Hiking In Aspen: Fryingpan Lakes

By Deb Stanley, Examiner.com

Looking for solitude? Then consider the scenic drive, then hike to Fryingpan Lakes.

The drive is about 40 miles from Highway 82 in Basalt (directions below). While the drive is a bit long and slow (35-40 mph most of the way), it’s also very beautiful. The road is lined with Aspens, so if come in mid-to-late September, you’ll be tempted to stop often to photograph the turning leaves. Along the drive, you’ll also pass the very large, Reudi Reservoir. Look for sailboats skimming across the water.

The trail starts at a water diversion structure. Walk to the left of the structure, past a sign and cross the river on a bridge.

The first few steps of the hike parallel a pretty river, then the trail turns into the thick forest. It’s much cooler, temperature-wise, in the forest. And make sure you look at the trees. There are trees of all size here — small, medium and large.

Less than a half-mile from the trailhead, you’ll come to a sign letting you know you’re officially entering the Hunter-Fryingpan wilderness.

One mile into the hike, the trail emerges from the forest and into a meadow in the middle of a valley. This is a beautiful spot with the river below you and the cliffs above you.

For the rest of the hike to the lakes, you’ll be hiking in and out of the forests and meadows. This is also an up and down hike. While the elevation difference from the trailhead to the upper lakes is 1,000 feet, add at least another 250 feet of elevation gain each way for all the ups and downs.

After walking one side of the valley for 2.3 miles, suddenly the trail drops down to the river and crosses the Fryingpan River on a bridge. (Note: if you read older articles about this trail, you’ll be warned about this river crossing, but in 2012 we found a nice bridge here.) The rest of the hike is on the opposite side of the river.

After crossing several more meadows (most of them avalanche paths), and walking through several more forest sections, suddenly the lake appears at 3.8 miles from the trailhead. This is a good-sized lake in a very pretty setting. The question now — what lake is this? My GPS said it was “small lake.” Some articles call this Lower Fryingpan Lake. I’m going with Lower Fryingpan Lake. That striking mountain peak in the distance? That’s Deer Mountain, standing 13,761-feet high.

After some pictures, it’s time to hike on. From here, it’s 0.75 miles to a pair of Upper Fryingpan Lakes. Some trip reports say the trail maintenance ends at the lower lake, but we had no problem following the trial to the upper lake.

Upper Fryingpan Lake is still in the middle of a valley, but it’s a very scenic valley. The lake, at 11,059 feet, sits below two 13ers — Deer Mountain at the end of the valley and Mount Oklahoma to your left. Even the peaks on the other side of the valley will help you create amazing photos of the lake.

After a break, boulder hop to the third lake, which sits in a grassy area just past the lake or return the way you came.

Details: The hike to the upper lake is 9 miles round-trip with about 1,500 feet of elevation with all the ups and downs.

Directions: From Highway 82, take Basalt Avenue east and zero your odometer. At the traffic circle, go three-quarters of the way around to Midland Street. Go straight ahead to the stop sign and turn right, staying on Midland. Midland winds through town and turns into Fryingpan Road. When your odometer hits 31 miles, start watching for a turnoff on the right for the Fryingpan Lakes trailhead. Turn right and take the dirt road 5.7 miles to where it dead-ends at the trailhead.

If you’re in the Aspen area, don’t miss Cathedral Lake and American Lake. Find more great hikes in Colorado and throughout the west here.