Rating: Moderate to difficult
Distance: 3.1 to 4.7 miles one way
Elevation gain: 3,267 feet
Estimate hiking time: 2 to 4 hours
Dogs: Must be under voice and sight control
Trailhead: The most straightforward place to start hiking is from the base of Aspen Mountain at the Silver Queen gondola, off Durant Ave. in downtown Aspen.
Route: This hike is one of the relatively easiest ways to climb a mountain, as much of the time you’ll only need to hike up; from mid-June through Labor Day (and weekends through early October), you can ride the gondola down—for free, no less. That said, the trek uphill is still a lung-buster. Be prepared to sweat—a lot—and bring more water than you think you’ll need.
You can hike up via several trail combinations; we detail just one of those alternatives here. Pick up a summer trail map at the ticket office for more information on specific mileages and routes.
From Gondola Plaza, head up the signed Little Nell trail, which goes through some pleasantly shady sections as it climbs steadily to the top of the Little Nell run and passes by the Compromise Mine building before heading across the mountain. About 45 minutes into your hike, pick up the signed West Side Trail. You’ll eventually hike past the top of Lift 1A and then traverse above the Mine Dumps (some of the mountain’s most revered ski terrain).
Where a jeep track veers sharply right (if you turn around, you’ll see a sign for the Last Dollar ski run), head straight to continue along the trail, then follow the West Side Trail signs to eventually come out by the top of Ruthie’s lift. Keep hiking up and over the knob that includes the lift’s unloading platform. (You may see paragliders launching into flight nearby if it’s late morning.)
Some 10 to 15 minutes later, the Cherry Trail branches off through the woods to the left; it’s a pleasant option but you’ll lose some vertical, as it traverses slightly downhill before intersecting another uphill trail. If you prefer to maximize your vertical gain, stay on the West Side Trail. Just when you think you’re more than ready for an icy cold drink, you’ll pop out by the mountain-top Sundeck. Grab a beverage, relax in one of the Adirondack chairs on the patio, and enjoy the view of Mount Hayden, Highland Bowl, and the other surrounding peaks of the Elks before dropping back into town via the ease of the gondola.
Download the Pitkin Outside app for more information and detailed trail maps: aspenrecreation.com