Name another valley in the country that offers drivers and cyclists 1,800 feet of climbing in 13 curving miles along a roaring creek surrounded by The Sound of Music-views combined with cultural stops, including a historic ghost town and world-class restaurant. It’s unique in that it’s likely unparalleled. The Castle Creek Valley bisects Aspen Highlands and Aspen Mountain on its way to peaks that separate Aspen and Crested Butte. Cyclists love its gradual elevation gain and scenic curves. But what sets the valley apart from others in the area—and Alpine valleys anywhere, really—is the array of cultural offerings, all above 9,000 feet. There are as many ways to enjoy it as there are days of summer, but here is our favorite one-day itinerary.
MORNING While both American and Cathedral hikes offer Alpine lakes as a reward for the steep treks up, Cathedral Lake, high above the treeline in a cirque of rocky spires, presents a more dramatic setting. Gain 2,000 feet in elevation in 2.8 miles (making a 5.6-mile roundtrip hike), climbing up scenic Pine Creek canyon, switchbacking through aspen groves, dark spruce forests and open meadows. To add some mileage and elevation to the hike, continue up from Cathedral Lake to Electric Pass to awe at Cathedral and Electric peaks from an exposed rocky ridge.
LATE MORNING No trip up Castle Creek is complete without lunch (or a drink) at the Pine Creek Cookhouse, a classic log-cabin-style restaurant at the base of the Elk Mountains. Pine Creek serves made-from-scratch, locally sourced gourmet cuisine including wild game, fresh fish and inventive vegetarian dishes. Opt for an early lunch to score a table on the deck.
EARLY AFTERNOON Tour the Ashcroft Ghost Town, a former silver mining outpost featuring the restored remains of several historic buildings, including the Blue Mirror Saloon, a post office and the View Hotel—all a part of a town that in 1883 held 2,000 people and 20 saloons. Guided tours available daily (9am–5pm, through Sept. 3) or join the Aspen Historical Society, which received the first U.S.F.S. permit ever granted to a historical society to preserve and interpret a ghost town, at 10am on Aug. 4, as part of its History Hike series.
AFTERNOON Across the street from Ashcroft Ghost Town, the Catto Center at Toklat is the former home of Stuart Mace, an influential founder of the organization that now owns the 70-year-old wilderness retreat and offers guided hikes and programming from its doors: Aspen Center for Environmental Studies. Toklat has always been a gathering place for cultural and ecological discourse, and now long-standing artist-in-residence Elena Gonzalez Ruiz teaches the art of weaving and dyeing from the center and provides daily cochinilla color demonstrations learned from her native Oaxaca, Mexico. Original Oaxacan woven rugs are available for purchase on Tuesday through Sunday from 9am to 5pm, and Mondays from 11am to 5pm.