Summer Running: 5 Top Trail Runs in Aspen

Reverse Government gradually ascends through miles of aspen groves.
Reverse Government gradually ascends through miles of aspen groves. TRAILSOURCE.COM
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For trail runners, Aspen is a world-class destination. The area’s many spectacular—and often challenging—hiking and mountain biking trails make perfect venues for dirt lovers looking to log long, picturesque runs with serious ascents and descents, not to mention spectacular views along the way.

This time of year, before summer temperatures heat up too much and long days that stretch out the sunlight, is sublime to take to the trails. Here, five top trail runs in Aspen that offer an ideal  way to celebrate the season.

1. Sunnyside

The view of Aspen's snow-capped mountains from Sunnyside Trail.
The view of Aspen's snow-capped mountains from Sunnyside Trail. DigitalWheelie

Starting close to the Roaring Fork’s riverbed on Cemetery Lane and ascending for about 2,000 feet, Sunnyside Trail is a great option for those who enjoying climbing for miles on end. From the trail’s highest point, runners are rewarded with panoramic views of all four mountains and the Maroon Bells.

There are many ways to run Sunnyside, but the traditional route is about 6.3 miles one-way and drops runners off in Hunter Creek Valley. From there, it’s possible to run an additional 1.5 miles along the Rio Grande back to your car at Stein Park/Cemetery Lane. The first mile of the trail climbs through sagebrush-choked switchbacks and aqueducts until you reach a driveway, where you’ll continue climbing on Red Mountain. Once at the top of ridge, you can connect with a slew of trails, like Hobbit and Van Horn Park, to make the run longer, descend down into Hunter Creek Valley, or turn around and run back the way you came.

2. Reverse Government

Reverse Government gradually ascends through miles of aspen groves.
Reverse Government gradually ascends through miles of aspen groves. TRAILSOURCE.COM

A popular mountain biking trail, Government Trail is traditionally enjoyed from Snowmass to Buttermilk, but trail runners will find Reverse Government to their liking; the trail gradually ascends and then becomes quick-up and quick-down, cross-country-style terrain.

Providing 6.6 miles of trail, Reverse Government ascends through Buttermilk's wildflower-dotted fields and the levels out a bit through shaded aspen groves and pine forests as you make your way to Snowmass. Like Lost Man, this trail can be accessed a couple of ways. One option is to shuttle a car to the Buttermilk trailhead and another to Snowmass Base Village, or you can hop on the complimentary inter-resort bus from Snowmass, which will transport you back to downtown Aspen. Of course, you can simply turn around when you have had enough, or push yourself to complete the 13-plus-mile out and back.

3. Smuggler to Lollipop

For a shorter run that squeezes in a lot of ascending, Smuggler Mountain Road to Lollipop Trail is an excellent option. An observatory deck at the top of Smuggler Mountain provides a scenic rest stop to hydrate and take photos of the surrounding mountains.

Beginning from the base of Smuggler Mountain, the route ascends for about 1.5 miles up a rocky—and sometimes—loose Jeep road. Continue to BTS (Behind The Sign) once you’ve reached the trail sign and observatory deck area. BTS is a 0.9-mile trail that features about 250 feet of gain along shady aspen groves and windy switchbacks. Keep left at the two junctures to access Lollipop. Once you’ve reached the second trail sign, hop on Lollipop Trail, which features a couple quick ups and downs and several sharp switchbacks. Once you hit the actual “lollipop,” where the trail circles back, you’ll begin your descent. Once you reach the next juncture you have the option to continue left to jump back on Smuggler or head right to descend into Hunter Creek Valley and extend your run.

4. Lost Man

The high-alpine Lost Man trail provides unobstructed views of the surrounding mountains.
The high-alpine Lost Man trail provides unobstructed views of the surrounding mountains. Yuefeng D

Situated near the summit of Independence Pass, Lost Man can be ran two ways: as an 8.8-mile shuttle ride or as an out and back, which can mean just a couple miles or upwards of nearly 18 miles. Runners can expect terrain ranging from marshland to above-treeline ridges, which offer unobstructed views of the surrounding Collegiate Peaks and Elk Mountains.

If you’re shuttling, you will want to park one car at the Lost Man campground parking just off Highway 82 and one car at the last, sharp righthand switchback near the top of the Pass. Starting your run from the campground parking area is recommended, as the trail is mostly uphill and, thus, friendlier on the joints.

5. Hunter Creek Valley

Of all of Aspen’s “recreation zones,” Hunter Creek Valley  provides the most options for the widest array of runners, with its own routes and serving as a segue to and between Smuggler and Sunnyside.

For runners seeking a less ambitious Aspen trail run, Hunter Creek Valley is a top-of-mind choice convenient to downtown Aspen. Starting from the Hunter Creek apartments or from the new Rio Grand cut-off, Hunter Creek Trail ascends steeply alongside its namesake creek for about a mile, before it levels out and meanders through beautiful aspen groves that quickly thin out to reveal the spectacular high-alpine valley. Where trees become less dense, you’ll enter U.S. Forest Service land. You can run along either side of Hunter Creek, and when it’s time to turn around, run on the other side of the creek to get a full scope of the valley. To run out and back to the 10th Mountain Bridge is nearly five miles, but the spectacular scenery and flat terrain make this run easy and enjoyable.

The National Forest Foundation promotes the enhancement and public enjoyment of the 193-million-acre National Forest System. By directly engaging Americans and leveraging private and public funding, the NFF improves forest health and Americans’ outdoor experiences. The NFF’s programs inform millions of Americans about the importance of these treasured landscapes. Each year, the NFF restores fish and wildlife habitat, plants trees in areas affected by fires, insects and disease, improves recreational opportunities, and enables communities to steward their National Forests and Grasslands. Learn more at www.nationalforests.org.

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