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Aspen, Colorado, United States

Rio Grande Trail

Who says Aspen has to be expensive? Enjoy a glorious morning on the trail and a day exploring Aspen for next to nothing.

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Difficulty: Easy
Length: 42 miles / 68 km
Duration: Full day
Family Friendly • Dog Friendly
 
Overview: "Would you like a glass of wine?" Ira asked, as he pointed out the lighting on a grove of aspen trees in a humongous oil painting.

This wasn't the first time I'd had to duck into a local business to escape an afternoon rain shower, but it was the first time I'd ever been offered a glass of wine while I waited out the rain.

This is one of the many experiences to be had on the Rio Grande Trail. From the mountain views of the open trail to the high-end shops, art galleries, and restaurants in Aspen, you will never run out of activities to keep you occupied, entertained, and fascinated.

You have (at least) three trail options. You can start in Glenwood Springs and journey uphill to Aspen, then take the RFTA (Roaring Fork Transit Authority) bus back; you can bus to Aspen and ride downhill (net) back. Or you can ride out and back. (Are you crazy?) (-:

Of course there are also options to just ride a portion of the trail with various RFTA bus stops along the way in towns such as El Jebel and Carbondale. If you choose to take one of the RFTA bus, not only will that save your weary legs, but it will give you a chance to mingle with some of the locals.

No matter which way you choose to go, you will enjoy this world-class, high altitude trail. This trail, is great for family bonding trips by foot, horseback, bike, inline skate, Trikke, recumbent, tandem, or nordic skis. The trail is also wheelchair accessible and great for walking with your best friend, whether that friend is the two-legged or four-legged variety.

Another positive aspect of the Rio Grande Trail is all of the resting spots, picnic tables, trailheads, and view points. You can easily spend a full day just enjoying a small portion of this trail, then head into one of the towns for a coffee, snack, beer, wine, or soak in a hot springs or hot tub.

Below are some suggestions to enhance your visit to the Rio Grande Trail:

- Glenwood Springs may be the adventure capitol of the United States. From here, you can ride the trails, whitewater raft the rivers, fish, hike into a wilderness, scream down a zipline, go on a Segway cruise, soak in natural hot springs, or, if you're here in the winter, ski Sunlight Basin.
- Aspen also offers winter skiing at Aspen, Highlands, and Buttermilk mountains. It also offers delectable dining, upscale shopping, fantastic art galleries, and amazing people-watching experiences.
- Towns in between Glenwood Springs and Aspen include Carbondale, El Jebel, Basalt, and Woody Creek. Each of these has attractions such as festivals, farmers' markets, dining, and various specialized activities/attractions.

The Aspen/Glenwood Springs area is accessible by car, bus, train, and plane. A great way to visit Glenwood Springs is via the Amtrak train. The route from Denver to Glenwood is gorgeous and much more relaxing than driving. A link for RMA tours is included with this guide and contains package deals for the train, lodging, and activities such as the hot springs pool.


Tips: - If you plan to utilize the RFTA shuttle, make sure to get some information ahead of time (see enclosed website) and bring the correct change. It's cheap, but it's not free.
- Although large portions of the trail are available for nordic skiing, some portions may not be available. Check the Rio Grande Trail website for further details. The same goes for horseback riding. Know before you go.
- This trail is accessible to both motorized an non-motorized wheelchairs.
- Rest benches, picnic tables, restrooms, and dog waste stations are available along the trail, but not always abundant, so plan ahead.

Points of Interest

Building
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bike rentals

Canyon Bikes is a good place for renting bikes, especially if you're going to ride the Glenwood Canyon Trail while you're in the area. The bikes are in good shape, the price is reasonable, and the staff is friendly and helpful.
Their store is located in the lower level of the Hotel Colorado at 319 6th Street and their phone # is 800-439-3043.
Hotel
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hotels & restaurants

This area has affordable hotels & restaurants with easy access to the trail.
Parking
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Two Rivers Park

This is a good spot to start your trail journey. There are parking lots, restrooms, and resting areas.
Water
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river crossing

At this point, you cross the Colorado River and start heading up the Roaring Fork River. Some people think that they are riding near the Rio Grande River, because of the name of the trail, but that is in southern Colorado.
Food/Dining
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road crossings

For the first few miles of the trail, in the Glenwood Springs area, you'll cross some roads with one major crossing. Be careful in these areas and make sure to stop, look all ways, and follow the signal directions if applicable.
As you get into the country, moving toward Aspen, the street crossings diminish then vanish.
The good news about this area is that you will find a couple places for food and beverages, if needed.
Water
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bridge over Roaring Fork River

Recreation abounds in Colorado as bikers and hikers stop at the bridge to watch fishermen float by in their drift boats.
Food/Dining
map

Carbondale

If you venture up Main Street, you're bound to find a nice coffee shop or restaurant in which to relax and get refreshed. During the summer, there is often some type of festival or market going on. This makes a nice spot to stop before hitting the open trail between here and Aspen.
Mountain
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open trail

This is one of the first of many nice open trail sections. Although you are still following County Road 100 at this point, you are away from Highway 82, so it is more tranquil in this area.
In wide open stretches like this, you can often see nice views of Mt. Sopris in front of you.
Viewpoint
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riverside reverie

You are never too far from the Roaring Fork River while on the Rio Grande Trail. The wide open trail gives way to a slightly more wooded area that still offers nice views of the surrounding countryside.
Landmark
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double flyover

Near this point, the trail crosses another bridge over the Roaring Fork River and then shortly after that, a scenic overpass that flies over Highway 82 for a safe crossing of the major road in this valley.
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long and winding trail

Over the next few miles, you will be amazed by how varied the terrain and landscape can be from one trail section to the next. It will go from lush and green to brown and seemingly barren, back to verdant riverside scenery.
Of course many of the changes are due to distance from the river, elevation, and other geographic differences.
These changes help to make the Rio Grande such a beautiful and interesting trail.
Landmark
map

Woody Creek

As you pass Woody Creek, you may be tempted to dismiss it as a wide spot in the trail. However, it is home to the famous Woody Creek Tavern and, nearby, it is also home to many celebrities such as Ed Bradley, Don Henley, Don Johnson, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and the late Hunter S. Thompson.
If you visit the Woody Creek Tavern, you can request a postcard from the bar. Then you can drop it off at the nearby post office. Now everyone will know that you visited the world famous Woody Creek.
Shopping
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Aspen Art Museum

This museum presents rotating exhibits often showcasing contemporary works of art from well known local and national artists. From this spot you will begin to find tributary trails and roads from which you can access downtown Aspen with its shops, galleries, and restaurants. You can spend lots of money and a little time here or vice versa. Enjoy a gelato and browse through one of the artist's workshops. Some of the streets require you to dismount and walk your bike for safety's purpose. The wide array of cruiser bikes w/ custom leather seats will fascinate those of you who are bicycle aficionados.
Like I said in the introduction, just because you're in Aspen doesn't mean you have to spend a lot of money. There are many sights to see and snacks to enjoy that are free or inexpensive.
For under $10, you should be able to catch a bus back to Glenwood Springs if you'd prefer not to ride your bike back. The transit station is located at Ruby Park near the base of Aspen Mountain on Durant and Mill Streets. Since the Art Museum is located on Mill Street, it's not too difficult to get to the transit station via the road or trail.
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flowers in the rough

Although you are still following fairly near to the highway for the first portion of the trip, you can still see beautiful spots of natural splendor, like these flowers, alongside the trail.
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Back down by the river

When you drop back down to the river, you will be rewarded with intermittent shade, lots of resting spots and varied scenery from wooded glades to interesting little waterfalls.
Building
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Aspen homes

From this point, you will begin to see some interesting homes ranging from eclectic to beautiful. Take note of the landscaping of some of the trailside gems.
Pictures in this guide taken by: trailsnet.com, RyanSchneider, UltraRob, skimed, omnitron

Rio Grande Trail Map


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I am a recently retired teacher whose new "career" is to explore as many trails as possible. I am especially...

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