Article by Bob Ward
Got a hankering for earthen trails and mountain views? Basalt has them all — it’s merely a question of how much time you have.
From a relaxing walk through the Lake Christine State Wildlife Area to a mountain-bike odyssey on the flanks of 12,953-foot Mount Sopris, the middle Roaring Fork Valley offers a hike or ride for everyone.
The first thing to consider when choosing a trail is the season, which governs trail conditions valley-wide. Winter puts a damper on most rubbertire and rubber-sole activities, but melting snow begins to clear the trails around the midvalley in April and May. For maps, street directions and trail conditions, go to Bristlecone Mountain Sports, Basalt Bike and Ski, AspenTrailFinder.com or stop by the Basalt Chamber of Commerce’s red caboose in downtown Basalt.
Basalt’s go-to workout hike is the Arbaney-Kittle Trail, which lies 1.7 miles east of town and climbs steeply up the red mountainside north of Highway 82. The forested portions of this trail can retain ice and snow into the spring, but are usually negotiable for anyone with strong lungs and steady feet. The ridge where the trail tops out offers a panoramic view of both the Fryingpan and Roaring Fork valleys. The dirt road that leaves from Lake Christine, just west of downtown Basalt off Homestead Road, offers hikers a moderate climb up the sunny, south-facing flanks of Basalt Mountain, through forests of pinion pine and juniper to green meadows with expansive views of Mount Sopris, Capitol Peak and the Elk Range.
During summer, hikers look to higher elevations for blooming wildflowers and big peaks. Start early in the morning to avoid afternoon thundershowers. One local favorite is the Thomas Lakes Trail, which takes hikers 3.5 miles (one way) to a pair of picturesque lakes at 10,200 feet. “It’s quick access to the base of Mount Sopris,” said Jeff Anderson of Bristlecone Mountain Sports. “It’s also a great wildflower hike if you hit it right.” The trailhead is easily reached from Basalt by heading up Emma Road, turning right at West Sopris Creek Road, and following signs to the trailhead at Dinkle Lake. (Mountain bikers use the same trailhead to access the challenging Hay Park Trail.) For other high-country options, head east up Fryingpan Road to the White River National Forest, where alpine lakes dot the wilderness. Savage Lakes, Josephine Lake and Chapman Lake are just a few of the options.
For mountain bikers, the Cattle Creek trails on the backside of Basalt Mountain offer multiple loops involving a climb up a graded dirt road and rollicking singletrack descents through forests of spruce, fir and aspen. Dirt bikers too launch here for explorations on Basalt Mountain and Red Table. Connect with Aspen Dirtbike School for more information and rentals.
In fall 2016, the Pitkin County Open Space program is expected to open a long-awaited hiker-biker trail across the recently acquired Glassier property onto Crown Mountain. This will give Basalt residents access to the extensive Prince Creek trail network without having to drive west through Carbondale. “This will be the after-work loop ride that we haven’t had since the Lake Christine loop closed (to bike traffic) 20 years ago,” said Joel Mischke of Basalt Bike and Ski. Basalt-area hiking and biking is alive and well, and only getting better.