Difficult Creek Trail, Difficult Creek Trailhead, Aspen - Snowmass, Colorado

Difficult Creek Trail - 6.0 miles

Difficult Creek Trailhead

Elk in meadows near the Difficult Creek Trailhead

Elk in meadows near the Difficult Creek Trailhead

Round-Trip Length: 6.0 miles (unmaintained trail continues up-valley)
Start-End Elevation: 8,145' - 9,517' (9,517' max elevation)
Elevation Change: +1,363' net elevation gain (+1,470' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Moderate
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: Yes
Related Trails:

Difficult Creek Trail - 6.0 Miles Round-Trip

The Difficult Creek Trail runs 3 miles above and along Difficult Creek in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness. This moderately strenuous trail begins at Difficult Creek Campground just outside Aspen, crosses the Roaring Fork River and joins Difficult Creek through diverse montane forests.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

The trail is maintained for 3 miles with unmaintained segments that intuitively follow the creek deep into the backcountry. The maintained portion is subjectively unspectacular, but provides a good workout with the opportunity to explore a lightly traveled drainage in the Collegiate Peaks:

The trail begins on a level path through diverse scrub and aspen to a long bridge over the Roaring Fork River (.18 miles) and Collegiate Peaks Wilderness Boundary, where it briefly meets Difficult Creek (.48 miles : 8,230').

It follows it for a short time before rising away in a predominantly coniferous forest touched by beetlekill and deadfall (1.0 miles : 8,525'). Grades steepen to a small stream crossing (1.7 miles : 8,970'), past which the trail bends west across a rocky hillside with partial views of peaks over Independence Pass (2.0 miles : 9,170').

It meets back up with Difficult Creek (2.5 miles : 9,375') and turns south beside it with many easy access points. The trail gradually levels in a mixed forest just east of the creek and to an unmarked point where maintenance officially ends (3.0 miles : 9,517'). The Forest Service suggests there are old cabin remains in the area, though none were observed on this report.

The trail gradually fades past this anticlimactic point, but travel intuitively follows the creek with nominal elevation gain into wide, level sections up the valley. Nicely spaced trees provide good viewing lanes for wildlife with manageable clutter for off-trail exploration.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N39 08.541 W106 46.462 — 0.0 miles : Difficult Creek Trailhead
  • N39 08.431 W106 46.448 — .18 miles : Cross Bridge
  • N39 08.260 W106 46.395 — .48 miles : Collegiate Peaks Wilderness Boundary
  • N39 07.957 W106 46.137 — 1.0 miles : Steep climb in mixed forest
  • N39 07.770 W106 45.916 — 1.5 miles : Steep climb in mixed forest
  • N39 07.641 W106 45.965 — 1.7 miles : Cross small creek where travel moderates
  • N39 07.715 W106 46.241 — 2.0 miles : Bend west across open hillside
  • N39 07.467 W106 46.313 — 2.5 miles : Trail edges up against Difficult Creek
  • N39 07.070 W106 46.345 — 3.0 miles : Travel moderates along creek before fading
  • N39 06.808 W106 46.335 — 3.3 miles : Unmaintained trail continues up valley

Worth Noting

  • There are many aging and beetle-infested trees along this trail. Watch for falling trees and expect deadfall across the trail.

Camping and Backpacking Information

Backcountry Camping

  • Dispersed backcountry camping is permitted in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness. No fees or permits are required.

  • Camping is prohibited within 100' of any trail, lake or stream. Group size is limited to 15 individuals (or 25 with people + stock).

  • Campfires are permitted in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness, with potential seasonal restrictions. Campfires are not permitted above or within .25 miles (440 yards) of treeline, or within 100' of any trail, lake or stream. Seasonal and location-specific restrictions may also apply.

  • Contact the Aspen Ranger District (970.925.3445) or Sopris Ranger District (970.963.2266) for the latest weather, trail conditions and trail-specific guidelines when planning your trip.

  • The Difficult Creek Campground offers sites at $23 per night. The campground is 3.7 miles from downtown Aspen with easy access to the Roaring Fork River, East of Aspen Trail and North Star Open Space Preserve.

Fishing Information

  • Fishing is permitted along Difficult Creek and the Roaring Fork River with a valid Colorado fishing license. Contact the Colorado Division of Wildlife or the Aspen | Sopris Ranger Stations to learn more about potential restrictions on the Roaring Fork.

Rules and Regulations

  • Dogs must be leashed at all times in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness.

Directions to Trailhead

The Difficult Creek Trailhead is located within the Difficult Creek Campground, 4.7 miles east of the Aspen Ranger Station along Highway 82.

From Aspen, head east on Highway 82 to the Difficult Creek Campground on the right (south side of the road). Turn down the campground access road for .5 miles and follow signs to the day-use area parking lot and trailhead.

Contact Information

Aspen Ranger District
806 West Hallam
Aspen, CO 81611

Sopris Ranger District
620 Main Street
Carbondale, CO 81623

White River National Forest
900 Grand Ave.
P.O. Box 948
Glenwood Springs CO 81602
970.945.2521 | 970.319.2670

Trip Reports

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