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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.