Hikes in Elk Mountains
Arguably one of the most picturesque mountain ranges in all of Colorado, the Elk Mountains are a rugged stretch of peaks and valleys that sit on the western edge of the Continental Divide, close by to the ski resort towns of Aspen and Crested Butte. While there are plenty of popular mountains to be climbed throughout the range, the tallest are its 6 fourteeners: Castle Peak, Maroon Peak, Capitol Peak, Snowmass Mountain, Pyramid Peak, and North Maroon Peak.
Historically, the area was central to the various Colorado silver rushes that occurred during the 1800s; however, after that industry collapsed, the towns and mining settlements fell into a state of decline. It was only during the 20th Century, when ski resorts began to crop up, that the area began to prosper once again. Nowadays, the Elk Mountains are a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts, and are situated within the White River National Forest, Gunnison National Forest, Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, and Raggeds Wilderness areas.
10 Amazing Hiking Routes In the Elk Mountains
Featuring dramatic mountain peaks, beautifully scenic valleys, and charming alpine lakes, the Elk Mountains are a true hikers paradise. Throughout this breathtaking area you will find a wide variety of hiking trails that range from beginner strolls along the riverbank to challenging summits of some of the most difficult fourteeners in the State of Colorado. If you are looking to plan a fun outdoor adventure in Colorado, but aren’t sure where to start, then check out this awesome list of hiking routes in the Elk Mountains below:
- Capitol Peak Hike: Featuring challenging mountain terrain and breathtaking alpine views, the Capitol Peak Hike will lead you to the summit of arguably the toughest fourteener in Colorado, and is only recommended for very experienced climbers.
- Oh Be Joyful Trail: This charming long-distance adventure will lead you uphill through a valley that is flanked by rugged mountain peaks, to arrive at the shores of a serene alpine lake with stunning views of the surrounding area.
- Green Lake Trail: Another fun journey to a lovely lake, this hiking route will take you from the town of Crested Butte to the shores of Green Lake that sits nestled beneath the looming slopes of Mount Axtell.
- Lost Lake Trail: This quick and easy adventure is perfectly suited for a fun family excursion, as the trail will lead you around several woodland lakes to arrive at the secluded shores of Lost Lake that lies between two hills.
- Maroon Bells Scenic Loop Trail: As the name implies, the Maroon Bells Scenic Loop Trail is one of the most scenic hikes in the Elk Mountains that is geared towards casual adventurers, as it leads around the shores of Maroon Lake for stunning alpine views.
- Devils Punchbowl Waterfall Trail: This short trail will take you through the mountains along a rugged ATV road in order to experience the views overlooking a series of stunning waterfalls.
- Anthracite Pass Hike: Located in the Raggeds Wilderness Area, this stunning hike will take you uphill through beautiful aspen groves and serene meadows for breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains from Anthracite Pass.
- Crystal City Road #314: A fun route that sets out from the town of Marble, this hike will see you traverse a rugged road through the mountains to reach an historic mill from 1892 that sits precariously above a river.
- Brush Creek Trail: A popular hiking route for casual outdoor enthusiasts and families with children, the Brush Creek Trail will take you through the valley floor alongside the East River for views of the surrounding mountains.
- Smuggler Mountain Overlook Trail: A quick and relatively easy hike in Aspen, the Smuggler Mountain Overlook Trail will lead you up a winding road to an observation deck with stunning views looking out across this iconic ski resort town.
When is the Best Time to Hike in the Elk Mountains?
While there might be a small number of trails that are available for hiking in the winter, the best time to visit the Elk Mountains for a fun hiking trip is during the summer months, after the threat of avalanche conditions has gone away and the ski season is over. During the May-October period, a good portion of the snow along the trails will have dissipated to reveal lovely alpine valleys and peaks for climbing; however, some of the higher elevation trails will only be available for a brief window between July and August.
Other Outdoor Activities in the Elk Mountains
While hiking is the primary activity in the Elk Mountains during the summer months, there are a wide variety of other exciting things to do in the area, such as mountain biking, horseback riding, fishing, swimming, canoeing, and kayaking. When the vast blankets of snow and ice cover the region in the winter, the focus of outdoor activities shifts largely to skiing/snowboarding on the rugged mountain slopes and cozying up in the lodge afterwards for a warm drink!
Fantastic Adventure Tours Near the Elk Mountains
Hiking through the breathtaking terrain of the Elk Mountains is an amazing experience, and for some outdoor enthusiasts, planning that adventure is all a part of the journey; however, if you are unfamiliar with the area it can be a tricky thing to navigate. If you are looking to explore the dramatic mountain peaks and stunning alpine valleys of Colorado without the hassle of planning every little aspect of your journey, why not check out one of these amazing adventure tours in Colorado and leave the leg work to the professionals.
Frequently Asked Questions About the Elk Mountains
Is Crested Butte in the Elk Mountains?
The mountain peak of Crested Butte and the town located along its lower slopes can be found in the Elk Mountain Range of Colorado.
What mountain range is Maroon Bells in?
The Maroon Bells (Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak) are two mountain peaks that can be found within the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area of the Elk Mountain Range.
Is Aspen in the Elk Mountains?
The Elk Mountains are arguably the most picturesque in Colorado, and can be found close to the ski resort towns of Aspen and Crested Butte.
Find other spectacular Hiking regions in the Colorado
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Best Hikes in Elk Mountains
Crystal City Road #314
The Crystal City Road #314 is a great hiking route in Marble, Colorado that follows along a mountain road to reach a historic site. While out hiking the trail, you will gain elevation along the rugged road as it runs parallel to the Crystal River, passing through the mountains to arrive at the site of an old mill dating to 1892. Walkers should take note that this route is not accessible during the winter months due to dangerous conditions.
Capitol Peak Hike
The Capitol Peak Hike is a rugged and extremely difficult hiking route in the Elk mountains of Colorado that will take you up to the summit of the toughest fourteener in the state. While out hiking the trail, you will trek across the landscape to Capitol Lake, before climbing up a steep saddle and traversing a dangerous ridge to reach the summit. Hikers should take note that this is an extremely challenging route that should only be undertaken by experienced climbers, as it has seen a number of fatalities due to the rugged and exposed nature of the terrain.
Oh Be Joyful Trail
The Oh be Joyful Trail is a wonderfully scenic, long distance hiking route in the Elk Mountains of Colorado that will take you up to a charming lake. While out walking the trail, you will pass through a valley that is flanked by rugged mountain peaks, as you follow the Oh Be Joyful Creek up to the tranquil shores of Blue Lake. This route and the surrounding area are not accessible in the winter months, due to snowy and dangerous conditions.
Green Lake Trail
Hiking the Green Lake Trail is an exceptional outdoor activity in Crested Butte, Colorado that will see you climb uphill through the forest to reach a charming lake. While out on the trail, you will leave the town behind and traverse the serene woodlands, working through several tough climbs to reach the shores of Green Lake beneath Mount Axtell. This is a beautifully scenic route that can only be done in the summer months due to dangerous avalanche conditions in the area.
Lost Lake Trail
Hiking the Lost Lake Trail is a fantastic outdoor experience in Mesa Lakes, Colorado that the entire family will be able to enjoy. While out on the trail, you will pass through tranquil stretches of woodland terrain while experiencing beautiful views overlooking several emerald lakes spread throughout the area. This is a great trail, but you will definitely want to bring plenty of bug repellent to keep the critters at bay!
Devil’s Punchbowl Waterfall Trail
The Devil’s Punchbowl Waterfall Trail is a short, albeit extremely rugged, adventure near Crystal, Colorado that will take you along a rocky ATV road to reach a series of waterfalls. While out on the trail, you will carefully navigate a rugged mountain road and keep an eye out for passing vehicles, before arriving at the scenic location of the cascading Devil’s Punchbowl Waterfall. Although this route is pretty short and the elevation gain is fairly low, this route is still not suitable for children, due to the rugged nature of the ground underneath.
Maroon Bells Scenic Loop Trail
Hiking the Maroon Bells Scenic Loop Trail is a spectacular family-friendly adventure near Aspen, Colorado that will take you around the shores of a charming lake with views of nearby mountain peaks. While out on the trail, you will skirt around the edge of Maroon Lake and pass by a beaver dam, taking in the amazing Rocky Mountain views as you complete a short loop over some rapids along Maroon Creek. Although there is ample parking at the trailhead, you will likely want to arrive early to beat out the crowds and enjoy the scenic views.
Anthracite Pass Trail
The Anthracite Pass Trail is a gorgeous hiking route in the Raggeds Wilderness Area of Colorado that will take you uphill through the forest for stunning views of the valley. While out on the trail, you will leave the banks of the Crystal River behind, climbing uphill through beautiful aspen trees and several steep inclines for views of the impressive mountains nearby. The best time for this hike is during the fall, when the changing colors of the leaves blanket the surrounding landscape in a myriad of reds, oranges, and yellows.
Smuggler Mountain Overlook Trail
The Smuggler Mountain Overlook Trail is a great little hike in Aspen, Colorado that will take you up the mountainside for views of the town and surrounding area. While out hiking the trail, you will make your way along Smuggler Mountain Road as it winds uphill towards the observation deck, where you will enjoy stunning views of the surrounding Elk Mountains. While this route isn’t a true hike due to the nature of the trail being a dirt road, the views are breathtaking and absolutely worth an afternoon of exploring Aspen.
Ashcroft Ghost Town Hike
The Ashcroft Ghost Town Hike is a short adventure south of Aspen, Colorado that will take you through an historic site surrounded by mountain views. While out walking this trail, you will meander along the streets of a forming silver mining town that was abandoned in 1885, investigating the various buildings that stand as a reminder of the fleeting nature of the mining booms experienced in the region. This quick and informative walk is perfectly suited for a fun family adventure in the Elk Mountains.
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