Victims of their own popularity, some of Aspen’s most iconic natural sites are in danger of being loved to death, attracting crowds and, in some cases, requiring pre-purchased bus tickets or reserved shuttle rides to access. Fortunately, there’s an abundance of other spectacular views and hundreds of miles of great trails to roam in the area. We’re not saying you should never visit the Maroon Bells, for example, but if you’ve already been to one of these celebrated spots, consider some of our favorite under-the-radar alternatives.
Instead of: Maroon Bells
Go Here: Three scenic drives offer similar postcard-worthy panoramas of the Elk Mountains: McLain Flats Road for white-striped Mount Daly and its craggy neighbors rising above the slopes of Snowmass ski area; the ring of high-alpine cirques that close in around upper Castle Creek Road near Ashcroft ghost town; and, from the pastoral roads of Missouri Heights, unimpeded views of twin-summited Mount Sopris, which has one of the largest vertical rises of any peak in Colorado.
Instead of: Cathedral Lake/American Lake
Go Here: A slightly longer yet less-steep hike to a picturesque high-alpine tarn, the Sawyer Lake Trail similarly meanders through wildflower meadows and tall pine forests but in the lightly traveled reaches of the upper Fryingpan Valley.
Instead of: Aspen to Crested Butte via West Maroon Pass
Go Here: The trail over East Maroon Pass is five miles longer and more gradual as it skirts the eastern flanks of Pyramid Peak through aspen and subalpine forests, then descends from the 11,835-foot pass along Copper Creek through wildflower fields to the tiny research town of Gothic, from which you can arrange transport to Crested Butte.
Instead of: Lost Man Loop, Independence Pass
Go Here: From a pullout on Highway 82 just before Independence ghost town, an abandoned four-wheel-drive road crosses the Roaring Fork River and ascends aptly named Green Mountain, passing a historic mining settlement and affording 360-degree views from the 12,800-foot summit, including Independence Pass.
Instead of: Hanging Lake Trail, Glenwood Canyon
Go Here: Much farther off the beaten path, the Chapman Lake Trail (not to be confused with the nearby reservoir and campground of the same name) in the Fryingpan Valley is a short, family-friendly hike that weaves through aspens and pine groves to a pretty lake with mountain views and rocks to picnic on.
Call of the Wild
In 2018, the Aspen Chamber Resort Association developed the Aspen Pledge, an amusingly worded set of agreements with a serious message: recreate responsibly. Now, the Chamber is asking you to consider putting your money where your mouth is, so to speak, with Pledge for the Wild, a consortium of 11 mountain resort towns that are committed to promoting mindful tourism as well as providing an easy way to donate to local conservation groups. In Aspen’s case, that’s the Independence Pass Foundation, which helps protect the landscape of one of our most popular recreation destinations. The new initiative, which comes on the heels of last year’s Tag Responsibly campaign, is “part of our overall sustainability efforts,” says Chamber Marketing Director Eliza Voss. Simply text Wild4Aspen to 44321, and you’ll be directed to a secure online donation link. Satisfaction guaranteed. —Cindy Hirschfeld