Central Elk Mountains Backcountry Skiing - Chapter 8


Chapter 8 Central Elk Mountains, access from upper portions of Castle Creek and Maroon Creek roads.

This chapter covers the high Elk Mountains between Ashcroft and Crested Butte. Calling these the “central Elk Mountains” might be too specific, but it works for organizing this book. A few routes in the Central Elks are included in other chapters; glance at the text maps to clarify this.

Roads and Trailheads

USGS Maps: Hayden Peak, Pearl Pass, Maroon Bells, Highland Peak

USFS Map: White River National Forest

Ashcroft Trailheads, Express Creek, Cathedral Lake Trailhead

Drive Highway 82 downvalley from Aspen or upvalley from Glenwood Springs. About a mile outside of Aspen you’ll come to a round-about and good signs at the turnoff for Castle Creek and Maroon Creek roads. Take a hard left onto Castle Creek Road. At 10 miles from Highway 82, turn left into parking for the American Lake Trailhead. Continue up Castle Creek Road to Ashcroft at 11 miles (winter closure). There are some old mining era “ghost town” buildings here, and a commercial ski touring operation. Follow signs for parking. During snow season, Castle Creek Road continues up the valley as a snow route that’s heavily used by everything from snowmobiles to horses. It’s usually plowed by late May, but may be left to melt off.

The Cathedral Lake Trailhead is about a mile up the road from Ashcroft, at a gate on the right side of the road. It’s not easy to spot, especially during snow seasons.

To reach Pearl Pass Road, travel the Castle Creek Road 2 miles from Ashcroft to a Y intersection with good signs. Take the right fork of the Y. After the snow melts, the grade past the fork this is a rough 4-wheel-drive road. With snowcover, it’s a somewhat unpleasant slog from Ashcroft to the Pearl Pass Y, and it’s not uncommon to hitch a ride on a snowmobile. The left fork of this Y is the route to Lindley Hut (see chapter 10).

Maroon Creek Road, East Maroon Creek Trailhead, Maroon Lake

As mentioned above for Castle Creek Road in the section one introduction, turn off Highway 82 near Aspen an obvious roundabout. Follow signs for Maroon Creek Road and Aspen Highlands ski area. Until mid or late May the road is gated three miles up at the T-Lazy-7 Guest Ranch. Later in spring, and in summer, the road is open the next 3 ½ miles to East Maroon Creek Trailhead then on to Maroon Lake at 7 miles from T-Lazy-7. (Maroon Lake is one of the 7 Winter Wonders of the Elk Mountains.)

When Maroon Creek Road is closed, how do you make day trips without getting up at midnight and slogging up a snowcovered, or worse, a dry and gated road? Consider using a snowmobile in the winter, since this is one of the most pounded snowmobile trails in the state. T-Lazy-7 Ranch's snowmobile business (located at winter snow closure) will ferry mountaineers up the road. That option is pricey, so many alpinists take advantage of friends with snow machines. The truly frustrating time is when the road is dry and gated in the spring. Mountaineers have used bicycles and motorcycles in this situation. If you know any property owners in the upper valley, it's possible to get access through the gate. Thus far, trying to arrange such access with the Forest Service has yielded zilch, but it's always worth a try.