Thursday, June 10, 2010

Aspen Loop Trail

The Aspen Loop Trail is a 40 mile route in the San Juan National Forest near Mancos in southwest Colorado. For a hiker the easy access is at the Transfer Campground, a hub for trails in the West Mancos River area.

I started at the parking area just outside the Transfer Campground entrance but you can drive an additional mile along Forest Road 565 to the official ATV Trailhead. The Aspen Loop was developed mostly for ATVs, but is also open to mountain bikes, horses, hikers, everything but full sized vehicles.

The route is a narrow forest road that starts east along the north rim of the West Mancos Canyon. The walking is easy on the relatively smooth surface. There is a parallel West Mancos hiking trail that descends into the canyon and follows close to the stream. Most of the two trails, above and below, pass through thick Aspen forest.

There are a few places where there are views across the West Mancos Canyon but mostly the views are blocked by forest. In early June there are many wildflowers in bloom, blue and yellow Lupines, Larkspurs, and Irises stand out. I saw a few bear tracks in the dusty parts of the trail but no bear sightings. There are two creeks along the segment I hiked. In the moist creek areas some spruce trees appear.

From the Transfer Campground I walked about 3.7 miles to a meadow that is part of the area called Beef Pasture. Climbing up to the top of the meadow, there are some views toward Mt. Hesperus and the LaPlata Mountains. The elevation change from Transfer to the Beef Pasture area is about 870 feet up. My total hike took 3:30 hours for about 7.5 miles on a 65 F degree early June day.

(There is an unmarked side trail along this segment that leads to the abandoned mountain town of Golconda. I walked this segment on a return hike from the West Mancos Trail.)