Monday, February 7, 2022

Outdoor fun in Aspen (snow not needed)

The Maroon Bells are one of Aspen's most famous sights. 

Even if you’re not an avid skier or thrill-seeking mountain biker, there are plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy in this classic Colorado town. Family-friendly trails and parks offer a variety of fun in open spaces that are preserved by the city of Aspen and accessible to visitors.

The Sanctuary is a tribute
to John Denver.
Here are a few of the places Larry and I have found that suit our senior abilities and love of the outdoors.

John Denver Sanctuary

Built in memory of the famous singer, the sanctuary is a calm, inspirational place featuring stone slabs inscribed with words and songs from John Denver. It is a fitting memorial to the artist who immortalized the town’s beauty and character in his songs. Situated next to Rio Grande Park, the Sanctuary is an ideal spot for a picnic, meditation, or a stroll through the maintained wetlands and blooming gardens.

Walk or bike along the
Roaring Fork River.

Rio Grande Trail

This city path follows the Roaring Fork River and is ideal for walking or easy biking. We usually include a portion of the paved path in our outings to the John Denver Sanctuary, making a pleasant addition to a morning escapade. Fall foliage and spring color add beauty to the natural scene.

Hunter Creek Trail

Golden aspens overlook the
Hunter Creek Trail.
If you’re looking for or a little more muscle activity, try the Hunter Creek Trail, Its forest setting will make it hard to believe that you are still in town. You can hike more than six miles to Reno Waterfall, or take the shorter 1.7 mile north Hunter Creek trail—which is what we did. There are cross trails along the way like Lani White Trail, or you can eventually hike to pavement and walk back into town. Don’t be surprised if you’ve covered four or five miles by then.

Castle Creek Road

Bike, hike or drive along Castle Creek Road for stunning views.

This is a favorite of serious bike riders. For us it is a stunning drive in the car. From the roundabout west of Aspen’s center, take paved Castle Creek Road for 12.5 miles to the Castle Creek trailhead. Allow several hours if you are biking on the road or hiking a trail. If you drive, stop at Ashcroft to see remains of this 1800s mining town. Continue further on Castle Creek Road, and you can have a special meal at Pine Creek Cookhouse—if you have made reservations ahead.

Silver Queen Gondola

Glorious views from the summit of Aspen Mountain.

Visit the 11,000 foot summit of Aspen Mountain via the gondola which takes 15 minutes to travel 2.5 miles. At the top wander along ski trails (when no snow) taking in far-reaching views of the countryside and the town of Aspen. There are a variety of trails, so choose one or two that are best suited to your hiking ability and stamina at the higher altitude. Later relax with a snack and drink in provided red rocking chairs before descending to town on the gondola.

The Grottos

Nature provides a beautiful show at the Grottos.

Seemingly overlooked by visitors to Aspen is the one-mile Grotto Loop Trail, about eight miles north of Aspen in the White River National Forest. We’ve found this to be a delightful place to spend a couple of hours admiring the deep crevices of ice caves and wandering among boulders left by a glacier that melted 18,000 years ago. Continuing on the trail, there’s a series of cascading waterfalls tumbling over several levels of massive rocks and boulders. The Grottos pack a surprising “wow” factor.

Weller Lake Trail

The trail to Weller Lake is easy but worthwhile.

Another family-friendly hike is to Weller Lake, an incredibly scenic body of water in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness of the White River National Forest. Although it is almost 10,000 feet elevation, it’s easy to get to, only has a 200 foot elevation gain, and is slightly less than a mile round trip. I’ve heard you can swim in the lake on a nice summer day, although the outer rim was dammed up with logs and rocks when we were there.

Maroon Bells

Bridge on the Maroon Lake Loop

I’ve written about the famous twin peaks several times before, so I’ll just mention it briefly here. Mountains, lake reflections, golden aspens in fall, and colorful flowers in spring make this a “must-see” every time we are in the area. For a shorter hike take the Maroon Lake Loop, or try the four-mile round trip Crater Lake Trail for more challenge. Go early in the morning, and spend enough time to fully enjoy this beautiful destination.

 Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

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