6 Aspen Hiking Trails to Explore this Summer

Activities | 9 Comments

Take advantage of the mild weather and moderate temperatures of summer months in the alpine. Even if you’re used to the local scenery from your skiing adventures, the Aspen terrain makes for an entirely new experience once the snow has melted. The vibrancy of the summer colors alone — including every shade of green you could imagine —  should make you eager to immerse yourself in the Aspen mountain landscapes.

Here are six enjoyable Aspen hiking trails we think you’ll be glad you explored:

Ute Trail

Perhaps the easiest hiking trail to access from downtown Aspen, the Ute is a challenging, switchbacking trail on the east end of town. Because it’s so close to town, it tends to be well-traveled — you’ll want shoes with good grip to combat trail wear for the first 1.5 miles. You’ll also be gaining a thousand vertical feet before you’ve covered a mile, so be prepared (and carry plenty of water).

At 9,185 feet, you’ll reach a rock outcropping known as Ute Rock, from which you’ll have a stunning panorama of Aspen. Many hikers turn around here, while others continue on the Ajax trail to the top of Aspen Mountain. If you choose to continue up Ajax, you can treat yourself with a free gondola ride down facing the valley view.=

Smuggler Mountain Road

Another local favorite, Smuggler can be a short hike or a longer one, depending on your mood and the time you’ve set aside for your adventure. Located on the edge of Aspen’s east side, the relatively steep grade (which begins up a 4WD dirt road) will get your heart pumping right away. On the way up, you’ll have views of the old Smuggler Mine structures — the mine where the world’s largest nugget of silver was found in 1894.

The most popular turnaround point is at the overlook, just 1.4 miles up. You’ll follow a narrow path to your right through aspen trees and be rewarded with a bench near a large, wooden deck. Enjoy the view of the Roaring Fork Valley and the entire City of Aspen below.

You’ll have three choices from this point: turn back the way you came, turn left up the BTS trail to visit two mines (eventually rejoining Smuggler Mountain Road), or continue all the way to Warren Lakes (6 miles one way from the trailhead).

Crater Lake Trail

Most Aspen visitors make time to visit the Maroon Bells, and if you’re one of them, opt for a beautiful side hike to Crater Lake. While most Maroon Bells tourists stick close to Maroon Lake near the parking lot, those who decide to venture a bit further will be rewarded. The trail to Crater Lake takes you away from the crowds at Maroon Lake and gives you a more intimate view of North Maroon Peak.

To get to the Maroon Bells during the day, you’ll need to make a shuttle reservation for $15.95 per person. If you drive to the Aspen Highlands parking lot to meet the bus, you’ll also need to plan for parking fees. 

Once at the Bells, head from the parking lot down to Maroon Lake for your first majestic view. Follow the trail to the north side of the lake, where the trail gently climbs through sparse trees for another mile until you reach a trail junction. Turn left at the fork and follow the West Maroon Creek Trail for a few hundred feet to reach Crater Lake.
Soak in the view of the Maroon Bells, and walk around the lake to see Pyramid Peak on the right and Sievers Mountain on the left. When you’ve fully enjoyed the views, head back the way you came.

Cathedral Lake

You’ll find this hike relatively strenuous, gaining 2,000 feet of elevation in about 2.5 miles. If you exit the Aspen roundabout at Castle Creek Road instead of Maroon Creek Road, you’ll be heading towards the Cathedral Lake Trail. Wind along Castle Creek for 12.2 miles, then turn up a gravel road on your right. 

Once you start up the trail, you’ll find the trees beginning to clear relatively quickly. At that point, the incredible views (which don’t let up, even when you reach the lake) will begin. You’ll see the valley, the flank of Malemute Peak, and even the edge of Cathedral Lake will come into view. 

When the trail forks, you’ll head left towards Cathedral Lake and tackle another short climb before cresting the ridge. Then, you’ll descend slightly to stop at the north side of Cathedral Lake at the base of Cathedral Mountain. 

Take a break and enjoy this stunning basin with its impressive views, then turn around and follow the trail back to the parking lot.

New York Creek Trail

If you’re ready for a slightly longer excursion (8.4 miles roundtrip) and happy to brave some mild creek crossings (including Lincoln Creek, New York Creek and Brooklyn Creek Gulch), head south out of Aspen up to Independence Pass. The road to the trailhead requires skill navigating uneven terrain and/or a vehicle with more-than-standard ground clearance; you’ll drive up Lincoln Creek Road for three miles to reach the trailhead.

You’ll start the hike by crossing Lincoln Creek, after which you’ll take an old jeep road of sorts for a mile, heading continually uphill to the southwest. After some switchbacks, you’ll hit a clearing and then follow an in-use dirt road for half a mile.

Turn left at the sign for the New York Creek Trail, and follow New York Creek for three quarters of a mile, climbing through spruce forests and then crossing the creek. You’ll find the trail opening up into an alpine meadow, then getting steeper for another mile until you reach another meadow above the treeline.

The New York Creek hike is another out-and-back hike, so simply retrace your steps when you’re ready to find your car.

Tabor Creek

If you haven’t had enough of Lincoln Creek Road, you can continue driving another mile past the New York Creek trailhead to brave even more backcountry. The Tabor Creek trail (about 4 miles each way) will wind you through willow thickets, flowered alpine meadows, and pine forests to a waterfall and Tabor Lake (assuming you can find it!). The parking lot sits right next to the water. 

The trail begins by crossing Lincoln Creek, then gets steep for a half mile until the trail grade slightly eases onto a road. Cross the road and hike through the woods on the east side of Tabor Creek. The trail takes you above treeline on rugged, brushy terrain until you hit a big meadow in the upper valley where the trail becomes difficult to distinguish (at about 2.75 miles). When the trail disappears, you can look for and follow cairns until an obvious trail resumes.

You can find Tabor Lake by taking a side route heading west once you reach the pass overlooking the Anderson/Petroleum Lake basin. The primary landmark to find the route to the lake is a recessed waterfall — it almost seems to be within a cave. To reach the waterfall, you can bushwhack up the creek which is draining the lake until you reach the flat areas below the waterfall. From this area, you can find the trail to the Tabor Lake.

Eager for More Hiking in Aspen?

These aren’t the only six spectacular hikes in Aspen, so if your appetite has only just been whet, let the adventures continue! We invite our guests to contact our Alpine Property concierge for further recommendations. 

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