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Hiking Trails: Roads to Nowhere

Todd Hartley's picture

Many visitors to the Aspen area like to spend their time in the great outdoors rather than fancy hotel suites and handbag stores. Fortunately for these folks, the Roaring Fork Valley is blessed with a plethora of excellent Forest Service campsites. Whether you choose to park your RV or pitch your tent way up Independence Pass or down in the midvalley, chances are you can find the perfect site to fit your needs.

When it comes to hiking trails, however, it can be tougher for visitors to know just where to go for something suitable. Many trails are too steep; others are too hard to find. As luck would have it, though, two of the most popular camping areas in the valley have excellent scenic trails starting right at the campground that are ideal for families and those looking for a moderate workout rather than a thigh-burner. Just don’t head up these trails with a specific destination in mind, as both go for long distances without reaching a high pass or alpine lake.

Just a few miles past Aspen toward Independence Pass, you will find Difficult Campground, a well-used site nestled amongst a cottonwood and pine forest on the banks of the Roaring Fork River. This is the launching-off point for Difficult Creek Trail, a popular early-season hike for locals and a great choice for visitors who don’t want to venture too far from downtown.

To reach the trailhead from Aspen, take Highway 82 east for about 4 miles. The narrow road leading into the campground will be on your right. Park in the day use area to find the trailhead at the southeast corner of the parking lot. From here, follow the trail as it meanders through an open forest of pine, cottonwood and aspen trees before eventually reaching a bridge across the Roaring Fork River.

On the far side of the river, the trail becomes a little steeper and begins a gentle climb into a small valley tucked in the hills west of the campground. The views of Aspen and beyond from this section of the trail are well worth the effort. Upon reaching the upper valley, the trail levels off and runs parallel to Difficult Creek, a charming little waterway that gurgles pleasantly through the woods. Follow the trail as far as you feel like going before turning around and heading back the way you came.

A little over 10 miles south of Carbondale on Highway 133 lies Avalanche Creek, home to another Forest Service campground and the Avalanche Creek Trail, which heads deep into the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness on the back side of Mount Sopris. This mostly level hike is ideal for people unaccustomed to the high altitude or anyone staying in the Carbondale area.

To reach the trailhead, take Highway 82 west from Aspen all the way to the Carbondale stoplight, and take a left onto Highway 133 south. Follow 133 approximately 12 miles and make a left on Avalanche Road. Stay on Avalanche Road for another two and a half miles to reach the campground and trailhead.

The trail starts off gently, following Avalanche Creek for a couple of miles before turning to the left and climbing the hill to get around a large rock outcrop. At the top of the incline, the Hell Roaring Trail branches off to the left and heads farther up the hill. Stay right here on the main trail as it heads back downhill. Shortly after this point you will reach a bridge that spans a scenic cascade that tumbles toward the valley floor. This marks a good place to turn around and head back, as the trail continues on for many more miles into the wilderness.