Dog Days in Aspen

10 Top Dog-Friendly Hikes in the Roaring Fork Valley

These close-to-town routes come recommended by local pups and their owners.

By Cindy Hirschfeld July 5, 2021 Published in the Summer/Fall 2021 issue of Aspen Sojourner

The Roaring Fork Valley offers scores of great hikes for you and your pooch. They range from rugged adventures among the high peaks to gentle strolls along the paved Rio Grande Trail, which runs for 42 miles from Aspen to Glenwood Springs, much of it riverside. Here are some favorite close-to-town routes (see for more info). For the most solitude with your dog, hike early morning or late afternoon.

Tansy and Piper among the wildflowers

Hunter Creek/Hunter Valley

With a rushing stream, a shady first half, and a huge meadow to frolic in, this 5-mile route has it all for dogs. “It’s our go-to trail,” says Erik Skarvan, “as it’s nearby, green, and gorgeous, with views of Aspen Mountain and endless possibilities for more hikes in the Hunter Creek Valley.” Loop the meadow by crossing the creek via the Tenth Mountain Bridge and recrossing it upstream on a smaller bridge. Access the trail from the Hunter Creek extension off the Rio Grande Trail, from behind the Hunter Creek condos, or from the Lani White Trail off Spruce Street. Dogs must be leashed until the signed Forest Service boundary.

Smuggler Mountain Road

It’s a busy scene there these days, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention this canine—and hiker—hot spot. The dirt jeep road near the Centennial condo complex steadily ascends to a viewing platform 1.5 miles up, the most popular turnaround point. Says Meghan Pearlman, “It’s one of my favorite Aspen hikes because it’s easily accessible to do before or after work, and the views along the way are worth the effort.” Dogs can be under voice control.

Little Cloud

This 1.5-mile out-and-back trail ascends the lower west side of Aspen Mountain before ending in the summer road, with an overlook of town. “It’s a great summer lunchtime hike because it’s shaded, takes less than an hour, and has a nice pitch—steep, but not too steep,” says Pearlman. If your pup is super motivated, continue hiking all the way to the top of Aspen Mountain. Dogs must be leashed.

A trail in the Castle Creek Valley

Image: Dan Bayer


“I love this trail so much that I named my dog Sunny after it,” says Skarvan. “It has wonderful sun exposure, a variety of terrain from red-rock desert and sage to high-alpine aspen and evergreen forest, and expansive views of the upper valley.” From McLain Flats Road, the route switchbacks up the dry, south-facing slopes of Red Mountain. Many hikers turn around near the radio tower in a large aspen grove about 2 miles in; consider adding on a 2-mile loop that’s pleasantly uncrowded by continuing to Shadyside on the left and, eventually, Shadyside Cutoff back to Sunnyside. Dogs can be under voice control.


This wide trail starts at the Upper Divide parking lot in Snowmass Village and “has beautiful views, follows a ditch so there is water for the pups, and leads to wilderness,” says Julie Hardman, who recommends the first, flat mile for older dogs, too. The second mile heads downhill, intersecting the East Snowmass Creek Trail after a bridge; if you have the time, explore at least part of this shady, scenic route, which runs for 6 more miles. Dogs must be leashed.

Tom Blake

From the parking area off Owl Creek Road, the route gently but steadily climbs up the lower slopes of Snowmass ski area. “This is a nice, shady trail with beautiful aspen groves,” says Hardman. In early summer, the wildflowers bloom vividly. Avoid mountain bikers, who like this trail, too, by taking the equestrian trail options; surprisingly, horses are few here. The East Fork of Brush Creek, not quite 2 miles in, makes a good turnaround spot. Dogs must be leashed.

Downvalley Trails

Basalt’s popular Arbaney-Kittle Trail provides a workout for you and your pup, ascending steeply for 1.75 miles to a divide with views into the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan valleys. The recently improved Light Hill Trail behind Basalt High School leads 1.5 miles up to a ridge with an awesome view of Mount Sopris. Carbondale’s Red Hill network contains 19 miles of trails, accessed from Highways 133 and 82 or from an upper entrance at Sutey Ranch off County Road 112. “We like to go up Ruthie’s Run, then meander down Blue Ribbon. It’s got great views all the way up—which make for a classic photo op—and piñon and juniper forests on the way down,” says Katherine Roberts. Dogs can be under voice control on all of these trails.

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