat with no steep grades.

Hunter Creek Trail: Elevation: 8,900 ft. – 10,400 ft.

The trail begins just east of the apartments on Lone Pine Road or directly off the Rio Grande Trail extension. This is a gradual uphill climb along Hunter Creek towards Hunter Valley.  To access the upper trail, drive north on Mill Street, veer left onto Red Mountain Road and follow for 1.1 miles to Hunter Creek Road.  Turn right onto Hunter Road and follow the signs to the parking lot.  Upper portions of the trail pass through alpine meadows scattered with several abandoned homestead cabins.

Smuggler Trail: Elevation: 8,000 ft. – 8,800 ft.

This trailhead accesses Smuggler Mountain Road, one of the most popular recreation areas in the immediate Aspen vicinity. Any spring, summer or fall afternoon, Smuggler Mountain Road is busy with Aspenites hiking, running, mountain biking or walking their dogs. Smuggler Road provides a short (1-1/2 mile) workout with great views of Aspen from the look-out point, which makes it very popular. You can access the Hunter Creek Trail or Continue to Warren Lakes.

Moderate Trail

Sunnyside Trail: Elevation: 8,000 ft. – 10,000 ft.

The first part of the trail contains a series of switchbacks through sagebrush and scrub oak. About 1 mile along the trail, you will cross a driveway then continue to Red Mountain. The trail finally joins with the Hunter Creek Trail in the Hunter Creek Valley. As there are many spurs that can lead to one getting lost, a topographical map is recommended.

Difficult Trails

Ute Trail: Elevation: 8,000 ft. – 9,000 ft.

The trail starts close to town on Ute Avenue. The sign for the trail is approximately 0.4 miles up Ute Avenue on the right if you are headed east. It is steady uphill with switchbacks, 0.9 miles and 1,000 vertical feet to a rock outcropping. The view of Aspen from the rock outcropping is spectacular. A mile long aerobic workout.

Red Butte Trail: Elevation: 7,900 ft. – 8,400 ft.

This trail is accessed off Cemetery Lane and is a quick but difficult trail with amazing views. Some parts feel more like rock climbing than hiking, so be prepared for narrow, steep and rocky portions of the trail.

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Categories: Hiking | Spring | Outdoors | Guide

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