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Aspen’s Best Early Season Hikes and Rides

Spring in Aspen means snowmelt is in full swing, lending a lovely green awakening to our beautiful mountain landscape. Though the melting and run off is great for the flora and fauna, it can make for some muddy trail conditions during the months of May and June. With careful planning, there are plenty of options to get out and enjoy hiking and biking during this time while avoiding still-sticky trails. Sun-exposed trails and dry roads will allow you to enjoy the burn of a good climb on foot or a bike.

Sunny Side Trail
This is one of Aspen’s favorite hikes and mountain bike trails, and it is perfect for early-season use due to its sunny, southern exposure. It is s steep climb up the side of Red Mountain from the Roaring Fork River. The trail is a satisfying 6+ miles, great for early season training or a leisurely long day hike. Considered to be moderate in difficulty, this trail begins with a 1-mile jaunt through sagebrush switchbacks before joining up with Red Mountain, and eventually with the Hunter Creek Trail. For trail details and directions to the trailhead, click here.

East of Aspen Trail
The East of Aspen Trail is another popular early season route. This scenic trail parallels the Roaring Fork River for 3+ miles, and offers a gradual path eastward out of Aspen toward Independence Pass. It’s an alternative route to Highway 82 for cyclists, hikers and runners, and skims along the Northstar Nature Preserve, where users of the path can use a permanent wildlife-viewing stand to take in the surrounding landscape and inhabitants.

Rio Grande Trail
The remarkable Rio Grande Trail, which travels a whopping 42 miles between Aspen and Glenwood Springs along the former rail corridor of the Denver and Rio Grande Western railroad, is segmented into 9 routes of varying length and character from start to finish of this historic trail. The trail is comprised of variable paved, packed gravel and cement surfaces, and is accessible via several different trailheads in the Aspen Valley. Foot travel via hiking and running is welcome, as is any type of human-powered vehicle such as bicycles, in line skates and skateboards. For a full description of the Rio Grande Trail’s history and trail information, click here. 

Independence Pass
This quintessential Rocky Mountain road bike ride is a treasured find in the early season, as the road is not yet open to cars, yet is paved, dry and ready for a spring ride on a road bike. Independence Pass is one of the most famous, and sought after, mountain climbs in the Aspen area, if not in Colorado. So much so that the annual USA Pro Cycling Challenge stage race passes over this pass each year in August. From Aspen, it’s a 4,200 foot, 19 mile climb to the summit through Roaring Fork and Collegiate Peaks Wilderness Areas, with huge breathtaking view all around. Get out and take advantage of the wide-open car-less road for what could be the perfect early season ride to whip you into cycling shape for summer!

Maroon Creek
Another of the legendary, must-do rides in Aspen is Maroon Creek, which is also car-free, paved and perfect for an early-season pedal. This access road is closed to cars, so hammer away up the 11-mile climb without the distraction of anything but the famous view of towering Maroon Bells in the foreground. This ride is car-free all season long; the early season has the advantage of cool temperatures and uncrowded conditions on this infamous Aspen trail. For more information click here.