Singletrack probably isn’t the first thing you expect from Aspen. This mountain town is better known for its celebrity part-timers, designer boutiques, classical music concerts and luxury lifestyles (The Little Nell’s wine cellar includes a $55,000 bottle of 1994 Échezeaux). When it comes down to it, Aspen doesn’t need to add mountain biking to its list of charms—yet it is.
The 6,700-resident community at the head of Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley is in the midst of a big singletrack buildout that has added a whopping 42 miles of new trail over the past five years. That brings the total to more than 140 miles of high-quality, non-motorized singletrack that plumbs the scrubby hills and high-alpine valleys around Aspen and the neighboring resort at Snowmass (a 20-minute drive downvalley).
The recent effort isn’t driven by a desire to attract tourists—Aspen sees plenty of those. Instead, the trail expansion is more of a grassroots effort fueled by bike-loving locals who just want more riding opportunities, for a wider range of abilities.
“People have been mountain biking on the Sunnyside and Government trails for decades, but those are very much expert trails,” says Mike Pritchard, executive director of the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association. Such old-school classics involve rocky, rooty challenges and steep, spirit-crushing grades. But they also showcase glorious views of Aspen’s surrounding mountains (including the famously beautiful Maroon Bells). “Our goal with the new trails is to make those views accessible to a broader spectrum of riders, like kids and teens and folks in their 70s,” says Pritchard. Gravity addicts can get their fix at Snowmass, which continues to expand its lift-served trail network. And abundant bike paths make it easy to ride (rather than drive) to trailheads. “We certainly would not see the trail system evolve so quickly without the support of our land managers,” says Pritchard. But deep-pocketed locals have also powered the effort (one donor contributed $10,000 to fast-track the new Seven Star Trail). And remember, this is Aspen, after all. So after logging epic miles on dirt, you can roll into town for gourmet burgers and microbrews, or maybe catch Michael Franti at the Belly Up. It’s the good life—for the mud-splattered set.
Aspen’s three main mountain biking zones are Hunter Creek, Sky Mountain Park and Snowmass. The easiest routes are at Sky Mountain Park, a buffed-out trail system that sprawls across the scrub-covered hills between Aspen and Snowmass. The grades are friendly and the dirt is smooth, but, because most trails were built specifically for bikes, the flow is fast and euphoric—and ample mileage makes it possible to log everything from an hour-long day-starter to a half-day epic. The most forgiving uphill follows the Airline Trail (accessed from the Owl Creek bike path) that features gentle switchbacks on a gradual (if sun-exposed) climb to the Cozyline Trail and other segments of the Sky Mountain system. Got groms? Park at the Buttermilk ski area and pick up the Buttermilk Connector, a smooth, flat out-and-back that appeals to the Strider set.
The Hunter Creek network sits close to town, but getting to the singletrack (where the real fun begins) requires a stout climb up 12-percent grades on unpaved Smuggler Mine Road (mere mortals clock it in 30 minutes; racers aim for 11). Plans are afoot to replace that grunt with singletrack, but for now, consider it a warmup for technical routes that wind through fragrant pines and across the grassy floor of a hanging valley framed by jagged peaks at both ends. Don’t miss the new Hummingbird Trail, a smooth, machine-built tour de force that contours across open mountainsides and offers 180-degree views. Pick up the Sunnyside Trail for a true test of lung and leg.
Drive, bus or bike to Snowmass for cross-country and lift-served biking options showcasing the area’s most impressive mountain panoramas. Wanna ride lifts? Whistler-based Gravity Logic built the Valhalla Trail, the flagship freeride route that screams through aspens and includes a nerve-testing wall ride. Families with kids find their bliss at the Beginner Skills Park, a collection of mini berms and bridges near the base of the Elk Camp gondola. Or start at Snowmass and pedal back to Aspen via the Government Trail, a classic that ranks as many Aspenites’ big rite of summer (cleaning The Root, an eroded dirt ledge peppering a tight switchback, is sure to earn you big bragging rights back in town).
Looking to switch up sports? Pedal your fly rod to the Roaring Fork River, which flows right beside Aspen’s downtown. This stretch of picturesque pocket water holds plenty of rainbows, and speedy access makes it possible to end a day on the bike with a leg-cooling session in the river. Just head north on Mill Street and hang a left on Puppy Smith, which becomes the Rio Grande Trail (a paved bike path that parallels the Roaring Fork for nearly a mile).
Start your day with espresso and avocado toast (or grab a muesli to go) at Victoria+Co (aspenespresso.com). Post-ride, claim a seat at the communal picnic tables parked outside HOPS Culture (hopsculture.com), which taps 30 craft beers and stocks 170 more in bottles. The challah-framed burgers feature all-natural Colorado beef. For fruit smoothies, salads, and mighty platters of locally-made cheese and charcuterie, head to bustling Meat & Cheese (meatandcheeseaspen.com). And forget any prejudice you may have against the “hotel restaurant,” because you’ll find this town’s most impressive dishes at Chef’s Club, within the St. Regis Aspen Resort (stregisaspen.com/dining/chefs-club). Charred octopus, Turkish-spiced lamb, and black truffle-topped gnocchi represent an eclectic array of culinary traditions ranging from the Mediterranean to the American south, and Master Sommelier Jonathan Pullis picks the perfect wines to match.
Even Aspen’s swanky spots are bike-friendly: With bike racks on its guest shuttles, The Little Nell (thelittlenell.com) can whisk you to area trailheads–and valet service delivers your two-wheeler to the front door whenever you care to ride. The more affordable Mountain Chalet (mountainchaletaspen.com) includes free parking and an ample breakfast spread, and although the décor may be a bit dated, the central location puts you within walking distance of Aspen’s main shopping and dining zones.
Check the show listings at the Belly Up (bellyupaspen.com), a small but justly famous venue for big-name rock acts. Or go classical: Midori and Joshua Bell are among the bow-wielding superstars that perform at the Aspen Music Festival (aspenmusicfestival.com) every summer, and there are cheap seats for every show.
August 5, 2017, marks the seventh year for the Audi Power of Four Mountain Bike Race (aspensnowmass.com), a 33-mile course spanning Aspen’s four ski areas and nearly 10,000 vertical feet of climbing.