Things to Do in the Elk Mountain Range
One of the many benefits of living in Aspen, Colorado is enjoying the outdoor lifestyle. So we jump at the opportunity to ski the snow that falls in our resorts and we raft that same snow when it turns to water in the summertime. Blazing adventures down the river are what we live for. So much so, that our staff wakes up early in the morning to rig and stays late in the evening to de-rig. We are lucky enough to live in an area surrounded by snowy peaks. Our water supply comes from lots of different areas, but none more majestic or more important than the Elk Mountain range.
The Elk Mountain range sits on the western side of the famous Continental Divide, from here in Aspen to Carbondale, Colorado. Mount Sopris, or “Soapy” as I like to call it, marks the northwestern end of the range. As you round the corner of Highway 82 from Glenwood Springs, Mount Sopris stands out against the horizon. It is all you can focus on. This is the giant in the distance that welcomes you to the Elk Mountain Range.
This high, rugged mountain range provides us with our snow escapades in the winter and our blazing adventures in the summertime heat. The Elk Mountain range is in the White River National Forest. There’s plenty to do in this pristine mountain range. For climbers and hikers alike, it consists of six fourteener’s and four centennial thirteeners. But, if you do choose to climb, be careful! These mountains have a reputation for loose, crumbling rock or shale. So, don’t choose to go for the glory. Only attempt if you understand the risks. Most important, know *before* you go!
Photograph of Capital Peak, by Dan Bayer. Please follow this link to the article outlining the “Know Before You Go” policy. Did you know that climbing/mountaineering routes are graded by a “Class” system as well? Just like rapids, trails are rated “Class I – Class V.”
Maroon Bells Wilderness
The Elk Mountain range has large, crystal clear alpine lakes and expansive fields of wildflowers in the spring and summertime. The geology is incredibly unique here as well, giving the mountains a rainbow of multi-colored rocks and faces. Getting to explore this area of Colorado is a privilege and a pleasure. For our staff, it’s their absolute favorite thing.
One of the most photographed mountains in the United States is the Maroon Bells, located within the Elk Mountain range. This is an incredible destination to explore and revel in its beauty. In the spring and summer the alpine lake melts and provide a gorgeous reflective pool for photographs. But, the Maroon Bells Wilderness doesn’t just include the “Bells” – it also includes Mount Sopris, Castle Peak, and the lower sections of the Conundrum Creek valley. When you visit the Bells, be sure to pack-in and pack-out and respect trailheads and wildlife. We want to keep our wilderness just that – wild!
Independence Pass is one of my favorite places to explore on my days off. I’d like to consider it the “crème de la crème” of the Elk Mountain range, but perhaps I’m biased. The pass is filled with tiny, dusty pull-offs that lead to entire afternoons of adventure. Because I never quite know where I’ll end up, I always pack a bear-proof cooler with snacks and my reusable water bottles. However, the path up the pass can narrow into a single lane, making some drivers a little anxious. The Grottos are a must at any time of year. Because of heavy snowfall, in the spring they can be gorgeous ice caves. In the fall, the Grottos looks like this: gorgeous autumn colored leaves, rock formations, and spectacular water falls. With this kind of impressive landscape, no matter the season, the Grottos are a must see.
Independence Ghost Town is another great option to visit on your trip up the pass. The little mining town is filled with original preserved log cabins and wooden structures. You can read about the original inhabitants of the town, and their daring escape during a particularly cold winter. My sister and I go to visit year after year. As regulars, we always have to pull the car over on the way up the pass. It’s a habit now.
The crown jewel, so to speak, is the view from the top of the pass. Nothing feels like standing at the top of a high mountain pass, wildflowers in the foreground, and craggy peaks in the background. Although the path to get there is windy and treacherous, we think it’s worth it beyond measure. We hope that when you visit Aspen this summer, you get to experience all that the Elk Mountain range has to offer.