While the Roaring Fork Valley offers countless trail options for all types of mountain recreation, not all make for a gratifying run. Those best suited to the swift-footed strike an ideal balance between runnability (i.e., they aren’t so steep or rocky that you can’t sustain a running stride) and scenic reward. Here are three options that fit the bill.
Hunter Creek to Sunnyside, Aspen
This 12-mile, point-to-point route’s most stunning sections contour the side of Red Mountain, overlooking town and passing from dark conifer forest into gleaming-white aspen groves. From the Upper Hunter Creek trailhead off Red Mountain Road, cross the Benedict Bridge and parallel the creek a couple of miles before crossing it again via one of two bridges. Head up the steep, switchbacking Hummingbird Trail until you reach the jeep road, then ascend to the Four Corners intersection. From there, run west on the singletrack Secret Trail, which connects to the Sunnyside Trail. A fun descent ends almost 6 miles later at the paved Rio Grande path, where ideally you’ll have dropped a car to shuttle back to the start. pitkinoutside.org
Rim Trail, Snowmass
This net downhill, 7.5-mile route gives you high-alpine scenic rewards without too long of a trudge uphill. Park at the Snowmass Recreation Center, and take the free bus to the South Rim trailhead. The initial uphill huff pays off with spectacular 360-degree views; from there, follow a gradual downhill along the ridgeline. Continue from the South Rim Trail to the North Rim Trail, which ultimately pops out just behind the recreation center. pitkinoutside.org
Red Hill, Carbondale
The recently upgraded main trailhead, at the intersection of Highways 133 and 82, is busier than ever, so follow the locals and start at the lesser-known Sutey Ranch trailhead off County Road 112. From here, it’s about a mile until you merge onto the Northside Loop (about 5 miles), a rolling run through piñon trees and juniper bushes that connects to more heavily trafficked but still rewarding trails like Faerie, Outer Loop, and Mushroom Rock. redhillcouncil.org
A well-fitting hydration pack, such as Nathan Sports’ VaporSwift, is your most important piece of equipment after your trail-running shoes. Available in two sizes each for men and women, the pack has multiple adjustment points to prevent bouncing or chafing. It holds a 1.5-liter bladder and has front and rear pockets for snacks and extra clothing, such as a lightweight shell jacket. $125.
As founder of Run Wild Retreats + Wellness, which offers trail-running tours around the world, I’ve found these three tactics lead to more satisfying runs.
Don’t worry about pace per mile. Pacing on trails is generally slower, so it can take much longer to cover the same distance as it would on the road. Don’t be discouraged; you’re better off adjusting your pace to vary with the terrain.
Take shorter steps. When you get winded or tire quickly, focus on being more efficient. Shorten your stride by taking very small steps, especially on steep pitches. This also makes you more agile and responsive to obstacles like rocks, roots, and uneven ground.
Know when to walk. All good trail runs include more hiking than you’d expect; that’s OK. In fact, knowing when to walk rather than run makes you a more efficient trail runner overall.