Aspen Ridge

Aspen Ridge features open meadows, dense forests, and wide views of the Collegiate Peaks. An extensive aspen forest gives this area its name, and is a beautiful area in all seasons.

They call it Aspen Ridge because it’s a ridge that’s covered in aspen trees. Who would’ve guessed? Aspen Ridge is traversed by Forest Road 185, which provides a fun little offroad route from the Fourmile Area/U.S. 285/24 to Salida. Aspen Ridge is passable by stock SUVs in dry conditions, and features open meadows, dense forests, old mines, wide views of the Collegiate Peaks and plenty of dispersed campsites.

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Heading up Aspen Ridge, traveling southbound towards Salida

For a several miles you’re pretty much driving through a forest consisting exclusively of aspen trees. Unfortunately, when we did this trail, it was too late in the fall for the leaves to still be the magnificent yellow/orange/red they become. But it was still a fun trail and certainly a place on the bucket list to return to next September during the peak color season for aspens. It’s a great trail to run right after doing Lenhardy Cutoff or Sevenmile Creek Rd., just to the north in the Fourmile Recreation Area.

Overall, road 185, which traverses the ridge north-south, paralleling the Arkansas River down in the valley, is a easy-moderate offroad trail which is passable by stock SUVs. There are bumpy portions where low clearance passenger cars might scrape something important, but, a Honda CRV could do this pretty well as long as the trail is dry (the usual crew, as in my buddies who are both in pretty much stock SUVs, did this just fine).

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You are much higher in elevation in this part of the mountains east of the valley than in the Fourmile Recreation Area. Great views down the mountain into the valley though.

Aspen Ridge Road starts in the Fourmile Recreation Area. To access the road, you need to continue south on Castle Rock Gulch Rd. (County Road 187), and make a right (heading south) on to Aspen Ridge Road, #185. Aspen Ridge Road is a true Forest Road, having that designation, traveling through essentially entirely National Forest Lands, and is also less maintained than Castle Rock Gulch Rd.

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Aspen Ridge Road is numbered route 185 in the map above. Source: Fourmile Rec Area brochure

The turn from Castle Rock Gulch Rd. to Aspen Ridge road is signed. Continuing on Castle Rock Gulch Rd. leads you to a bunch of other stuff I have yet to do as of writing this. You can get to Highway 9 (to South Park, Breckenridge, Fairplay, Canon City, Highway 50, etc.) this way. But Aspen Ridge is a neat way to get to Salida as well. After cresting the ridge itself, you are essentially headed downhill the rest of the way to Salida.

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The signed junction for Aspen Ridge Rd/185 with Castle Rock Gulch Rd heading south.

Aspen Ridge is quite the beautiful drive, even in late fall, when colors are becoming more dull. There is something about the dulled colors of late fall in the mountains that makes you feel like winter is coming. Things are slowing down, but still the permanence of nature is present.

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Heading up in elevation. Even in late October, there was no troublesome snow at all anywhere along the road. I’m sure seasons vary and in the past it has snowed early up here.

Aspen Ridge Rd. is open seasonally. There is a gate. Usually, in Colorado, most forest roads close December 1st (the day I’m writing this, it so happens).

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Flowing, expansive meadows and valleys are dominant along Aspen Ridge Road. In the distance, you can see the crest of the ridge, marked by those aspen trees in the distance.
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Continuing the ascent up Aspen Ridge. You’re about to be in one of the prettiest sections of road, entirely through an aspen forest. We were some of the only people on this road on this late October Sunday when we did this. There were a few hunters cruising around though. It would be excellent deer hunting in this area.
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The late-day sun casting lines across the road from the now-empty aspen trees

There are numerous pull-offs along the road, and plenty of dispersed campsites. There are also several spurs, most of which go through to somewhere, loop back to the main road, or dead-end but probably provide access to a bunch of cool stuff. There are a lot of old mines near the southern end of Aspen Ridge just above Salida.

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Mount Princeton from near the top, from a dispersed campsite

It would be interesting to see what the area looks like in other seasons. I’m sure it would be just as pretty. It’s always an interesting contrast to see how the same area varies throughout seasons.

From Castle Rock Gulch Rd. Aspen Ridge is 13-miles long, until it intersects with County Road 175, which will take you down the mountain into Salida.

Of these 13 miles, about five are spent in the aspen forest. Really, really pretty.

 

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There was one spur which we decided to take, which went steeply to the top of a hill. It was really steep, but it gets you to an elevation at or above the surrounding mountains to the west and south, so you can see pretty far.

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The usual crew

There are also some old mines, marked on USGS quads along Aspen Ridge Rd., which seemed somewhat hard to find. If we had more time, it would be cool to see what we could find. There were numerous prospecting pits at the several dispersed campsites we stopped at along the way.

Overall, Aspen Ridge is a cool route to take if you have time and are trying to get to Salida. It would be really interesting to see what it’s like in other seasons, because it was certainly pretty in late fall. It would be nice to come up here when the temperatures are warmer too.

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Looking south down the mountain towards Salida. This was taken from a spur of Aspen Ridge Rd. In the peak season for aspen colors, the valley would be speckled with oranges and green.

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