The Ride: Maroon Bells
Distance: 18 miles round-trip
Time: 60 minutes
If you only have time for one ride in Aspen, Maroon Creek Road to “the Bells” is a must. The gradual nine-mile climb delivers you to Maroon Lake, a picturesque pool of ice-cold water that stands at the base of the world-famous peaks. Begin by parking at Aspen High School (on High School Road). Saddle up and shoot south on Maroon Creek Road, passing the Aspen Recreation Center and Aspen Highlands ski area. Here, the road narrows and begins to undulate, but the route is paved and relatively smooth. Come summertime, Maroon Creek Road is closed to all motorized traffic with the exception of buses. Translation: Cyclists (and the occasional inline skater) rule this concrete expanse as it sweeps its way up the valley.
Watch for gravel and farm vehicles at mile 2.6, which marks the entrance to T-Lazy-7, a working dude ranch. Give the llamas, goats, and horses a nod as you cruise by. If you need to catch your breath, there are campgrounds with decent pull-offs and stunning views of alpine meadows and deeply carved avalanche chutes. The road steepens, but keep your eye on the horizon: Pyramid Peak (the Bells’ companion mountain) will soon appear. The last push, a bit of a leg-burner, takes you through aspen groves that dapple the light, leaves rustling in the wind. Just when it feels like too much, the majestic Maroon Bells edge into view and show you where you’re going. Pull off at the turnaround and dismount for a quick walk to the lake. Take some smartphone snaps and fuel up for the return, which is a fast downhill where you can reach speeds of 40 mph. —Amanda M. Faison
Head back to town for lunch at Victoria’s Espresso & Wine Bar on Durant Avenue. The Israeli couscous salad replaces lost carbs, and an ice-cold beer will do you good. Bonus: Don’t leave without sampling the fresh-baked pastries. 510 E. Durant Ave., Aspen, 970-920-3001, victoriasespresso.com
Extended Maroon Bells (Hard)
Add more mileage by sailing past your car (parked at Aspen High School) on Maroon Creek Road to the roundabout. Take your first right onto Castle Creek Road and follow it 11 miles until it dead-ends into dirt at the base of Hayden Peak. The road, which offers some lung-busting climbs, takes you past the ghost town of Ashcroft, a once-thriving mining community of 2,000. This route is not closed to traffic, so be vigilant.