When looking for a hike in Colorado, you have limitless options. In some cases, such as when you’re staying in Boulder, you can simply walk out of town and find a trail that can take you up into rocky hills and cliff formations for a few hours. In other cases, you’ll need to do more advance planning; pack camping equipment, food, and drink; and organize a multi-day excursion with care. In this case, we’re talking about the latter and one of the more striking hikes in the state: the journey to Snowmass Lake.
Snowmass Lake, on the eastern side of Snowmass Mountain and some 15-20 miles from Aspen as the crow flies, is stunning to behold. It’s a crystal clear (and very cold) mountain lake sitting at an elevation of roughly 10,000 feet. The hike to reach it is considered to be a difficult one – not in the sense that any climbing or advanced skills are required but because it’s a long journey with a lot of steep trails. A relatively high fitness level is recommended.
This is not a comprehensive guide to this hike – but because it’s one that people visiting Colorado during warm weather seasons should give real thought to, we wanted to provide a few general tips for preparing for the hike.
Book Accommodations In Aspen or Snowmass
When planning a hike like this, the hike itself and the camping along the way make up the bulk of the trip. However, this isn’t a trip for which you shouldn’t book accommodations as well. You’ll likely be happiest finding a space in Aspen or Snowmass Village so that you can arrive a day before you start your hike, pack your trail backpack, and get a good night’s sleep before heading out in the morning (which is always the best time to start a journey like this). You may also want to see if your hotel will hang onto the belongings you won’t be taking with you. If possible, stay a night or two after the hike. Believe me, you’ll appreciate having a cozy room to return to!
Plan Your Trip Early
Snowmass Lake is near the top of the impressive Elk Mountain Range that has a number of different hiking trails to consider. Perhaps the most popular is the Maroon Snowmass Trail up to Snowmass Lake, a 17-mile round-trip hike that can be done at your own pace (with camping areas along the way). You’ll want to look at this and other options carefully and make sure you put together a manageable outline for your trip. The general idea is to reach the lake, where there is a campground with an extraordinary view of the lake and peaks…and the peaks reflection in the lake. For you peak-baggers out there, consider camping and climbing one of the many nearby mountains.
Work On Incline Training
It’s a simple point, and one you may already take to heart regularly if you’re a hiking enthusiast. That said, it’s worth repeating. There is no perfect way to prepare yourself for a strenuous hike up high mountains, but you can at least get your legs and cardiovascular system ready with incline training. That means walking or running up hills, using an elliptical with resistance or a treadmill on an incline, and even walking stairs (or using a stair machine). All of these exercises can get you in good shape for a trip like this.
Learn Breathing Techniques
The hike to Snowmass Lake doesn’t take you to such an altitude that you’ll have real problems if you’re in decent shape. But learning to control your breathing and keep yourself centered and focused is certainly not a bad idea as it may help you cope with altitude effects better. Equal breathing is perhaps the simplest breath exercise with which to begin. There’s a recent article about exercises for gamers that argued breathing is just as important as any other exercise, and though we’re talking about a very different activity here, we’d have to agree. Learn equal breathing and practice it regularly in the weeks leading up to your trip, as well as during the actual trip; you might find that your head remains clear and you feel fresh and ready to tackle the hike.
Make Sure Your Friends Are With You
This doesn’t simply mean that you should make sure your friends are literally with you on the trip. Rather it’s a reminder that whomever you may be traveling with should be doing similar preparation. Make sure that everyone involved is at least generally familiar with the trail, and more importantly, that they’re doing the proper exercises and physical preparations for the hike too. It will be far easier to have a good time with the experience if everyone is ready.
Plan A Terrific Dinner Afterward
This is just a playful tip, but having done this hike, I can assure you it’s a good idea. There are amazing places to eat in Aspen, and nothing – nothing – caps off a hike like this better than a gourmet meal at a nice restaurant. Trail snacks are some of my favorite foods, but after a hike like this, you’ll feel like you earned some creature comforts – so treat yourself when you get back into town!