by greg fitzsimmons | June 1, 2010 | Lifestyle
Pristine country and isolated wilderness surround Aspen, beckoning outdoor enthusiasts away from bustling downtown streets. Day hikes and afternoon bike rides are popular ways to soak up the natural surroundings, but an overnight trip in the backcountry promises bona fide adventure—and even a potential history lesson.
After World War II, veterans of the Aspen area’s historic 10th Mountain Division, like Fritz Benedict, returned to Colorado with a wealth of mountaineering experience and a love of ski touring. For years Benedict and his friends explored the White River National Forest, and in the 1980s he headed a group of Aspen skiers who built the first of a dozen 10th Mountain Division huts, called Margy’s Hut. (Widely known as a way for backcountry skiers to access untouched terrain Thanksgiving through May, the huts are also open in the summer.)
Named for former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s late wife, Margy’s Hut is accessible from July through September as well as in wintertime. It can be reached via a gorgeous six-mile hike, and the trail winds through dense Aspen groves and crosses running streams. The hut accommodates up to 16 people, and large windows and a deck open onto panoramic views of the Elk Mountains.
Of course, we like a little pampering, too, and local outfitters can customize any trek. For those looking to speed things up, mountain-biking company Timberline Bike Tours, based in Aspen, offers an enticing two-day excursion to Margy’s Hut. “Once I get in the backcountry,” says Doug Tucker, owner of Timberline Bike Tours, “I’m amazed with how beautiful it is, and how close it is to Aspen.” Conundrum Catering spoils Timberline’s overnight tours with lavish meals, and handcrafted Ellsworth Bicycles are available to demo.
The Harry Gates Hut, another warm-weather option, is relatively close to Margy’s. A short six-and-a-half-mile hike from Aspen, it’s the largest of the huts and sits at the lowest elevation. Hiking and biking trails weave around the hut, which has three stories of west-facing windows that showcase stunning sunsets. Closer to Leadville is the 10th Mountain Hut, a favorite of mountain bikers. Resting in the shadows of the Continental Divide, it sits at timberline and has access to some of Colorado’s best day hikes and rides. There’s even a private “honeymoon” bedroom—just be sure to reserve it in advance.
If hiking and mountain biking aren’t your style, saddle up with the folks at Maroon Bells Guides & Outfitters for multiday horseback trips. Explore the trails between Aspen and Crested Butte, awaken to indelible vistas of the Maroon Bells and eat meals prepared over an open flame. If water is more your speed, overnight West Water rafting trips allow boaters to float the Colorado River, sleep under the stars and experience exhilarating rapids. Regardless of how you get there, the Colorado countryside rewards the effort.
photograph by frank shine