Monday, January 26, 2015

Snowshoeing the Castle Creek Valley near Aspen, Colorado

           January in Aspen Colorado—the perfect venue for avid skiers, snowboarders and X-games fanatics.  But, what if going downhill—fast—is not your style?  What if you prefer winter recreation at a more relaxed pace?  What else is there to do?  Plenty, thanks to the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, (ACES), which offers guided cross-country ski and snowshoe tours.

         After our husbands left for a day on the slopes, friend Terry and I went searching for some winter fun of our own.  We found it eleven miles from Aspen in the ghost town of Ashcroft.  

All that's left of the once-bustling mining town of Ashcroft.

          Had you arrived in Ashcroft in 1880 you would have discovered a thriving town full of men giddy with the prospect of striking it rich in the silver mines.  But, as mining towns are wont to do, the booming area went bust by 1885 and, by the early 1900s, only a handful of aging men still lived in Ashcroft.  Interest in the town was restored in the 1930s with plans for a ski resort, but those plans were derailed by World War II.  
         Today, thankfully, both the town of Ashcroft and the Castle Creek Valley surrounding it are managed by the US Forest Service and are protected from further development.  The ghost town now resides in a Spruce/Fir/Aspen forest rich with a diversity of plants and animals, surrounded by 13,000-14,000 foot peaks.  The region provides countless opportunities for quiet recreation, and ACES turns those opportunities into reality by partnering with the Ashcroft Ski Touring Company, the Pine Creek Cookhouse and the White River National Forest.

The King Cabin Nordic Center—home base for winter
adventure in the Castle Creek Valley.

          We meet our ACES guide at the King Cabin Nordic Center.  Tawny is a recent graduate of Colorado College with a degree in Environmental Studies; she’s full of enthusiasm and ready to share her knowledge.  On our hike we observe numerous animal tracks and learn how to identify them.  We also gather information about the Castle Valley’s geology and ecology.

Tawny describes the tracks and movement of a snowshoe hare.

The trail crosses Castle Creek which offers reportedly good trout
fishing.  Worth a return visit during summer?

A shining example of a healthy Blue Spruce in
this Spruce/Fir/Aspen forest.

         A special treat on this tour is our lunch stop at Pine Creek Cookhouse.  During winter this restaurant is accessible only via a horse-drawn sleigh or a pair of hiking boots, snowshoes or cross-country skis.  The food is gourmet—I enjoy a salad with cheese and nuts, topped with tender, flaky Red Trout.   
        After lunch we return to the Nordic Center, thrilled with today’s choice of a naturalist-led snowshoe tour.  Our outing included: 
Exercise—a four and a half mile hike. 
Education—new-found knowledge about winter in the sub-alpine zone. 
Eating—a cozy interior and great food at the Pine Creek Cookhouse.
Extraordinary scenery—the snow-filled Castle Creek Valley and the high peaks of the Rocky Mountains.
Yes, we experienced all of that, and all without going downhill—fast. 

A welcome rest stop on a winter day.
The Pine Creek Cookhouse.

Our hillside trail in the Ashcroft Ski Touring area.

ACES offers educational programs as well as outdoor adventures.  Find out more by visiting their website:

Plant your poles here, and relish the alpine ambience
of the Castle Creek Valley near Aspen.


  1. This is definitely one of your best posts Rita and the pictures are simply fantastic!

    1. This is my first post containing photos taken with my new Canon Powershot SX700—maybe the camera is responsible for the clarity of these winter pictures.
      Thanks for your words of praise, Soumyendu!

  2. Your photos manage to make snow beautiful for this jaded New England escapee! Enjoying snowshoeing or x-country skiing in a remote location is something to be treasured - like these Aspen valley vistas - the slower pace, the peace and quiet, and the chance to encounter nature.

    And after seeing your photo of the trout stream, I have a feeling there's going to be a summer post featuring Tim and his fishing rod!

    Thanks for a lovely read!

    1. The snow does look beautiful, doesn't it? You're right about the peace and quiet in this valley; we didn't hear any motor vehicles during this hike. And that's a rarity in our modern world.

      Tim and I might just take you up on your second paragraph supposition. I think the Castle Creek Valley would be an excellent place for a summer camping/fishing adventure!

      Thanks for commenting, Vicki!

  3. It is so heartening each time I learn about a place such as Ashcroft and the Castle Creek Valley being protected from further development. Visiting these places brings so much peace and joy to many people, including myself.

    How marvelous to have an outing that included the "four E's", i.e. exercise, education, eating and extraordinary scenery. Doesn't get much better than that! But then your outing was further enhanced by eating at the Pine Creek Cookhouse with its unique accessibility options during the winter months. Impressive!

    You got some stunning photos with your new Canon Powershot SX700. But, I've always been impressed with your photography, regardless of what camera you've used.

    Looking forward to reading about your next adventure, wherever that might take you.


    1. John, I'm in total agreement with your sentiment on protected places. I can't help but think that we're being short-sighted (as a nation) when we sacrifice our scenic treasures for short-term energy development. But that's another topic for another day!

      This outing was a most enjoyable experience in every aspect. It's always nice to pair exercise with a good meal in a beautiful spot!

      Thanks for the comments about my photographs. But I must say that the photos on your blog are excellent examples of composition and subject matter! Readers, check out John's hiking blog at:

  4. Great post, Rita. So often you remind me of, or teach me about, features found in areas I know. Though I lived in Aspen for a couple of years, I've never been to the Castle Rock area. (Too busy working; what a mistake!) Both my husband and I would enjoy it; we'll have to go there. Your blog has become the basis of my bucket list!

    1. Lucky you, living in Aspen for a couple years!

      I had been to Aspen before and never knew about this area either. The ski resorts are nice in their own way, but the Castle Creek Valley is a real treasure—an unspoiled gem for quiet recreation.

      I'm so happy that you're basing your bucket list on my blog!
      Thanks for following, Janet!