This loop ride is one suggested variation for the numerous trails in the Smuggler Mountain / Hunter Creek area. The initial climb up the south facing Smuggler Mt. jeep road is a great warm up or a serious effort depending on your fitness. From the viewing platform just before the first singletrack begins, you're rewarded with great views of downtown Aspen and the area's four ski areas: Aspen Mt., Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass.
The climb continues on singletrack until a high point is reached. A combination of newer singletrack and historic mining roads descend to the Hunter Creek valley floor singletrack, finally linking to the paved descent that leads through residential neighborhoods back to the parking area. The Hunter Creek valley floor area links to many other routes and trails for longer climbs and higher elevation adventures.
While most of this loop ride might be considered blue/intermediate, there are many black/expert technical challenges along the way, not to mention the rigorous climbing that starts the ride.
Riding season is May to November depending on snow conditions. Winter fat tire bike riding exploration is possible on trails that see enough hiking traffic to pack down the trail.
The ride starts at the base of Smuggler Mountain Road and climbs the wide and often rocky jeep road to the Smuggler Observation Deck that offers great views of Aspen and surrounding area. There are information kiosks at both the base of the climb and near the Observation Deck with a good map of the area.
Continue climbing on the BTS Trail
("Behind the Sign"), singletrack that will take you up to another info kiosk and map. From here you have several options, but the suggested ride climbs up the Tootsie Roll Trail
on the sunny aspen tree grove aspect. At the top of this singletrack segment you'll cross over Smuggler Mt. Rd., descend 75 feet to find the continuation of the trail.
The descent begins at this point. Tootsie Roll Trail
drops through shady dark timber, with fun switchbacks leading you down to an intersection with the Lollipop Trail
. Follow signs for Lollipop Trail
, a nice sized descent with a unique out-and-back 'lollipop' switchback. (You'll pass by Lollipop Cutoff trail along the way - save that trail for another day's exploration.)
Lollipop terminates on a old mining route that is now singletrack, turn right and continue downhill at this point. A few hundred yards later, this segment intersects with an old Jeep Road, continue right/downhill, push up a short hill, and encounter yet another intersection with an open view of the Hunter Creek Valley floor below. Left descent would take you quickly to the valley floor on old rocky road, but this loop goes right on the Iowa Shaft Trail
, FS route 2172.
Iowa Shaft Trail
is singletrack following an old mining route. The trail gently climbs to a high point where you might find the old 'whistle pipe'. This descends steeply through an aspen grove to the valley floor.
At the end of Iowa Shaft Trail
, make a right, heading further in the up valley direction for a 200 yards. You'll find an intersection with a Bridge crossing the Hunter Creek. Cross the bridge to explore further, or continue on this route by following the Hunter Creek Trail
singletrack, which parallels the creek with fast and flowing sections that offer some technical challenges. Watch out and yield for hikers and dog walkers on this popular section of trail.
The Hunter Creek Trail
leaves the open meadows of the valley floor and transitions into an old rocky road. As the trail gets increasingly rocky, look out for your next intersection on the left. The Verena Mallory trail is a short but sweet section of singletrack that is essentially a jug handle option to the main rocky HC trail option.
After regaining the HC trail, you'll immediately cross over the creek on a wooden bridge. You'll notice that the HC trail splits to the left at the end of the bridge - that section of trail is a steep hiking trail, not recommended for bikes. Instead, continue straight for 100 yards to the Upper Hunter Creek trailhead and the paved Hunter Creek Road. You could easily descend HC Rd. from here, or continue on this ride for a final bonus singletrack.
Climb the paved road for 100 feet and you'll find a driveway on your left, as well as a singletrack trail with a steep technical entrance. Once on the trail, you can continue straight out to Red Mt. Rd, instead, make a left up a steep climb up to a viewpoint overlooking Aspen and the BLM trailhead parking lot just below. Descend the final singletrack to the parking lot's entrance. (This parking lot is rarely used by mtbers.) Descend to intersection with HC Rd., make a right, continue to intersection with Red Mt. Rd.
, make a left.
Descend the steep Red Mt. Rd.
back down to Aspen. To get back to the trailhead, make a left on Lone Pine Rd., then left on Gibson Ave. which turns into Park Circle. Trailhead parking is on Park Circle.