Author Archives: Kevin Day

About Kevin Day

Kevin Day is a Colorado-based writer, photographer and content developer. Born and raised in Denver, he has been skiing since he was 12 years old and hiking since he could walk. His obsession with the mountains has taken him all over Colorado, as well as Italy, Switzerland and Ecuador. He has also done volunteer trail work with the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, including a stint on Pyramid Peak.

Merry Go Round at Aspen Highlands

If you live in the Roaring Fork Valley, you have good reason to consider Wednesday your favorite day of the week. Starting tomorrow (January 14), Aspen Snowmass will once again be having a local’s appreciation day every Wednesday at Aspen Highlands, which includes such Hump Day bennies as free parking at the base, and lunch and beer specials at the Merry-Go-Round.

But here’s the best part: even if you aren’t a local, no one cares. Everyone is welcome to enjoy the perks of “the local’s mountain” on Hump Day (local’s can simply enjoy it every week because, well, they live here).

Last week was a dry run for the festivities at Merry-Go-Round, and being the resident foodie, I felt it was my obligation to head up the Exhibition Lift shortly after 9am, burn through as many groomers as I could (you know: to work up an appetite), and offer a taste test of the Hump Day Grill which they set up on the patio.

Here’s what my investigation turned up:

Golden Horn and Thunderbowl: Still Untouched at 10am

Gunbarrel run at Aspen Highlands

At 9:40am, there were only two sets of tracks on Gunbarrel below the Cloud Nine lift.

I was celebrating Hump Day by taking it easy a bit, so groomers were the order of the day. After a few warm-up runs off of Cloud Nine, I worked my way over to Golden Horn and Thunderbowl. It had been two days since the last snow, and I was still finding fresh places to turn at the top of Golden Horn Woods and even when I cut over to Limelight near the base. Look: free parking is nice, but finding stashes days after a storm is the really reason to hit up Aspen Highlands.

Brats + Sunshine & Beer = Appreciation

Tommy Knocker Brat at Merry-Go-Round, Aspen Highlands

The Tommy Knocker Ale Bratwurst at Merry-Go-Round. Not pictured: beer to wash it down.

At lunch, I went over to the Merry-Go-Round where they had set up an outdoor grilling station for the day’s Hump Day special.

Each week they will be changing up the special, but you can always expect that (a) it’ll be grilled, (b) it’ll be $8 for a main and two sides, and (c) there will be $4 beers to wash it all down.

Last Wednesday, they were offering a choice between Kielbasa, a Tommy Knocker Ale Bratwurst, or a more traditional Pork Bratwurst, each served on a pretzel bun. And of course — this being Aspen Snowmass — there was even a mustard menu. I went half-and-half: whole grain on one side, truffle mustard on the other.

The Merry-Go-Round terrace is perfectly positioned to absorb the sun rays at that hour. A catnap just about happened.

A Glass of Red at Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro

There isn’t really a lunch hour at Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro; it stretches from noon until the lifts close. This Swiss-inspired restaurant — which doles out pots of fondue and raclette — has long been a hot spot for locals and out-of-towners alike, who often order bottles of Veuve Clicquot and by 2pm, start dancing on the tables.

Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro, Aspen Highlands

The place to be in the afternoon on Hump Day (or any day for that matter).

I was more interested in a glass of wine and the lounge chairs on the deck, which takes in a stellar view of Pyramid Peak and the Maroon Bells.

Wine at Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro

Opening a bottle of Beaujolais Cru at Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro, because, why not?

As an avid wine drinker, one thing I appreciate about the on-mountain restaurants here is the well-curated wine lists, even by the glass. As I bellied up to the ice bar, I expected to find the usual suspects: a Napa Cab, a Sonoma Chard, maybe a Super Tuscan if I was lucky.

But instead, they were offering a handful of under-the-radar gems: an Oregon Pinot Noir from Domaine Serene, a Nebbiolo Langhe from Barbaresco producer De Forville, and even a Morgon, one of the top Crus of Beaujolais. It was like hearing a bunch of B-sides on the stereo instead of the greatest hits.

I noticed the Morgon was unopened. “No one is drinking the Beaujolais Cru yet?” I asked.

“Nope,” the bartender noted. Then he smiled: “Let’s open it.”

Such is the spirit of afternoons at Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro.

Lynn Britt Cabin Chuck Wagon Dinner Snowcat, Snowmass Mountain
Lynn Britt Cabin Chuck Wagon Dinner Snowcat, Snowmass Mountain

Loading up for our trip to the Lynn Britt Cabin at the base of Snowmass Mountain.

If you are a parent who is planning a ski trip for your family, odds are you’ve wrestled with what to do after the slopes close, especially if your kids are under 10 and if (how should we say this?) sitting still in a restaurant is not their forte.

I was thinking about this conundrum last Wednesday as I approached the Lynn Britt Cabin at sunset, riding shotgun in one of Aspen Snowmass’ snowcats. I had been invited to join eight families for the cabin’s weekly Chuck Wagon Dinner, a family-oriented evening of good food, sing-alongs and playful fun halfway up Snowmass Mountain.

While my four-year-old daughter couldn’t come along with me this go around, I couldn’t help but see the whole event through her eyes.

Stepping out onto the snow, our group was greeted by the sweet smell of a campfire. Above, pastel-pink clouds were making way for the purple darkness of night, and before us, the cozy cabin was lit-up in holiday lights, exuding a warm glow from the inside.

Lynn Britt Cabin Chuck Wagon Dinner Snowcat, Snowmass Mountain

Arriving at Lynn Britt Cabin via snowcat.

As I watched a few kids make snowballs (only to toss them into the campfire), I thought back to how I spent my evenings on ski trips from my teen years: This sure beats ordering a pizza and a pay-per-view movie, I thought. The ride in the snowcats, the Western cabin, the quiet ski slopes under a rising moon … These kids will probably remember this night for a long time to come.

Lynn Britt Cabin Chuck Wagon Dinner Snowcat, Snowmass Mountain

Kids walking into Lynn Britt Cabin for a night of sing-alongs and good food.

As we were seated inside the cozy restaurant, we were introduced to the Harmony Sisters, Susan Anderson and Barbara Cyr. They have been performing for chuck wagon dinners on Snowmass for 16 years, dating back to the Burlingame Cabin days, and each Wednesday they serve as MCs for the Lynn Britt Cabin family dinners.

Roasted Chicken and Pan-Fried Trout, Lynn Britt Cabin Chuck Wagon Dinner Snowcat, Snowmass Mountain

Roasted Chicken with Pan-Fried Trout, Whipped Potatoes, Green Beans

They immediately had kids singing along to a handful of campfire classics as well as a few requests from the parents, like Van Morrison’s “Brown-Eyed Girl,” which a father dedicated to his daughter. A box of musical instruments was set out, and soon the room was filled with the kind of joyful noise that only a band of kiddos can create. Parents beamed and passed around a few bottles of wine while the first and second course were served.

Speaking of the food, it was a delicious yet rustic take on Western classics. After warming up with an apple cider, we were served tomato soup with corn bread muffins, and a family-style salad comprised of local organic greens, candied pecans and dried cranberries. Roasted chicken was complemented by pan-seared trout (which was substituted by mac-and-cheese on the kids’ servings). Then came the decadent, apple-raisin bread pudding which seemed perfect for this cold winter’s night. When no one was looking, I went back for seconds.

After a little storytelling and a chance for the kids to enjoy the outdoor campfire a little more, the team fired up the snowcats for the return trip down the mountain. I asked our snowcat driver, Peter, if it takes a long time to round up the kids at the end of the night.

“No, not at all,” he said. Then he smiled. “It’s the parents we have a hard time wrangling.”

The Lynn Britt Cabin Family Chuck Wagon Dinner is served every Wednesday night through the ski season. $65/adult (excluding alcohol) and $35/child includes the 10-minute snowcat ride and free entertainment. Call 970-923-8715 or 1-800-525-6200 ext. 4715 to learn more information and to make a reservation.


 

New Years Eve fireworks at Aspen Snowmass

For Aspen-Snowmass, 2014 was a year bookended by huge snow storms (such as more than two feet in the last two weeks), with some incredible stashes and a gorgeous summer in between.

You’d think we might have a hard time saying goodbye to a year that was so good to us, but that’s not our style. We’re as optimistic as ever for 2015, and — as if to show it — the whole community is upping its game for New Year’s Eve celebrations. Whether you’re in town already, or looking to make last-minute plans, here are seven area events to enjoy an indelible New Year’s Eve in Aspen and Snowmass.

1. Bottomless Cristal at the Little Nell

You read that right: not bottomless Bud Light, or bottomless margaritas … bottomless Cristal. That’s just how they roll over at the Little Nell, where this year’s Winter Wonderland New Year’s Eve party includes two stages of live music (jazz musician Steve Peer on one, electronica-violinist virtuoso Katerina Visnevska) and all the fine Champagne you could ever want beneath the Aspen Mountain fireworks.

2. Dinner at the Lynn Britt Cabin

Already one of the most memorable vacation experiences you can have at Aspen-Snowmass, the snowcat dinner on New Year’s Eve at Lynn Britt Cabin will be even more magical than usual. Ring in the New Year with extraordinary gourmet cuisine at this cozy restaurant midway up the mountain.

3. Party and View Fireworks at the Limelight Lounge

Consistently one of Aspen’s best apres ski spots, the Limelight Lounge at the Limelight Hotel will be hosting a New Year’s Eve party complete with a DJ, gala buffet and a Veuve Clicquot Champagne toast at midnight. An added bonus: the excellent views of the Aspen Mountain fireworks display.

4. Huey Lewis & the News at Belly Up

Aspen’s acclaimed live music club will be hosting Huey Lewis & the News to its stage on New Year’s Eve. Now in their 36th year together, the rock legends are best known for “I Want a New Drug,” “The Power of Love” and “Workin’ For a Livin’.” Will they play their Back to the Future hit “Back in Time” at some point, given the occasion? We’ll find out.

5. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band at the Wheeler Opera House

Get down to the sounds of New Orleans with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band at the Wheeler Opera House. Tickets include the performance, an open bar and delicious noshes. You’ll be grooving to the band’s infectious rhythms long after the show ends.

6. Multi-Course Tasting Menus Around Town

Aspen’s nationally acclaimed restaurants have plenty of opportunity to flaunt their culinary creativity (see also the Food & Wine Classic in June) but New Year’s Eve is tailor-made for multi-course tasting menus. Some reservations can still be snagged, but they’re going fast.

7. Plenty of Parties Around Town

Aspen’s nightlife cranks it up every night, but particularly on New Year’s Eve. From the Vintage Hollywood Soiree at The Sky Hotel to the swanky to-the-nines party at the St. Regis Aspen, options abound. The Aspen Resort Chamber has a complete roundup.

locally sourced salad greens from Elk Camp
Executive Chef Jim Butchart

Executive Chef Jim Butchart.

Aspen Snowmass has long been committed to operating a four-mountain resort in the greenest way possible.

From generating carbon-negative energy at a nearby coal mine to qualifying for LEED certification in four of our buildings, our resort has always gone the extra mile to demonstrate a commitment to our environment.

That desire carries over to our acclaimed restaurants as well.

Lead by our Executive Chef Jim Butchart and our Environmental Foundation, we’ve followed through on several promises to keep the environmental impact of our restaurants — and the food they serve — to a minimum. Here’s how.

Sourcing Local Foods

Fresh greens from Elk Camp Restaurant, Snowmass, CO

Fresh greens from Elk Camp Restaurant at Snowmass

Fortunately for everyone, the most environmentally friendly practice also translates into the most flavorful food. Sourcing local ingredients — such as produce, poultry, dairy and more — not only helps the local economy and reduce our carbon footprint, but it also delivers the freshest, most flavorful food for our guests.

“We get a good deal of our product from Source Local Foods on the Front Range,” notes Jim Butchart. “And we’re searching every possible avenue to find even more local foods. But the biggest challenge is that very little is growing in our valley when we have the highest demand in winter.”

Because of this, our food and beverage team is helping local growers apply for grants that will allow them to build out infrastructure for supplying local produce in winter. Money from these grants can go toward building high tunnels for year-round growing or even increasing staff.

“We’re not going to be complacent and say ‘oh, it is what it is, we can’t source locally in winter.'” Jim adds. “We’re actively finding ways to get what we’re looking for, which is even fresher ingredients.”

Serving Locally Raised, Grass-Fed Beef

Locally raised beef on the menu at Ajax Tavern, Aspen Mountain.

Locally raised beef on the menu at Ajax Tavern, Aspen Mountain.

Along similar lines, Aspen Snowmass gets all of its beef — for 12 restaurants across all four mountains — from local ranches. Case in point, we’ve recently developed a partnership with Carbondale-based Crystal River Meats. Supporting local ranches who raise grass-fed beef not only reduces the energy needed to raise and transport beef, but it also helps the local economy.

“We want to support the local economy. That has always been our goal,” notes Jim. “One way to do that, is to support local ranchers, such as Crystal River Meats.”

In the case of Crystal River Meats, it’s an operation that has stayed family-run for generations.

“They’re real cowboys,” Jim laughs. “I tell my chefs that when I can’t get a hold of Tai to place the order, its because he’s out there on his horse ranching. It’s the kind of thing we want to support for many reasons.”

Expanding Our Composting Program

In addition to having a comprehensive recycling program, Aspen Snowmass has also enhanced its composting initiative.

“Logistically, it’s not easy to pull off composting across the mountains,” Jim admits. “We have to have special trash bags, we have to haul it down the mountain with a snowcat, and then we have to deposit it in special containers at the bottom. But it is something we’re committed to, and we’re looking to keep expanding it because its important.”

Currently, six restaurants on Snowmass compost in the kitchen, while both restaurants on Buttermilk compost in the front- and back-of-the-house.

“None of these things help the bottom line,” Jim admits. “But at the same time, we don’t want to transfer these operational costs to our guest. We do these things because they’re the right thing to do.”

Bike Snowmass in fall color, Aspen mountain biking

While its true that Maroon Bells has already been dusted with snow — and as a result, everyone is fired up for ski season — there is still a full month left to ride the singletrack and freeride trails at Bike Snowmass. Earlier this summer, we made a little movie on what its like to ride this mountain’s varied terrain (check it out below).

Throughout September, the Elk Camp Gondola and Elk Camp Lift will remain open on weekends through October 5. Come on up and ride through the aspens as they start their annual transition from green to gold, and while you’re at it, grab lunch at the Elk Camp Restaurant, or enjoy any of the free on-mountain activities that go along with your lift ticket.

The Silver Queen Gondola on Aspen Mountain will also continue to run on weekends through October 5, giving you access to the Sundeck restaurant, hiking trails, disc golf, the climbing wall and other kid-friendly activities, and best of all: that view.

Head to our website to buy your lift tickets for September.

Bike Snowmass from Aspen Snowmass on Vimeo.

Gondola ride, Aspen Snowmass, Colorado

A few months back we wrote a post on ways you could stretch your dollar in Aspen and Snowmass Village during the winter. Now that we’re in the throws of summer, we thought we’d offer up some similar budget-conscious suggestions with a decidedly summer twist.

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The Return of Valhalla Nights

Valhalla Nights at Snowmass

This past Friday, Aspen Snowmass kept the Elk Camp Gondola running until sunset as a mix of locals and vacationers, families and couples, foodies and revelers headed up to Elk Camp for the first of 10 Valhalla Nights this summer.

Rock climbing wall at Valhalla Nights, SnowmassHeld every Friday through the end of August (as well as select Tuesdays), this evening party serves up delicious food, drinks on the Elk Camp patio, live music, and classic summer pastimes from s’mores to hula hooping to mountain biking to badminton. It’s the summer rendition of the popular Ullr Nights, which is held at the same locale in winter.

I came up with my wife and two daughters — ages 4 and 5 months — and I’m convinced it was the mellow vibe that kept the kiddos tantrum-free well-past their bedtime. The event offers up several kid-friendly activities that appeal across a spectrum of ages. So while the older kids tackled the climbing wall (or could enjoy Bike Snowmass’ mountain biking trails), our oldest played in the giant sandbox, explored wildflowers on a nearby nature trail, and danced a jig to the live music.

But most of all, she enjoyed the gondola ride — her first since she was a baby. The views of the forest as the sun set, the promise of a playground at the top … she was downright giddy with anticipation. (And here I was, thinking that s’mores or the Strider bikes would be her favorite part).

roast chicken, golden beets, mac and cheese, Elk Camp RestaurantAs for my wife and I, we are foodies, so the roast chicken with golden beet salad and asparagus, and creamy mac-and-cheese was an immediate dose of comfort.  And it was especially cool to see a few selections of Colorado wine (yes, Colorado makes excellent wine) on the wine list.

Valhalla Nights will be held this upcoming Friday (July 18) from 4pm to 8:30pm. For more information on future dates and other details, check out the official page for Valhalla Nights.

Hiking on Aspen Mountain

When it comes to “reasons why we all love summer,” few things rank higher on the list than the classic family vacation. Its that rare time in the year when you can reconnect and rejuvenate as a family, and build memories for your kids that they’ll carry into adulthood.

With all that in mind, there is also nothing wrong in cherishing time away with your spouse while your kids dive head-first into the Camp Aspen Snowmass experience. Reconnect? Rejuvenate? Build memories to last a lifetime? Do for each other what you’re doing for your kids by enjoying these six “grown-up-centric” things to do in and around Aspen Snowmass.

Bike Snowmass, couple, Colorado1. Bike Snowmass

While there are plenty of kid-friendly mountain biking trails at Bike Snowmass — as well as around the valley — there are plenty you’ll pass up due to difficulty if the kids come along. Chase each other up and down the mountain on such trails as the Vapor Trail and Cross Mountain Trail. It’s the ultimate couples workout.

2. Yoga at Sundeck

At 10:20am every Monday, Wednesday and Friday through the summer, we offer free yoga classes at the Sundeck atop Aspen Mountain (with gondola ticket purchase). It’s the perfect opportunity for couples to open their minds, stretch their bodies and savor the remarkable views of the Elk Mountains. Follow the class with an easy mountain-top hike.

Dining al fresco at Element 47, Little Nell, Aspen, CO3. Linger Over an Exquisite Lunch

With the kids at Camp Aspen Snowmass for the day, now is the time for you two to indulge your inner foodie and not worry about pleasing a fussy eater or two (or three). No other mountain town in the United States offers a better collection of gourmet restaurants than Aspen (there’s a reason the FOOD & WINE Classic is held here). This higher standard of dining even carries over to the on-mountain offerings at Elk Camp, Sundeck and Ajax Tavern, where you’ll savor exceptional cuisine in a casual, laidback environment.

4. Indulge in a Little Shopping

If you are in need of some new threads — or just want to rediscover the joys of shopping without the kids in tow — Aspen is tailor-made for this moment. Throughout the walkable and charming downtown, you’ll find a blend of haute couture brands (e.g. Prada, Ermenegildo Zegna, Burberry), upscale consignment stores, shoe boutiques, jewelers, art galleries and wine shops.

Hiking in wildflowers near Aspen, CO5. Rise Above It All On a Strenuous Hike

Rediscover the joys of solitude with each other by taking a pulse-quickening hike in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. Here, in the shadows of six 14,000-foot peaks, you can reach unbelievable heights and take in some of Colorado’s best scenic vistas. Find trail suggestions on our complete guide to the area.

6. Speaking of Indulgence … Hit the Spa

Everybody could use a little pampering now and again, and here’s your chance. Swing by the Remède Spa at the St. Regis Aspen, the Auberge Spa at the Hotel Jerome, the Aspen Club & Spa at the Sky Hotel, or any of a number of local day spas and take your unwinding to a new level.

7. Savor a Night on the Town

Camp Aspen Snowmass’ overnight campouts for kids serve a dual purpose. Foremost is the unforgettable experience your children will have sleeping out under the stars. But we also can’t forget what it affords the two of you: the chance to savor Aspen and Snowmass’ dining, nightlife, and arts and culture scene on your own terms. Begin your evening with a stroll through the Aspen Art Museum, take in a performance by the renowned Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, dine at any of a handful of acclaimed restaurants (such as Element 47, Rustique or Matsuhisa) and then take in a concert at Belly Up. When you pick-up the kids in the morning, they might think they had more fun than the two of you… just let them believe what they want.

Shuttles to Camp Aspen Snowmass

Parents: as you plan out your day without the kiddos, take note that we offer free shuttles from Aspen (pickup is at 8am at the Yellow Brick Schoolhouse between First & Garmisch on Bleeker St.) to Camp Aspen Snowmass. This gives you a great option to get your day together started quickly if you are Aspen-based. Learn more on our Parent Information page for Camp Aspen Snowmass.

sundeck yoga aspen mountain

Now that summer is in full swing — after a winter that wouldn’t let go — we’re happy to say that we’ve once again started up outdoor yoga classes on Aspen Mountain. Join us for a few sun salutations from the Sundeck.

These one-hour Hatha yoga classes are the perfect way to open-up your mind, body and spirit before an afternoon of hiking, mountain biking, disc golf or stand-up paddleboarding.

After class, replenish with a light lunch at Sundeck.

Here are the details:

Yoga at Sundeck

Yoga at Sundeck, Aspen MountainWhen: Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday through August 29.
Time: 10:20am, meet at the top of the Silver Queen Gondola
Cost: The class is free, however a gondola ticket is required to reach the Sundeck
Reservations: Class size is limited, and reservations are required. Book your yoga class online today and while you are in our eStore, you can also purchase a gondola ticket to reach the Sundeck. 

Maroon Bells, Aspen, CO

This summer, as part of our $29 Perfect Summer gondola ticket package, we’re offering a guided tour of the Maroon Bells. They are said to be “the most photographed mountains in America.” How they can quantify that statistic, we’re not sure. All we know is, they’re gorgeous, and being able to visit them in our own backyard is a pretty huge privilege.

Whether you are joining us for this tour, or looking to spend a day of Choose-Your-Own-Adventure underneath their shadow, we have rounded up a complete guide to enjoying the area below.

Why Go

Maroon Creek Road Maroon Bells view, Aspen, CO

That first glimpse of the Bells. ©Kevin Day

For the thrill of seeing the Maroon Bells. There is an exact moment when the twin peaks come into view along Maroon Creek Road, and it can only be described as exhilarating. Up ahead, it only gets better: the postcard view and reflection from Maroon Lake is so perfect, it almost seems deliberately composed. And if you burn some calories and reach Crater Lake, 1.5 miles into the wilderness, you’ll get a whole different view of the Bells from right underneath their imposing eastern face.

The Valley’s Mountains

  • Pinnacles to the north of Maroon Lake. ©Kevin Day

    Pinnacles to the north of Maroon Lake. ©Kevin Day

    Maroon Peak (14,156 feet) & North Maroon Peak (14,014 feet) – Together, these two peaks comprise the Maroon Bells. Separated by a treacherous saddle, the snow-striated peaks are comprised of mudstone, a loose, sedimentary rock that gives them their distinctive color and a nasty reputation among mountain climbers. From Maroon Lake, North Maroon Peak appears taller, but it is an optical illusion since it is merely closer.

  • The Sleeping Sexton (13,460 feet) – The disorganized jumble of striped cliffs and towers that rest to the north of the Bells is known collectively as The Sleeping Sexton. Topping out above 13,000 feet, if this mountain stood alone, it would warrant a lot more attention.
  • Pyramid Peak (14,018 feet) – Visible from Buttermilk, many first-time visitors confuse Pyramid Peak for the Maroon Bells. It’s snow-striped sides and sheer, angular features certainly bare a resemblance. From Maroon Lake, much of Pyramid Peak is obscured by the sheer rise of its northern ridges.

What Else You’ll See

Paintbrush Maroon Bells, wildflowers, Aspen, CO

Paintbrush near the inlet to Maroon Lake, with Maroon Bells in the distance. ©Kevin Day

  • Wildflowers – The Elk Mountains are home to a great diversity of wildflowers. The combination of rich soil and heavy winter snowpack contribute to a profusion of color. In the aspen groves, look for Colorado’s state flower, the blue columbine, while along water-courses you will likely see bluebells, parry primrose and shooting stars. Alpine meadows above treeline offer a glimpse into some of the heartiest plants on earth, such as alpine sunflower, alpine forget-me-not and sky pilot.
  • Wildlife – On Maroon Lake, there is a decent chance you will see beaver, particularly around the inlet. In the forests and meadows, mule deer and elk are frequent visitors, while on the rocky alpine slopes above, look for marmots, pika, mountain goats, and Colorado’s state animal, bighorn sheep.

Hiking Trails

  • The rushing waters of Maroon Creek en route to Crater Lake. ©Kevin Day

    The rushing waters of Maroon Creek en route to Crater Lake. ©Kevin Day

    Maroon Lake to Crater Lake (easy) – From where the shuttle drops you off (Maroon-Snowmass Trailhead), it is an easy, flat stroll through meadows along the northern edge of Maroon Lake. Beyond, you enter a grove of aspens and climb almost two miles to the lake, which sits at the foot of the Maroon Bells.

  • East Maroon Creek (fairly strenuous and long) – For a little bit of solitude, visit the East Maroon Trailhead and travel into the beautiful depths of the wilderness area. Passing beneath the eastern face of Pyramid Peak, the trail eventually climbs to the top of Conundrum Pass some 8.5 miles in.
  • Buckskin Pass (strenuous, short but steep) – For a glimpse over the mountaintops of the Elk Mountains, few views are better than the one from atop Buckskin Pass. Located on a rolling-green notch north of the Sleeping Sexton, the pass offers a vista that takes in Pyramid Peak, an unusual view of North Maroon Peak, and distant views of Snowmass Mountain and Snowmass Lake.

(Note: The Maroon Bells are two of the most challenging and dangerous mountains to climb in Colorado. This post is geared to those who want to take it down a notch, and does not include route info for making an ascent on the summit.

Camping

Three small, intimate and perfectly gorgeous campgrounds can be found along Maroon Creek Road — Silver Bell, Silver Bar and Silver Queen. Operated by the U.S. National Forest Service, you can make reservations online at www.recreation.gov. One advantage to camping in the valley is that your vehicle is free of usage restrictions on Maroon Creek Road.

Driving There On Your Own

From Memorial Day to Labor Day, Maroon Creek Road has several restrictions on vehicular traffic, including:

  • Personal Vehicles – Access in summer is restricted to 7am–9am, with an entrance fee of $10. From 9am to 5pm, you must take the shuttle bus from Aspen Highlands. Some exceptions apply. Visit the White River National Forest website for more.
  • Shuttles – Regular shuttles travel up Maroon Creek Road to Maroon Lake. Pickup occurs every 20 minutes at the Aspen Highlands Village parking lot. Bus passes can be purchased for $6 at Four-Mountain Sports. Shuttles operate every day from mid-June to Labor Day, and on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in the fall. The road is closed in mid-November.