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Hiking Trails: Two Beauties Near the Top of the Pass

Todd Hartley's picture

One of the problems with many of the hikes in the Aspen area is that accessing the trailheads can be a bit of a chore. Anyone who has ever tried to reach the Capitol Lake or Grizzly Creek trailheads in a two-wheel-drive vehicle can tell you how difficult it can be. But if you’re looking for a quality hike and don’t own a truck or jeep, don’t fret; there are still plenty of great options available to you, including two magnificent high-alpine trails that start at Highway 82 just below the top of Independence Pass.

To reach the upper Lost Man trailhead, where both hikes begin, simply take Highway 82 east from Aspen for about 17 miles until you reach a sharp right turn marking the last switchback before the long straightaway that leads to the summit. Parking is plentiful and available on both sides of the road. There is also a lower Lost Man trailhead adjacent to a Forest Service campground a couple of miles earlier. Save the hikes there for another day, or drop off a car there if you feel like hiking the entire Lost Man loop, which I will explain later.

The shorter of the hikes emanating from the trailhead is the Linkins Lake Trail. This short but steep trek is perfect for anyone with a limited amount of time on their hands or for flatlanders who want to get a taste of the high-altitude experience without committing to anything too strenuous.

Start at the parking area and follow the well-worn trail north as it crosses a small creek. Soon afterward you will see a second trail branching off to the left. Take this path as it switchbacks steeply up the hill adjacent to a beautiful cascading stream. In short order you will reach Linkins Lake, a surprisingly large body of water perched on a broad shelf beneath a semicircle of barren peaks. For extra credit, follow game trails up the hill to the left of the lake to find an old mine shaft and the remnants of an ancient cabin.

The other hike leaving from the trailhead is the Lost Man Trail. This scenic jaunt is considerably longer than the Linkins Lake Trail but has a gentler pitch. This is an excellent hike for visitors looking for something a little more substantial or locals seeking a longer hike (the loop route) amid some of the best scenery Colorado has to offer.

Starting at the parking area, follow the trail north and stay right at the intersection with the Linkins Lake Trail. Cross the small creek (actually the Roaring Fork River) a couple of times as you wind up the valley for about two miles and climb a series of low benches beneath an obvious pass. Just below the pass you will find Independence Lake, a glittering gem in a spectacular setting. This is good place for most visitors and people wanting a shorter hike to turn around.

Those wishing to continue will find that the trail grows steeper beyond Independence Lake before cresting the pass and descending sharply to the equally stirring Lost Man Lake. To complete the loop, simply follow the trail down the valley as it bends around to the south and finishes at the lower Lost Man trailhead.