Not just a winter ski destination, versatile Aspen takes on a whole new persona in the warmer months of spring and summer. One of Colorado’s most internationally known destinations, Aspen sings a siren’s song to adventurers and mountaineers all year round.
What makes Aspen special under the summer sun? The network of world class hiking and biking trails have something for everyone, from scenic strolls for beginners to more advanced and technical ascents. For those somewhere in between – those who will go the distance for the promise of something really special at the top – motivate your hike or bike ride by seeking these legendary natural treasures surrounding Aspen.
1) Backpacking to Conundrum Hot Springs
What could be more exhilarating? Conundrum Hot Springs (pictured above) is a truly magical spot where two natural thermal pools sit overlooking a dizzying alpine panorama. Best of all, it is an adventure reserved strictly for those who earn it. Access to the hot springs is limited to those who hike the nine miles to get there.
Forget lodges and resorts – if you want to stay the night, your choices are to camp or to camp. There are about eight camp sites in the wilderness surrounding the springs.
To reach the trailhead to Conundrum Hot Springs, take Castle Creek Road about 5 miles out of town from Aspen, then make a right onto Conundrum Road. The road will get narrower and eventually turn into a dirt path at the trailhead sign and parking lot.
Possible conundrums you may face on the journey: whether or not to soak nude (go for it – that’s what people do here), whether or not you’ll make it (it really is a test of stamina), and whether or not you’ll catch one of the mean storms that are common to this area of high country.
2) Cycling to Maroon Bells
Put your thighs to the ultimate test with the ten mile bicycle ride to Maroon Bells. With an outfitter like the Little Nell Adventure Center, you can get hooked up with some of the best cycling equipment out there and start your quest to the top.
On the bike road to Maroon Bells, just hang in there. The road has a 4-5% grade, and you’ll gain about 1,600 from bottom to top. No small feat. The road is closed to vehicular traffic after 9am, so you won’t be temped to take the easy way up.
The payoff at the top is great. Here, you’ll behold the unmistakable twin 14,000 ft. peaks of Maroon Bells, which is one of the most photographed alpine landscapes in America. Two more awesome rewards for a ride well done: the buffet lunch at the top, and the adrenaline-pumping downhill cruise back to the bottom.
3) Hike to Crater Lake
If trekking to Conundrum Hot Springs or the burn of cycling to Maroon Bells is too high-intensity, one rewarding day hike is the Crater Lake trail. This is a popular route for families. Round trip, the trail is about 3.6 miles, with an elevation gain of about 500 feet from start to finish.
Crater Lake itself isn’t the driving force on this hike – it’s a shallow pool fed by snowmelt from the surrounding peaks. The real reward here is the non-stop panoramic views of Maroon Bells that will have you stopping, jaw-dropped, to stare and take photos all along the way.
You’ll also be stopping to catch your breath – although this hike is often classified as ‘easy’, it really is a high-altitude challenge that makes you work for the iconic Colorado scenery it promises.
If You Go
Check out the Little Nell Adventure Center for more information about Aspen activities: http://www.thelittlenell.com/events/adventures.aspx
Cynthia Ord is a freelance writer based in her hometown of Denver CO, a contributing editor at The Travel Word (http://www.thetravelword.com/), and a Latin America addict.
Special thanks to AspenChamber.org for providing photos to be featured in this article!
Photos of family hiking by Jeremy Swanson.
Header photo of Conundrum Hot Springs by Chris Bartle.
Photo of biking to the Maroon Bells by M.V. Jantzen.