Driving to American Lake in the Fall is a feast for the eyes. Grove after grove of Aspen trees line the road and the hillsides along the 9.7 mile drive on Castle Creek Road (directions below). And that scenic drive is just a preview of what’s to come. Even the trailhead parking lot is lined with colorful Aspen trees. Take pictures, grab your pack and get ready for a tough, but scenic hike.
The trail starts in the Aspen trees and immediately you’re surrounded by a sea of golden leaves, but this is no walk in the colors. The first 1.4 miles of the trail climbs 1,200 feet so enjoy the colors, the trees and the feeling of just being surrounded by this incredible sight.
As you walk, notice how the trees are bent from the strong winds and harsh winters. Look at the leaves, are they all yellow? Is there a tinge of brown or red? Do anything you can to enjoy the scenery and forget the climb.
After nearly a mile and a half of uphill work, suddenly the Aspens end, and you step into a thick, cool forest and the trail flattens out. From here, you can turn around and hike back through the Aspen show again or continue 1.8 miles (with just 800 feet of elevation gain) to American Lake. At this point, why not see the lake? The trail actually gets easier for the next 0.4 miles.
Suddenly at 1.85, you’re climbing again, but after each steep uphill section, you’ll enjoy a short break where the trail levels out a bit. There are even two small meadows along the way where you may see some more colorful Aspens.
At 3.1 miles, the trail crosses a screen field, then there’s just one short uphill stretch to the first view of American Lake. Take a few more steps to the shoreline and enjoy this beautiful lake. This emerald-colored lake sparkles in a basin next to a steep, rocky slope. Walk to the end of the lake, find a rock or a downed tree and enjoy your lunch and the scenery.
Details: The hike to the lake and back is 6.4 mile roundtrip with 1,975 feet of elevation gain on the way to the lake and about 100 feet of elevation gain on the way back.
Directions: From Highway 82 near Aspen, take Castle Creek Road 9.7 miles to a trailhead with a small sign on the right side of the road.
Note: The jays at the lake are a bit aggressive. After they determined that we weren’t going to feed them, they flew off.
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