Just about every Aspen resident, as well as frequent visitors, has his or her favorite trail(s). Elite runners are no different, and many of the people that dance by you (on the uphill) as you’re laboring up Smuggler or Aspen Mountain have impressive running resumes. High-caliber runners like Rickey Gates, Megan Lund, Zeke Tiernan, Ted and Christy Mahon, Casey Weaver, Sean Van Horn, and Dylan Bowman are just a few of the people who dominate on local trails.
Megan Kimmel, who runs professionally for Salomon, also calls the Roaring Fork Valley home. Born in Denver, the 38-year-old initially moved here after college. In fact, she began trail running when she first lived in Aspen.
“I had a good work opportunity and the chance to live in my friend's VW van,” Kimmel says. “That’s when I got into trail running, when my home was on wheels. I worked for a florist and would run before and after work and on weekends.” Thankfully she’s also a therapeutic masseuse, so she knows how to recover from hard mountain running.
She’s moved away for various reasons over the years (including to buy a coffee shop in Silverton, Colorado), but always returns, in part for the amazing running. So far this summer, Kimmel’s won the 52K Broken Arrow Skyrace in Lake Tahoe and recently finished fifth at the Marathon Du Mont Blanc (which she won last year). Next up are the Pike’s Peak Marathon and Sierra-Zinal, a challenging mountain race in Switzerland. Both are part of the newly launched Golden Trail Series. Participants must finish three out of the five events to be included in overall rankings (and earn prize money), and Kimmel wants to finish strong.
With two races back to back, expect to see Kimmel putting in serious training on local trails. “There’s a lot of variety here. I also prefer to run the trail that’s best for the season," she says. "If it’s screaming hot, I’ll head to a shaded trail. If it’s early in the morning, I like to run in the sun.”
Here, her five favorites places to hit the dirt:
“Definitely my number-one choice. I start on Cemetery Lane just up from the Rio Grande Trail because I like the big uphill. It dries out earlier in the season. Sometimes I’ll run up and turn around and come back down, sometimes I do the whole loop.”
Know before you go: With more than 2,000 feet of climbing, Sunnyside is tough, but rewarding. Depending on what route you take (there are other options towards the top), the distance is 7 to 10 miles, with the option of connecting with the Hunter Creek and Rio Grande trails to complete a 12-plus-mile loop.
Conundrum Creek Trail
“Many trails in the valley are up and down. I like Conundrum a lot because there's still climbing, but it feels like a flatter trail.”
Know before you go: Conundrum Creek Trail heads up 2,500 vertical feet over about 9 miles to Conundrum Hot Springs. You now need a permit for overnight stays, but it's doable in a day if you run or hike at a brisk pace. Being fit and accustomed to altitude are key. Trail access is from Conundrum Road off of Castle Creek Road.
Red Hill Special Recreation Management Area (Carbondale)
“I moved from Woody Creek to Carbondale, so now I run Red Hill often because it's convenient. It’s dry even earlier than Sunnyside and has lots of options."
Know before you go: Red Hill has more than 13 miles of interconnected trails that you can mix and match to run as long as you like. The parking lot is just off of Highway 82 at the intersection with Highway 133.
“One of my favorites when I first started trail running was going up here. It can be busy, though.”
Know before you go: With incredible views and rocky footing, Crater Lake, rated as "moderate," is 1.8 miles each way, with about 500 feet of elevation gain. Pick up the trail from the Maroon Lake Parking lot. From June 9 through October 8, access to the lake is primarily restricted to buses.
East Snowmass Creek Trail
"The other trail I run a lot for big training runs is East Snowmass Creek Trail from the Snowmass Creek trailhead. You can continue on to Snowmass Lake via the Maroon-Snowmass Trail, which is a nice destination, plus it has access to a number of different trails and peaks. I like variety, and this trail delivers."
Know before you go: East Snowmass Creek Trail is burly, with more than 4,000 feet of gain over 8.5 miles to Willow Lake; perhaps not surprisingly, it's not crowded. The trailhead is located off of Divide Road in Snowmass Village, past Krabloonik Restaurant and Kennels.