Family Hikes: Grottos (Ice caves) Near Aspen

By Deb Stanley,

Want to have some fun? Don’t miss the Grottos Trail on Independence Pass near Aspen. The “Grottos” are a series of caves carved by the Roaring Fork River, and the same trail leads to a series of cascades. The trailhead is on Independence Pass, about nine miles from Aspen (directions below).

From the parking lot, walk across the bridge and turn left. Just 500 feet from the trailhead, a sign at a trail split points hikers going to the grottos to the left. Hike up the hill just 0.2 miles from the trailhead to the “grottos” in the rock on your left.

In this spot is a series of caves and rock formations. Come early in the summer and you’ll see why these caves have been nicknamed the “ice caves.” No matter what time of year you come, you’ll need some climbing skills to get down into the formations. And remember, it’s always easier to get down into a hole, than to climb back out, so if you decide to climb down to the caves, make sure you have a plan for climbing back out. Once inside, it’s time to explore. There are a couple “rooms” here depending on how wet and muddy you’re willing to get. You won’t need a headlamp though, the sun shines into the grottos just enough.

When you’re done exploring, head back to the trail and continue uphill to a series of signs pointing you toward the “cascades.” When you lose the trail, just keep heading toward the loud sound of water crashing over rocks. You should find the “cascades” — a series of small waterfalls. Even in late summer, in a dry year, the cascades here were still flowing in several places and directions. This spot is like a playground for water.

When you’re done exploring and taking photos, return the way you came.

Details: Walking to the grottos and cascades (along with lots of exploring) was 0.75 miles round-trip with 150 feet of elevation gain.

Directions: From Aspen, take Highway 82, 0.4 miles past the mile marker 50 sign to the signed, Grottos trailhead. Turn right on the dirt road down to the parking lot.

In the area, don’t miss the ghost town of Independence and Weller LakeClick here for more great hikes in Colorado and throughout the west.

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