Avalanche Ranch, just outside of Carbondale, Colo., is actually perfect any time of the year, but shoulder season will afford you the most value and the least crowds.
A trip to the Avalanche Ranch Cabins and Hotsprings is akin to a boyhood dream come true, at least for me personally. It’s the land where the waters are warm, the fish are plentiful, the views astounding, and recreational opportunities abound. And this, directly out the doorstep of your personal ranch cabin, surrounded by meandering trails, friendly farm animals and relics from days gone by.
Mount Sopris towers over this quaint kid- and dog-friendly getaway in the heart of the outdoor-sport haven of the Roaring Fork Valley (RFV). And what better way to take in fall colors and get away from the Front Range crowds for a few days than to take a trip west…to the real West, and one of the nicest hot springs in the state, just minutes from the up-and-coming ultra-friendly community of Carbondale, Colo.
Picnic tables, grills, flannel, enamel wear, down comforters and kitschy décor adorn each of the property’s freestanding cabins. There’s also a community house, featuring a lovely sitting porch, a TV, phone (no cell service to speak of here), ping pong table and other entertainment for the kids (if necessary), and a fish cleaning station…for all those trout you are going to catch from the stocked pond, should you strike out on the Crystal River, just a stone’s throw from your private porch.
The springs and property were developed in 2010 on the adjacent Hell Roaring Ranch after much deliberation. The three pools replenish with only raw geothermal water every two hours and are cleaned weekly. They are meticulously designed and crafted. Temps range from 103-105 degrees F to 88-94 degrees F in the lower pool. Notably, the ranch provides locally produced grass fed beef to grocers and school children throughout the Roaring Fork Valley.
And while the Avalanche Ranch has received wide-ranging accolades and reviews, here’s a look at how to pack in the best recreation the area has to offer, essentially without having to get in your car, which is always a welcomed respite. Now is your chance to soak in some amazing hotsprings while soaking in the fall colors, check off some of the best recreation in the state, shop at the on-site antique store, all during glorious shoulder season without the crowds.
Hike Mount Sopris
The icon of the RFV, Mount Sopris tops out at almost exactly 13,000 feet a.s.l. and the hike takes most of a day at around 12 miles roundtrip. Marking the northern end of the Elk Range, part of the dramatic Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, this majestic peak is a local’s favorite for hiking and winter mountaineering, rising more than 6,000 vertical feet in just a few miles. The East summit is most popular, accessed via the Mount Sopris Trail. Start early, parking at the Dinkle Lake trailhead. (Turn left at Prince Creek Road about 2 miles past Carbondale; go 6.3 miles to the famous confusing intersection and stay right to Dinkle Lake.) And of course for those family members not looking to bag peaks, hiking/snowshoeing trails can be found on-property, right out the cabin door.
Sport climb The Narrows
While The Narrows is well-known for its good sport and trad climbing, the rock is commonly described as loose and fractured, and is less popular than the nearby Redstone boulders and other major climbing areas on Independence Pass and in Rifle, Colo. Single pitch routes range from 5.8 to 5.13c, and the area is infrequently crowded. Park in the large parking lot past the narrows of the canyon on your way to Redstone, regress down canyon about 150 feet and look for a cairn on the left and a rough trail; hike about 20 minutes to reach The Narrows.
Fly fish the Crystal River
Fly fishing in the RFV is what many people get out of bed for, and guests come from around the world to pit their skills and thousand-dollar bamboo rods against the trout in the area’s streams, rivers and lakes. From your cozy bed at the Avalanche Ranch Cabins, stroll down the road to the Crystal River and spend several mornings and evenings casting into the clear waters. If you need help, call Carbondale’s Alpine Angling. Their guides are beyond expert, and you will not leave disappointed (www.roaringforkanglers.com). As previously mentioned, if you do strike out on the Crystal or the Roaring Fork, you can canoe the stocked pond on site (checking off one more sport), then either teach your kid or learn to clean them yourself and cook them in this perfectly lovely controlled environment.
Mountain bike at Prince Creek
While the entire valley is truly a mountain bike Mecca, the area around Avalanche Ranch is some of the best. Prince Creek gives access to West Sopris Creek, Porcupine Loop, Hay Park Trail and Crown Trails. You can ride up Prince Creek Road (again, about 2 miles south of Carbondale on 133) from Avalanche Ranch. There’s also the Red Hill (Mushroom Rock) area also about a mile from downtown C-dale (park at the base of County Road 107 if you’re driving).
When looking for a bit of local lift-served downhill action, head down-valley a few minutes to Snowmass Village. Rent DH bikes and pads at Four Mountain Sports at the base of the Elk Camp Gondola and ride the mountain’s developing downhill trails, berms and jump features to really get the adrenaline going. After a long day on the trails, reward yourself where the locals congregate for great food and atmosphere at the Artisan, located on-mountain inside the Stonebridge Inn. (www.aspensnowmass.com)
Ice climb in Redstone
Ice climbing in Redstone, Colo., just minutes up Hwy. 133 from the hotsprings, continues to grow in popularity, and the Redstone Winterfest takes place the third week of February each year. Classic ice routes and mixed routes abound, including Marble Falls (WI3), the Redstone Slabs (WI4+) and the new Goldfinger (M6). If vertical ice is your thing, postpone your visit to Avalanche Ranch until mid-winter and make it your base camp for a few days. You may want to look into some of the ski pass options for the Aspen/Snowmass resorts, including the Classic Pass four-day deals or the new Mountain Collective pass that gives access to Jackson, Alta, Squaw, Alpine Meadows and Aspen/Snowmass (www.themountaincollective.com).
Road bike McClure Pass
Mount up right out your cabin door for a moderate classic road ride that is not to be missed. Simply take a right on 133 and head for the 8,755-foot McClure Pass summit, flanked by 8-9 percent grades on both sides, about 23 miles from Carbondale. The first handful of miles are an easy warm up, beginner friendly, until the gorgeous canyon and steeper grades top out the climb. If you’re looking for additional miles, descend the other side for an entirely different yet equally beautiful set of views and about 15-plus miles to the Paonia Reservoir. Paved bike paths and easy roads are abundant in the RFV; and the 10-mile ride up to the Maroon Bells outside of Aspen is a must-do for road cyclists (extra credit for riding there from Carbondale).
Visit the Avalanche Ranch Cabins & Hot Springs website and check out the “low season” rates on all 15 cabins, the Ranch House and the Shepherd’s Wagon—a converted chuck wagon featuring a full sized bed, coffee pot and grill, perfect for the minimalist camper or adventure motorcyclist.
12863 Highway 133, Redstone, CO 81623; (970) 963-2846; www.avalancheranch.com