Aspen has no shortage of world-class mountain biking trails, but, in most cases, there's a caveat: You have to climb anywhere from 800 feet to more than 2,000 feet to access them. The thrill of the ride—and the views that come with it—make the effort well worth it, but it's also important to set your expectations and be prepared, especially if you're unaccustomed to riding at higher elevations.
Whether you're going for glory on the Power of Four course or simply enjoying a ride up the beaten path, charging up anything on the your first day at altitude is not recommended. Be sure to bring extra hydration and food for fuel, as you'll be burning more calories than you would at lower elevations.
Here, seven of the biggest and best mountain bike trails in Aspen, broken down by elevation gain.
1. Power of Four course—8,389 feet
Reserved only for the ultra fit (or the ultra masochistic), the Power of Four route is a beast of ride that climbs and descends all four Aspen Snowmass resorts, and includes portions of the Snowmass Bike Park trails and all of Government Trail . This isn't one to start out with, but it's certainly one to reach toward for some serious bragging rights.
2. Smuggler to Sunnyside loop—3,221 feet
Riders ascend the rigorous Smuggler Mountain Road for about 1,600-plus feet and then to Hunter Creek for another 1,000-foot climb up Red Mountain Road. There's another 1,000 feet to be gained until riders reach Four Corners and begin the technical descent down Sunnyside Trail .
3. Snowmass to Aspen shuttle—3,012 feet
To do this one right, you'll want to have a car waiting at Buttermilk's Tiehack parking lot. You'll then drive another car to Snowmass' Owl Creek parking lot and start the ride from there. You'll begin on Tom Blake and make your way to Fanny Hill and then up Village Bound, Connector Trail, and Cross Mountain Trail, which is the most sustained climb of the ride. Soon you'll meet up with West Government Trail —you'll take this all the way to the other car waiting at Tiehack.
4. Buttermilk Bowls loop—2,147 feet
Starting from Tiehack, bikers will ride for about an hour up a work road to the Cliffhouse Lodge. When the road comes to a fork within the first couple minutes of the ascent, stay right to access the double single track cut-off trail. This is the only turn that riders will need to worry about. Stop at Cliffhouse for a water break and enjoy the valley's best views of 14,000-plus-foot Pyramid Peak. To access the "Bowls," continue up the road for another half mile before beginning the descent, which will meet up with Government Trail about halfway down the mountain.
5. Rim Trail—1,806 feet
Rim Trail can be enjoyed two ways, but for the most convenience—and ease—park at Snowmass Village's Rodeo Parking. From there, ride up Brush Creek Bike Path until you reach the Divide Road apartments, where the trailhead is located. The first, and biggest, sustained ascent is about 700 feet. Ride an additional 100 yards from the first ascent to access a beautiful viewing platform. Continue the ride along the ridge, enjoying rolling but short ups-and-downs, and the flowy rhythm of the trail. The last 400-foot climb yields the best descent of the entire trail, which will put you right back at the Rodeo Lot.
6. Smuggler to Tootsie to Hunter Creek Loop—1,642 feet
Starting from the base of Smuggler Mountain Road , bikers will ascend for anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes depending on their fitness level. The Jeep road offers little shade, and it's typically busy with hikers, runners, and their dogs, so stay alert while you're in the saddle. Once you've reached the trail map, continue to BTS trail (Behind The Sign). You'll reach another trail map, which will show additional routes. For the full ascent, continue up Tootsie Roll until you reach the high point. Then, you'll descend through shady pine forests and aspen groves all the way down to Hunter Creek valley. You'll need to descend the lower, paved portion Red Mountain Road to get back to your car. And don't forget the extra water and sunscreen for this one.
7. Sky Mountain Park—1,010 feet
There are multiple ways to get to one of Aspen's newest trail systems, Sky Mountain Park, but the most popular route is from the Aspen bike path, which begins on Hopkins Avenue in downtown. Take this path for about two miles until you pass the Buttermilk bus stop. Turn left at the next pedestrian tunnel and continue on the path until it starts ascending. Airline Trailhead will be on your right. You'll climb up this trail to the intersection with Cozyline, which provides access to Sky Mountain Park trail, Skyline, and Deadline. Airline and Deadline offer the best descents. (Keep in mind that these trails are closed for elk migration from December 1 through May 15.)
Whichever route you opt for, don't forget to reward yourself with a refreshing pint afterward. At the corner of Hopkins Avenue and Monarch Street, Aspen Brewing Company's Tasting Room is a perfect spot.