Greatest Trails of the Roaring Fork Valley

Colorado rates as one of the nation’s fittest states due to its multitude of outdoor activities and amazing weather. Garfield and Pitkin Counties enjoy a hub of trails that are used year-round for hiking, biking, backpacking, walking, running, equestrian, commuting, in-line skating, wildlife viewing, snowmobiling, cross country and AT skiing, snowshoeing and even dog sledding.

We love our trails and want more so that we can connect and explore new places. Well, here’s good news!

Colorado State Governor John Hickenlooper announced the “16 in 2016” initiative this past January. The project targets the state’s 16 most important trail gaps, missing trail segments and unbuilt trails. Hickenlooper said in his announcement, “We need the kind of outdoor access that more easily brings all of us—especially our young people—into the fresh air and away from indoor distractions. Getting more Coloradans outdoors more often is good for our health and a refreshing reminder of how fortunate we are to live in Colorado.”

One of the “16” projects is the local Lower Valley trail, a multi-use, non-motorized trail that will travel through the Colorado River Valley. Beginning in Glenwood Springs, it will connect New Castle, Silt, Rifle and Parachute, and when completed, the paved trail will end at the Mesa County line. The LoVa trail will intersect with the existing Rio Grande and Glenwood Canyon Trails beginning in Glenwood Springs. Kevin Batchelder, county manager for Garfield County comments, “The Lower Valley Trail is an essential 47-mile missing shared-use path that would… further maximize existing regional trail systems in Eagle, Garfield, Mesa and Pitkin Counties.”

LoVa, a non-profit that was established in 1999, has been working for more than 15 years to plan and build what it eventually envisions as a continuous trail running parallel to Interstate 70 all the way out to the Utah border. In a letter sent to Hickenlooper, LoVa stated, “In addition to being the most needed regional trail in this area, the LoVa Trail is part of a much larger dream. It is a key component to a bike trail system, running east to west, paralleling I-70 through the entire state from Kansas to Utah.”

The Rio Grande Trail, which lies on the former trackline of the historic Denver and Rio Grande Western (D&RGW) railroad, is walked, pedaled and skied by an average 85,000 users annually and, at 42 miles in length, is the longest rail-trail in the state. D&RGW trains ceased running in phases between the 1960’s and the mid-1990’s, and in 1997, the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, the Valley’s local bus company, completed a rails-to-trails conversion and took on the job of caring for the continuous multi-use trail that runs from Glenwood Springs to Aspen. The Rio Grande is protected from vehicular traffic except at intersections and its scenery is spectacular. The Rio Grande Trail needs your vote this month; it’s one of five trails in the running to be inducted into a national Hall of Fame. Vote at RailsToTrails.org.

Another trail connecting with the Rio Grande that’s worthy of mention is the Glenwood Canyon Recreation Trail. This 14-mile trail takes you through beautiful Glenwood Canyon following along the Colorado River towards Dotsero.

The West Elk Multi-Use Trail, located on White River National Forest land north of Rifle, Silt and New Castle, is used for hiking, biking, horseback riding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and dog sledding. The West Elk trails are maintained by the West Elk Multi-Use Club (WEMUC) a volunteer group that grooms them for Nordic skiing and snowshoeing. This trail has three loops, totaling approximately 12 miles. The West Elk trails start on Forest Road 819 on the Buford Road. That’s located in the Flat Tops Mountain Range, west of Glenwood Springs.

Even though winter has passed, the Aspen Fat Bike Loop is also one to mention. The City of Aspen’s Park & Open Space Department collaborated with the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association to introduce the Aspen Fat Bike Loop this past winter. A 4.5 mile looped designed for fat bike users, it starting at three trailheads: Marolt Open Space, Aspen Recreation Center and Buttermilk’s Tiehack parking lot. This trail can extend to the Cemetery Lane bike path so that fat bikers can enjoy a section of the Rio Grande Trail that is groomed all the way to Basalt. The same area offers many other trails for Nordic skiing, snowshoeing and walking.

In mid-valley, the Prince Creek Trails are local favorites for weekend warriors and after-work adventures. Hiking to the top of Mount Sopris or to Thomas Lakes is a must for living in our valley, and still more trails—Basalt Mountain, Rocky Fork Trail and the Hay Park Trails—will be found in the Basalt area.

Upvalley, the trail systems are in abundance, too. The City of Aspen has a trail guide that notes trail and their uses for various activities: ABC Trail, Ajax Trail, Aspen Mountain, Difficult Trail, East of Aspen Trail, Government Trail, Hunter Creek Trail, Lani White Trail, Old Stage Trail, Owl Creek Trail, Red Butte Trail, Smuggler Road, Stein Trail, Sunny Side Trail and Ute Trail.

Snowmass offers some very popular trails for summer activities: Rim Trail, Maroon-Snowmass Trail, East Snowmass Trail, West Snowmass Trail, Elk Camp Trail, Highline Trail and Capital Peak Trail to name a few more.

In fact, it’s nearly impossible to name all our local trails. AllTrails.com is an excellent resource for finding the right trail for your experience level and sport. The views and tranquility that can be experienced while enjoying our Roaring Fork trails are simply unmatched.

If time allows, don’t forget about the biggy: The Colorado Trail. It runs down the spine of the Continental Divide, takes four to six weeks to hike and runs a distance of 485 miles. It starts just outside Denver in Waterton Canyon State Park and ends just outside Durango, and it’s not just for hikers. The Colorado Trail is also open to horses and mountain bikers. It’s one for your bucket list.