Colorado for Fido

Trails at Aspen
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On Hunter Creek Trail
On Hunter Creek Trail

Hunter Creek/Hunter Valley Trail:

About 4 miles round-trip. Take Main St. to Mill St. north, bear left onto Red Mountain Rd. after the bridge, then take an immediate right onto Lone Pine Rd. Trail access is via the first left, into the Hunter Creek condos parking lot (you'll need to park on the street, however). The trailhead is close enough to town that you can walk to it. There is an upper access point further up Red Mountain Rd. to Hunter Creek Rd.; however, the lower access offers proximity to the creek. Dogs can be off leash, with the following caveat from the Pitkin County Animal Control officer: Technically, this trail runs through Pitkin County land as well as National Forest, and county law states that dogs must be leashed when not on private property. But since the animal control officer doesn't regularly patrol this trail, you likely won't be ticketed for having your dog off leash. If Fido harasses someone or something, however, and animal control responds, you will be cited for not having him on a leash. If you're out at a particularly busy time, it's probably best to keep your dog leashed. So assess the risks, and use common sense.

This trail has it all for dogs: water, trees, and a meadow to frolic in. Begin by following Hunter Creek, crossing it via bridges several times. As you ascend, you'll get increasingly better views of Aspen Mountain. The trail becomes steeper and more rocky before reaching the Benedict Bridge, where it merges with the trail from the upper access. Shortly after the bridge, consider a short detour up the hillside to Verena Malloy Park (look for the spur trail to the right and the park sign), where you'll find an overlook, with bench, that provides great views of Aspen and the Elk Mountains. Then continue on the now-wide main trail as it climbs steeply (stay straight at the three-way intersection; a blue blaze marks the way). At the Forest Service boundary sign, the trail opens up into the spacious meadows of the Hunter Valley. Follow the wide trail through and to the left, where you'll come to the Tenth Mountain Bridge, 1.5 miles from the trailhead. The meadow beyond is home to several old cabins. To make a short loop, follow the trail east through this meadow. When you come to another, smaller bridge, cross over and come back down the path along the south side of the creek. Rejoin the main Hunter Valley Trail near the Tenth Mountain Bridge. Head back to the trailhead the way you came up.

Aspen Mountain

During June, July, and August, the Silver Queen Gondola whisks hikers to the top of 11,212-foot Aspen Mountain. Not only can your dog accompany you (at no charge), but you can purchase a souvenir dog gondola pass with your loved one's picture on it for $5 at the gondola ticket office.

Once at the top, you can choose to stroll along the short Richmond Ridge loop or hike 4.5 miles down to the bottom of the gondola. Dogs are requested, but not required, to be leashed.

The gondola operates from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and there is a fee.

Difficult Creek

4.8 miles round-trip. Head east on Highway 82 from downtown; from the spot where you must turn left to follow the highway (at Original St.), it's 3.5 miles to the Difficult Campground parking area on the right. When the campground is open (generally from the end of May to the end of September), drive down to the picnic area day-parking lot on the right; the trailhead is at the southeast corner of the lot. When the campground is closed, you'll have to walk 0.6 mile down a paved road to the trailhead. Dogs must be leashed (this is Wilderness area).

Don't let the name of this trail mislead you—it's actually a moderate hike. And because the route is mostly in pine and fir forest, this is a good hike for dogs on a hot day. After leaving the parking lot, stay left at the first fork, then follow the brown and white"designated route" markers to a wooden bridge that spans the Roaring Fork River. The trail leads to Difficult Creek, then climbs away from the creek for a bit before rejoining it (you'll cross another small stream en route). You'll eventually pass through a clearing, where your dog may be able to spot the remains of some log cabins, and arrive at a sign indicating that the trail is not maintained beyond this point. This is the "official" turnaround spot.

Rio Grande Trail

Runs about 7 miles from Neal St. in Aspen to Jaffe Park in the neighboring town of Woody Creek. To reach the main access point, which is an easy walk from downtown, take Main St. to Mill St. north, then left on Puppy Smith St. The trail begins across the street from the post office. Dogs can be off leash as long as they are under voice control.

The first 2 miles of this popular path along the Roaring Fork River are paved, and because the trail follows the old Denver & Rio Grande railroad bed, it remains fairly level throughout. If your dog is into jogging, this trail would be a perfect venue. At Cemetery Lane, the trail surface switches to gravel. (To reach the unpaved portion by car, drive on Highway 82 west out of Aspen. Just after the road jogs right, then left, you'll cross Castle Creek; turn right at the traffic light, onto Cemetery Lane. After crossing the Roaring Fork River at about 1 mile, look for the parking area on the left.) As you travel westward, you'll go through the river canyon before coming onto a plateau, where the brilliant red tones of the valley are coupled with scenic vistas of the Elk Mountains to the south.

Sunnyside Trail

About 4 miles round-trip. Take Highway 82 west out of Aspen. Just after the road jogs right, then left, you'll cross Castle Creek; turn right at the traffic light, onto Cemetery Lane. After 1.5 miles you'll see a small parking area on the left; the trail begins on the right. Dogs can be off leash, but read the explanation in the Hunter Creek/Hunter Valley Trail description.

This trail features easy access from town as well as scenic views. Because it climbs up a dry, south-facing slope, dogs would enjoy it most in the early morning or evening on warm days (or anytime on cooler days). The narrow trail ascends steeply up the hillside. Ignore the first "trail" sign you come to (which points left) and continue climbing up to the right; however, your dog may want to pause here for a drink from the nearby irrigation ditch. After crossing a second irrigation ditch, the trail levels out briefly before continuing to climb. As you hike, you'll gain great views of Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands Ski Area, and Buttermilk Ski Area; the Maroon Bells will eventually reveal themselves behind Buttermilk. At one point the trail goes across a private driveway, and you and your dog will catch glimpses of some of Aspen's multimillion-dollar homes. A good turnaround spot is at the aspen grove and radio tower, when the trail levels out again. Or, if you're up for a longer hike, continue hiking along the ridge. In a couple of miles, the trail meets up with the Hunter Creek Trail, above Hunter Valley.

Ute Trail

About 2 miles round-trip. This trail is also within walking distance of downtown. Head east on Ute Ave. for about 0.4 mile. Shortly after you come to a house with a multitude of windows, look for the small wooden trail sign on the right (across from a parking pullout for Ute Park). Dogs can be off leash, but read the explanation in the Hunter Creek/Hunter Valley Trail description.

Because of its proximity to town and its low mileage, the Ute Trail is an efficient way to exercise your dog (as well as yourself). This short trail switchbacks steeply up the lower third of Aspen Mountain. The reward is a bird's-eye view of town from the rock outcroppings at the end. Don't forget water for your dog, as there's no source on the trail—actually, you'll both need it after tackling the 1,700-foot elevation gain.

Maroon Bells

Take your dog to view two of Colorado's best-known peaks, the 14,000-foot-plus Maroon Bells. From mid-June to Labor Day (and on weekends in September), cars are not permitted to drive up to the Bells between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. Instead, a Roaring Fork Transit Authority bus delivers hikers and sightseers to the spot from the Rubey Park Bus Station in downtown Aspen. Dogs are allowed to ride the bus for free (though they're not allowed on any other local buses). You, however, must pay a $5 fee; children 6 to 16 and riders 65 and older pay $3.

Once you're at Maroon Lake, note that dogs must be leashed due to the heavy use of the area. The 1.5-mile Maroon Lake Scenic Trail lives up to its name, providing stunning views of the nearby Bells. (Note that dogs are not allowed within 100 feet of Crater Lake, which is 1.75 miles up the Maroon-Snowmass Trail.) To give your dog a chance to enjoy the beauty of this area while encountering fewer people, hike the Maroon Creek Trail, which runs 4.5 miles from the upper Maroon Lake parking lot down the valley to the East Maroon Portal. The bus can then pick you up along Maroon Creek Rd. for the trip back to town.

Conundrum Creek Trail

17 miles round-trip. The only reason this extremely popular backpack route is included here is so you'll be aware of its restrictions. The trail leads up a scenic valley to a pair of wonderfully situated hot springs pools (and eventually to Gothic, near Crested Butte), but the trip is not a lot of fun for dogs. For starters, dogs must be leashed because of the Wilderness designation, and neither Clover nor I (with both of us wearing packs) enjoyed being linked to each other for 8.5 miles. Because the hot springs see heavy use, camping is limited to designated sites, which become even more limited if you're with a dog. And dogs cannot be brought over to the east side of Conundrum Creek, where the hot springs are. So if the thought of tying your dog to a tree, out of sight, while you luxuriate in the springs evokes a pang of guilt, leave Fido at home for this one.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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