Around The Hoop

Five favorite road rides around Aspen

By Troy Hooper
Real AspenAugust 18, 2011

The debut of the nation’s premiere cycling race, the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, is just days away.

Aspen could very well provide the backdrop to the climax of the race if the monstrous climbs up Independence and Cottonwood passes and the furious descent into town live up to expectations.

With that in mind, now is a perfect time to jump on your bike and pedal like the pros.

Here are five favorite road routes in the Aspen area:

Owl Creek Road

1. The Maroon Bells – This iconic ride is basically a seven-mile straight shot up Maroon Creek Road to some of the world’s most photographed peaks. The grade is gradual – mostly between 4 to 5 percent – and, in the summer, the road is closed to vehicles from morning until night. As your legs and lungs burn, the aspen trees that tower above you and majestic views of Pyramid Peak will ease your pain.

2. Ashcroft – Just around the bend from the roundabout to the Bells is Castle Creek Road, which serves up an equally impressive wilderness experience. The trek follows the creek up past some prominent and relatively isolated homes of the rich and famous before traversing to the ghostown of Ashcroft. Only a smattering of cabins remain, but back in the late 19th century, Ashcroft hosted 20 saloons, two newspapers, a school, a courthouse and thousands of prospectors cashing in on Colorado’s silver rush.

3. Starwood – The affluence of Ashcroft didn’t last long. A half century or so later, the well-heeled in the Aspen area settled this enclave that singer and songwriter John Denver made famous the world over. Wheeling up here from Aspen is rather short in terms of distance, but it makes up for it in grade. The steep, meandering ride boasts spectacular views of downtown and a calorie-shedding workout to boot.

4. McClain Flats-Snowmass Loop – A gentler ride can be found by pedaling west out of town to Cemetery Lane and over to McClain Flats. Avoid this ride during the morning and evening commutes and you should have the road to yourself. Outstanding scenery abounds as you whisk by the multi-million-dollar ranches that dot the landscape. As you approach Woody Creek, take a left and cross Highway 82 over to Brush Creek and through the outer reaches of Snowmass Village. You’ll then connect with Owl Creek Road, which will allow you to circle back to Aspen.

5. Independence Pass – If you think you can handle it, try conquering the 12,095-foot pass that separates Aspen and Twin Lakes. This leg-burning climb requires serious skill and mental focus. The elevation gain is 4,187 feet. Head east on Highway 82 out of town and then go up, and up, and up some more. The route is closed in the winter and, except in spring or late fall, you have to share the road with cars.

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