Top 5 Fall Hikes In Aspen
The leaves are changing in Aspen with peak colors scheduled for early October. Leaf peeping is a favorite activity of locals and visitors alike and hiking is a perfect activity to take in the colorful feast. There are hundreds of hikes in the Roaring Fork Valley that allow for views of Aspen trees, some of the finest color turning trees around, but these are some of our favorite in order from easiest to most difficult.
Easy To Hard Hikes
East of AspenFor those looking for an easy stroll close to town, the East of Aspen Trail — complete with the East of Aspen Extension — is a perfect choice for expansive views and colorful surroundings. Sights including high peaks of Independence Pass and valley walls chalked full of greens and yellows surround on all sides. Starting from town, walk up the sidewalk that parallels Highway 82 for about a mile until a dirt path veers to the right over the river. The dirt path follows the Roaring Fork River for three miles until it reaches Difficult Campground. Plenty of detours along the way can be found leading to various sections of the river for peaceful rest stops. If a six to eight mile out-and-back is not in the cards, driving to the start of East of Aspen Extension and catching the last mile and a half to Difficult is a great option as well.
Hunter Creek Valley
For glimpses of all the yellows, oranges, and reds of the fall foliage, the Hunter Creek Valley can’t be beat. If a more strenuous, longer day on the trails is in order, starting from town and hiking up Smuggler Trail or Lani White Trail will both get you to the Hunter Creek Valley. Another option is getting a shuttle ride to the Upper Hunter Creek Trailhead which will allow for quicker and less strenuous access to the bountiful views of the valley. Historic mining cabins and beaver dams complete the sights to enjoy in this iconic valley. You can hike as far in as you’d like, just remember to save energy to turn around and hike back, but the views of Aspen Mountain and Aspen Highlands will inspire your return journey
One of the classic lake hikes up the Castle Creek Valley is the out-and-back trail to American Lake. The start of the three-mile, 2000-foot ascent is a series of switchbacks through a dense and beautiful Aspen tree grove with golden tones in the fall lighting the way. Once through the Aspens, more coniferous environs await leading to scree fields and finally the stunning high-alpine American Lake. In the fall, there may be snow on the surrounding peaks and the temperatures at this higher elevation tend to be on the cooler side so pack and layer appropriately.
This trail got its name for a reason! Featuring one of the largest Aspen groves in the valley, Sunnyside is a favorite of hikers and mountain bikers alike as it feels like a yellow brick road is highlighting your journey. Starting from either the Rio Grande trail or McLain Flats road, the trail starts off ascending at a fairly steep pace with great views of the surrounding area but mellows into the beautiful Aspens which get sunshine into the evening hours on the south-facing slope. Once you’ve gone about 5 miles, you’ll be at the Four Corners junction. From here you can turn around and go back down or take the Red Mountain Road and Hunter Creek trails back down to town.
The hike from Aspen to Snowmass Village is one all avid hikers should do once in their life. Nine and a half miles will treat you to Aspen trees, wildflowers, ski slopes, creek crossings, rock gardens, and views of the Roaring Fork Valley. Starting from Tie Hack Road, you’ll wind through the Buttermilk Ski area before crossing Owl Creek and dropping into the Snowmass side of the trail and the Snowmass Ski area. If hiking another nine and a half miles back to Aspen is making you tired just thinking about it, grabbing a coffee or beer in the Snowmass Base Village before hopping a free bus back to Aspen is a delightful alternative.
Extra Credit: Capitol Lake
One of the most beautiful hikes in the Roaring Fork Valley, the out-and-back route to Capitol Lake winds through multiple Aspen groves, open meadows, and pine forests before reaching the iconic high-alpine Capitol Lake at the base of Capitol Peak, one of Colorado’s 14ers. Many overnight backpackers populate the trail as it is a popular route for longer trips, but the 6.5-mile ascent with an elevation gain of roughly 2,200 feet out and 900 feet on the way back is easily accomplished on one day when started from the Capitol Creek Trailhead past Old Snowmass.