Winter (Van) Camping

We like to get outside every chance we get, whether it’s a quick run, a day-long hike, or a weekend camping trip. You can see all of our outdoor adventures here, and more of our Colorado hikes here.

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Last weekend we packed up the van and headed into Rocky Mountain National Park for an overnight adventure! Since winter camping is not a common past time, especially if you have little kids, I thought I’d share some details about our adventure, and hopefully encourage you to take off into the snowy mountains for a weekend of fun.

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Like Haiyaha Hike

We like a good hike, and every once in a while we have the chance to hike slow, take pictures, and share the adventure with you. You can check out some of our previous Colorado hikes here.

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These are photos from a hike that we took a few months ago, and I just happened to find them here in an unpublished post. I was so sure that I wrote about this hike, but a few searches finally convinced me that I’m crazy.

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Mitchell Lake Trail

We like a good hike, and every once in a while we have the chance to hike slow, take pictures, and share the adventure with you. You can check out some of our previous Colorado hikes here.

For the past two weekends, we’ve visited Brainard Lake Recreation Area and set out from the Mitchell Lake Trailhead. On our first trip, we did a short hike to Mitchell Lake, took a rest to have some hot chocolate, and then turned around. Yesterday we set out with the goal to make it all the way to Blue Lake, and we did!

As in the tradition of our previous hike posts, I wanted to share some photos and a brief overview of the trail. These photos are from both trips and in no particular order, but they give you a great sense of what the trail is like during mid October.

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Trail Location

The trail starts within the Brainard Lake Recreation Area, but quickly leaves that area and continues on into the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area.

Brainard Lake Recreation Area is open to vehicles from June – October, but the exact opening and closing dates vary each year based on the weather. The entrance fee is on a sliding scale from $1 if you’re walking to $10/car, BUT you can access this area for free with a Nation Parks annual pass. When the area is closed during the winter, you can still park at a lot near the entrance and then enter the area by foot/ski/bike.

During the summer months, you can drive into the area and park at a number of lots. There’s a day-use lot near the main lake that often has spaces, and then there are two smaller lots near the Long Lake and Mitchell Lake trailheads, but in our experience, both of these fill up fairly early and remain packed throughout the day.

If possible, park at the Mitchell Lakes Trailhead and you’ll be able to quickly access the trail, if the lot is full, you’ll have to park in one of the other lots and walk over to the trailhead.

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Trail Overview

The hike to Mitchell Lake is just under a mile, and it’s another 1.6 miles to reach Blue Lake. These are both out-and-back destinations, making the round-trip hike to Mitchell approximately 1.8 miles and the hike to Blue Lake five miles. The altitude at the trailhead is approximately 10,500 ft, with a gradual climb of just 200 ft to Mitchell Lake and then reaching a final altitude of 11,300 ft at Blue Lake.

This is a popular, well-worn trail that is easily visible when there isn’t much snow on the ground. I’m not sure what it’s like when covered with snow, and while there were some markers in the trees, I didn’t pay close enough attention to notice how well-marked it was.

Near the base of the trail, hiking is relatively easy with that slow, gradual climb to Mitchell Lake. There is one large stream crossing over a short wooden bridge, and then another crossing over a wider stream with fall logs used as the bridge. In other segments, planks are used to keep hikers out of boggy areas. There are some steep areas where climbing the rocks is similar to climbing a steep set of stairs, with an increase in the portion of steep climbs as you approach Blue Lake.

During our first visit, there was some snow on the trail that had been tramped down and turned to ice, making some areas slick, but the following weekend this ice had melted, making hiking much easier. It was a nice reminder of how quickly weather and trail can change at that altitude.

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Hiking with Kids

Young kids (4 to 8 year olds) should be able to hike to Mitchell Lake with minimal help but would likely need help making the full trek to Blue Lake. Older kids 8+ should have no trouble with the full hike. *** Having only 3.5 and 1.5 year olds, I may have to go back and revise those numbers as we continue to test the trail, but this is based upon the kids we saw out on the trails as we hiked.

We ended up carrying both of our kids during both hikes. The first weekend it was because they were a bit under the weather, and the second weekend it was because we set out with the goal of the longer hike.

And I don’t know about your kiddos, but anytime we pull out a thermos of hot chocolate during a rest, they are happy hikers and totally oblivious to any chill in the air (pro-tip there)!

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Dressing for the Trail

At this time of year (and almost any time!), it was really helpful to dress in light layers. I wore spandex on my bottom and then a tank, wool thermal, and a light down jacket on top. Calder did something similar. The boys wore lined pants, shirts, and hoodies. They could have been dressed a bit warmer, but we also used our down jackets to bundle around them when they were cold in the packs, which worked out well because it was often when we were hot from hiking and carrying them. We all wore wool hats that we put on and off all day.

It was particularly cold and windy at Blue Lake, but since we weren’t staying there long, it didn’t make sense to carry along extra layers just for that rest stop.

And don’t forget sunscreen! While there are some segments with plenty of shade, there is a lot of sun shining on much of the trail.

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mitchell_lake5By now, Calder and I both know that we live in a beautiful state, but even so, we couldn’t stop gushing about these two weekends spent hiking the same trail. We’re so glad we explored and now we’re anxious to hike it when the wildflowers are at their peak next summer. We’re also excited to have this hike at the ready the next time we have adventurous visitors in town.

If you’re in the Boulder area, this hike and the whole Indian Peaks area is definitely worth your time. Just know that everyone else loves the area too, so try to get there early before the lots fill up. Good luck!
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A New Season

Hey there, we’re still here! Somewhere.

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As the weather has changed, we’re finally enjoying spring in the mountains and have turned our attention outside. Breakfast on the deck, planting a little bed of veggies, cleaning up the pond, afternoons at the park, which morph into evenings and dinner in the park. It’s all amazing, but it’s pulled me away from the computer, which is both good and bad. I love all of the time in the sun and fresh air, and there’s nothing that puts a bigger smile on my face than digging in the dirt (especially when the boys help), but I do miss documenting our days. So, I’m hoping to get back here, even if it’s at a more relaxed pace over the next weeks/months.

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The photos in this post are from a Mother’s Day hike that Alex and I took up our mountain to the old cabin in the woods. I wanted to spend one-on-one time with each boy on Sunday, and when I asked Alex what he wanted to do, “hike to the cabin” was his idea. It was so perfect. There was only one moment when I threatened to leave him in the woods – three year olds are tantrum masters. But we recovered, and then had a great time exploring that cabin.

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Every time I visit the cabin, I’m in awe of what it must have taken to trek all of the materials to that spot, and I’m also left with so many questions. Who was it? Why there? when did the cabin start to fall apart? It looks like such a quality piece of work, not a temporary shack. And it’s so cool that I wish I could freeze it in time, but I know that we just have to let nature take its course.

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On this particular trip Alex came to the realization that “maybe this was a house!” and “maybe somebody lived here!”. It was amazing to watch his little brain grasp these big ideas, especially as he started to wonder what happened to the cabin, where did its floor go, etc. etc.

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And in other news, little Luc started walking over the weekend! Soon the three of us will be taking that hike together.

And with that, I’m signing off to get back out in the garden. I’ve been working hard in that space and am so excited to share/document the work.

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Colorado Hike : Eldorado Canyon State Park

We love to go hiking, and every once in a while we share our adventures on the blog. If you would like to see more hiking posts, click here.

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Last week a friend tipped us of to the awesomeness that is Eldorado Canyon State Park, in particular Fowler Trail. As an active 2.5 year old, Alex is really excited to get outside and do whatever we’re doing. Translating this to hiking, it means that he’s much happier walking along with us than riding in the backpack. Unfortunately, his little legs get tired fairly quickly, so I’m always on the hunt for trails that are not that steep or long. Fortunately, Fowler trail is both short* and relatively flat! As you’ll see in the photos, it also provides outstanding views of canyon walls filled with climbers, making it extra exciting for our little adventurer. One look at the climbers and he exclaimed, “wow, that’s wild!”.

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Colorado Hike: Flatirons 1 & 2

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About a month ago, Katie, Jeff (our brother) and I hiked the Flatirons 1 & 2 trail.  I’ve been meaning to write this post for some time since it was one of the most scenic hikes in Boulder, Co, so here goes!

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The hike starts at the Chautauqua Park trailhead.  Parking in the lot can be pretty tricky, especially on the weekends, but you can find additional parking on Baseline Road.  That being said, the trail is extremely crowded.  You won’t have the views to yourself, but hey, at least there is no chance of getting lost! After you find a parking spot, continue to the Chautauqua Park trailhead where the trail takes you through a lovely green meadow.  (Note that if you’re hiking right after a rainstorm, it will be pretty muddy since the trail is basically a path for runoff water. ) The Chautauqua trail connects with the Flatirons 1&2 trail and the signage is very clear as is the flow of people flocking to the Flatirons 😉

Over the course of this relatively short hike (about 2.5 miles) you will climb 1,400 feet in elevation.  Flatiron 1 is approximately 7,100 ft high, which makes for stunning views.  As you hike up the trail, there are plenty of outcroppings that are perfect for taking a break and enjoying the vistas.  The Flatiron trail is mainly switchbacks through thick forests of ponderosa pine that cut around enormous boulders.  Along the way, there are also several rock climbing access points.  Speaking of climbing, there is a very short section of the trail (about 15 feet) where you have to climb up a boulder.  There are footholds and handholds worn into the rock making it easy for adults, but I wouldn’t recommend taking children on this hike.  I would also turn back immediately if it starts to rain because the rocks will become slippery making a large portion of this trail fairly dangerous.

Once you finally wind up, up and up, the views are spectacular.  There are clear views of Boulder as well as amazing views of Flatiron 3, which is sure to have rock climbers scrambling up it.  The top of the trail is a perfect spot to stop and have a snack or a picnic, but remember to hike all your waste out with you, even banana peels!  The top if the trail is like an adult jungle gym.  You’ll see folks in all different nooks and crannies.  It goes without saying that you should be careful when you’re climbing from boulder to boulder, don’t knock into any rocks that may fall and injure someone at a lower elevation.  After you’ve climbed your heart out and took a bajillion pictures, it’s time to make your way down the ridge.  Be mindful of other hikers who are still making their way up and if they look like they need encouraging remind them that they’re almost there!

Geology Rocks! I say that far too often, but I just can’t resist.  Here’s a quick rundown of some geological properties of the flatirons.  I’m going to give some definitions in case you slept through your geology lab class.

  • A flatiron is a steeply sloping triangular landform created by the differential erosion of a steeply dipping, erosion resistant layer of rock overlying softer strata. Differential erosion is erosion that occurs at varying rates, caused by the differences in the hardness and resistance of surface materials so softer and weaker rocks erode rapidly, while harder rocks remain to form ridges, mountains, or ding, ding, ding, flatirons!  Strata is simply sedimentary rock. Sedimentary rocks are those formed by the deposition of material either on the earth’s surface or in water.   And wouldn’t you know it, the flatirons of Boulder coined this term, flatiron, in general geology.
  • Now you may be wondering how the flatirons first got their name, which then coined the geography term. Well, there are two theories: the rock faces close resemblance to old fashioned clothing irons or their resemblance to the Flatiron building in NYC, which was completed in 1902. (It’s a pretty sweet building, but personally I think it’s more likely they were named after the clothes iron, an object which many more folks were familiar with during the early 1900s)
  • The flatirons are made up of conglomerate sandstone of the Fountain Formation. Conglomerate sandstone basically means there are little clasts (bits of rock particles) mixed into the sandstone (rock comprised mainly of sand-sized minerals or rock grains). I don’t want to wind way down into a geological rabbit hole (for your benefit), but the Fountain Formation is a Pennsylvanian (the subsystem, not the state) bedrock unit found in Colorado and Utah that consists mostly of conglomerate sandstone or arkose.
  • The flatirons are estimated to be 290-296 million years old and they were tilted to their current orientation (the steep dip I referenced earlier) about 35-80 million years ago during the Laramide orogeny. The Laramide orogeny was a period of mountain building in western North America, which created the Rocky Mountains along with many other formations. I won’t go into right now, but it’s definitely interesting; if you like geology and want to learn more, read this.

What to expect:

  • Lots of hikers on the weekend.
  • Dogs both on and off leash.
  • Plenty of wildflowers, various vegetation and trees and beautiful views.
  • Two hours (or more) of hiking.
  • A couple tough climbs over boulders, but mainly a moderately steep and well maintained trail.

 

Before of after your hike, be sure to stop by the historic ranger cottage near the parking lot – you can’t miss it.  It has a wealth of information, free maps and dozens of stuffed birds and mammals.  I really enjoyed the station because I gained a better sense of what animals were sharing the forest with me.  It’s especially cool to see the animals you have very little chance of seeing in the wild like mountain lions, coyotes, and bobcats.  If you want a little snack, continue past the ranger station for about a block and you’ll see a little refreshment cottage with homemade hard ice cream and just about everything else.

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After the hike and the ice cream you should probably treat yourself to an afternoon snooze! Happy hiking!

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Colorado Hike : Ajax Mountain

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A few weeks ago we took a leisurely afternoon hike on the Nature Trail that starts at the top of Ajax, or Aspen, Mountain. This was an out and back hike that was super easy with barely any elevation gain because you do all of your climbing as you ride the gondola to the top of the mountain!

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If you want to head straight for the hike, veer left as you get off the gondola and you’ll have no trouble finding the trail. If you’re heading up with kiddos, veer to the right and there are plenty of fun activities to let them burn off the energy before/after riding the gondola. Our little guy was just interested in the huge sand pit and trucks, but there are also spaces to dig for gold, go rock climbing, go trampoline jumping, and room for some good old running.

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As well as delivering beautiful mountain views, the trail dips into the pine forest, giving you a reprieve from the bright alpine sun.

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This was our third hike and I was excited to see yet more wildflowers in bloom. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a guide with me, and had trouble identifying some new-to-me species from the photos. If you have any clues as to the names of the unidentified flowers below, I would really appreciate it!

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We hiked out to the point where there was a perfectly clear view of the Aspen Highlands ski resort. At this point you can also see the very top of one of the two Maroon Bells peaks. We spent some time sitting here, letting little A out of the pack to tool around and throw some rocks, while C and I talked to other hikers. It seemed to be a common stopping/turning point for many people.

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Extra Details:

  • During the summer months, the gondola’s open daily from 10:00am-4:00pm. A single ticket costs $19.00, but if you’re staying for a few days, or planning to take the bus up to Maroon Bells, they have a great package for $29.00.
  • Of course, you’re welcome to skip the gondola and turn this into a more rigorous, multi-hour hike by starting your walk from the bottom of the mountain. This is something that you can do any time of day in the summer, but only before the gondola opens during ski season.
  • This is probably obvious, but take sunscreen and a hat! You’ll be more comfortable because the sun is bright and there are plenty of areas without tree cover.

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Colorado Hike : Chautauqua Park

We love to get out for hikes as often as possible and thought it would be fun to document these little adventures, like our recent trip to Maroon Bells.

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Last weekend we decided to stay close to home, wanting to explore more of what Boulder has to offer, so for our weekend hike we headed to Chautauqua Park (pronounced with a soft “shhh” for the CH – I’m still getting the hang of it!). Chautauqua was one of the older open space areas purchased by the city over 100 years ago when it began preserving wild lands. The park is home to the Colorado Chautauqua  Association, which provides cultural and educational programs throughout the year. Among its many buildings and features, the Association has a dining hall, general store, and cottages that you can rent! On this particular day we skipped all of the buildings and headed straight for the hills, but we’re hoping to stop in to the dining hall for brunch after our next hike.

**Before moving to Boulder, I was unfamiliar with Chautauqua, the adult education movement. Were you?

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Arriving at the park, we knew it was a popular weekend destination, but were overwhelmed by just how many people were there. These pictures don’t do the crowds justice. At all times there were people in front of us, behind us, scaling the rock face to our right and left. There were babies laughing (and crying), there were more college-age girls chatting away than I wish to remember. Ugh, it was crowded. But, the scenery totally made up for it, and I can’t wait to get back out there on a weekday. A friend also tipped me off that if we start at Four Pines on King St., then we won’t hit the crowds. Keep that secret.

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Before heading out, we asked for some trail recommendations and received a number of excited responses suggesting Royal Arch Trail, but it was still closed for raptor nesting.  So, with all of the well-marked trails in the park, we decided to wing it. We headed up Chautauqua Trail, made a left on Blue-Baird Trail, and then came back down on Bluebell Trail. In total, the hike took about an hour.

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As you hike up the hill you leave the grasslands behind, entering the pine forests and areas of exposed bedrock and boulders of the Flatirons.

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There are two climbers in the photo on the right above! They are near the top of the single pine tree that’s growing out of the rock face. Eventually you reach a few open areas overlooking the city.

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liveseasoned_summer2014_hike18Just like last week’s hike, there were plenty of flowers blooming here with a promise of more to come.

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On our way back down the hill (mountain?) we left the pine trees behind and welcomed the grasses again. As you can see from these photos, the skies were overcast for our whole hike, but I think that worked to our advantage, keeping us cooler and less worried about sunburns as we walked.

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Extra Details:

  • Knowing that the area is popular on weekends, we were worried about parking, but easily found on-street parking a few blocks from the entrance.
  • I had a hard time finding a good trail map online, until I looked to Google. Google’s map of the park is great, with all trails well marked!
  • A hiking-with-kids tip: We knew we were heading out during Little A’s naptime, so rather than take the hiking carrier that doesn’t offer him anywhere to rest his head, we put him in the Ergo on Calder’s back. It was an easy carry for this short hike, and within a minute Alex was content and sleeping with his head supported between Calder’s back and the Ergo’s hood.

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Colorado Hike : Maroon Bells

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They say that the Maroon Bells, those two mountain peaks in the photo above, are the most photographed spot and most famous scene in Colorado. I had never been, so we made it one of our small adventures over the Fourth of July weekend.

The area is breathtaking in summer. Wildflowers are blooming everywhere you look. In early July there was still some snow on the mountains, reminding you just how high you are, yet it’s melting quickly, so the streams are roaring adding an element of excitement to every bridge crossing. And as if it couldn’t get any better, there were signs of beavers and a couple of moose!

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Maroon lake was created by glacial deposits, but there are also some busy beavers on the lake working to build up the dam. We followed the Maroon Lake Scenic Trail along the lake, over the roaring Maroon Creek, through an aspen grove, and around to a small active beaver pond.

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liveseasoned_summer2014_maroonbells8_wmWe were standing at the pond, taking in the tranquil scene, when all of a sudden someone realized that we were looking right at a moose! Can you see him in the lower center of the photo below, to the left of the pond? This was my first moose sighting and I was ecstatic, the other members of my party – not so much. Apparently moose are extremely dangerous. So much to my chagrin, we turned around and headed back the way we came.

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Wildflowers were blooming all along the trail, but particularly in the riparian and shrubland areas around the lake. We visited just at the beginning of the blooming season, but if you want to see everything in peak bloom, schedule your visit for late July into August.

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When I got back to the house and was identifying plants, I couldn’t believe that we saw the most poisonous plant in North America. A piece of the water hemlock’s root the size of a marble can kill an adult in 15 minutes! Even more frightening, children have died while playing with the hollowed out stem, using it as a peashooter and such. Crazy!

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Walking along the Scenic trail, you get a fantastic view of the beaver’s home. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any beavers, but just being close to their dam and home was fun. Fun fact from Calder: beavers can get up to 150 pounds!

From this vantage point, you can also look back towards the dam and see the crowds along the shore. The photo below is the mountain version of those beach paintings/photos where everyone is just a colored speck in the sand grassland, isn’t it?

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As we were driving back down into town, we noticed a group of cars pulled off to the side of the road. There was another moose! This one was far enough away that no one was in danger, so I hopped out and took a few more photos. Two moose in one day, I was a happy camper.

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Before you go:

  • The Scenic Trail was an easy hike with a few steep spots, but overall there was relatively little elevation gain. Waterproof shoes with good traction are recommended as there were muddy areas.
  • Wild at Heart is a fantastic resource if you’re planning a visit. It’s a field guide to the plants, birds, and mammals of the rockies, with a particular focus on the Aspen-Snowmass area. I know that it’s out of print and not available on Amazon, but I’m pretty sure you can still pick it up in some of the shops around Aspen and Snowmass (I just received my copy as a birthday present, so it’s out there!).

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Getting there:

  • Traffic is restricted from mid-June through September
  • The site is open to all traffic from 7:00am-9:00am and 5:00pm-7:00pm
  • With a few exceptions, all visitors are required to take a bus from 9:00am-5:00pm. You catch the bus in Aspen Highlands Village (where you can park for free). The pass fee is $6/adult, $3/child.
  • Cars with children under 2, disabled passengers, or groups of 11 or more are allowed through from 9:00am-5:00pm if they pay a $10 fee.
  • You can also drive up if you are camping in the area
  • For detailed information see this site.

 

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