Castle Creek Trailhead


Range: Elk Mountains
Coordinates: 39.0289, -106.80801
14ers: Castle Peak, Conundrum Peak
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Road Difficulty

Moderate 4WD, long wheel base vehicles not recommended. Good clearance required. 4   (0=Paved, 6=Very Difficult 4WD)
2WD paved access to 9,750' from the north via Castle Creek road out of Aspen. Rough, Rocky 2WD access to approx. 9,900' by turning right on the dirt road at the end of Castle Creek road. This road continues into Castle Creek. 4WD access to 12,800' by following the same road up past the Montezuma Mine and into a basin north of Castle Peak. Note: Near 11,100' there is a road junction. Stay right to continue toward Montezuma Mine. Turning left will take you toward Pearl Pass.

Driving Directions

Take Castle Creek from the roundabout just west of the center of Aspen. Drive 12.5 miles (paved) to the Castle Creek trailhead. To the right, Forest Road (FR) 102 continues all all the way to 12,800'. Good-clearance passenger cars can drive about 1 mile up this road to reach the dispersed camp sites along the road. If you want to shorten your hike by parking higher, you must have a 4WD vehicle with good clearance. From the lower trailhead parking area, proceed to a river crossing, at 1.3 miles. In spring and early summer, this crossing is a challenge for some 4WD vehicles. At 3 miles, reach the Pearl Pass junction and stay right on the Castle Creek 102 road. If you drove up this far, there are a few parking spots near the junction. The road gets worse as it ascends into Montezuma Basin all the way to 12,800'.

Winter Access

Closed at the start of the dirt road.
Status Updates 
Posted By: RyGuy
Info: I was able to take my stock 2017Jeep Wrangler to roughly 10,800. (39.00479, -106.83519) JUST below the little bridge/waterfall, right below the Pearl Pass junction. There is quite a bit of snow on the road the final mile before that with occasional ice patches below the snow. Then it’s mostly just mud and a bit of ice below the creek crossing. I suspect the next storm will make the section of road above the creek crossing impassible to vehicles.
Posted By: pbarn
Info: Road still open all the way as of 10/31/21.

Some snow on the road up to the Pearl Pass junction, but it is packed down by traffic and doesnt present much issue.

After the junction there are some icier spots which would require more careful driving because of the potential to slide off the road.

Someone has driven up to about 12k feet, so its entirely still possible to get that far, as snow on the road isnt particularly deep.

This will all change with another storm.

Overall, not particularly difficult as far as 4wd trails go.
Posted By: Mountain_Maniac
Info: Drove up to 12,150’ in a stock 2017 Tacoma TRD Off-Road with BFG KO2 tires. Parked at this switchback (39.015783, -106.843325) where there was room for 2-3 cars total. More room and better parking at the 12,550’ switchback (39.018841, -106.848112) but you have to drive further up the rough road (I was over it by 12,150’). There were several "obstacles" along the road where we stopped and scoped out the best line but nothing crazy or dangerous imho. By using my buddy as a spotter to help with line selection and taking it slow I was able to drive up without scraping. The road is definitely rougher and rockier above the pearl pass junction but didn’t encounter any obstacles above the junction that were more difficult than what we saw on the way up to the junction. I would say I am an intermediate off road driver who is cautious about bashing my vehicle.
Posted By: HPIvelocity97
Info: Got in late Fri (8/20) night and all 1-9 designated spots were occupied. Drove through creek crossing @1.3 mile beyond 2WD trailhead and camped a bit further up. 8/21 drove to ~3mi/11,200’ where there is plenty of good parking. Smooth sailing up to this point in a Silverado Trail Boss. In hindsight, could’ve went above ~11,200 but took advantage of ample space to park at this point. For those who do go further there are a number of decent camping spots and pullouts.
Posted By: jeffh7
Info: Made it up to 12,800 with a 2008 jeep Rubicon with 33 inch tires but otherwise stock. Stay in 4 lo the entire way and take it slow and you should be fine. The exposure is definitely apparent on this road in some sections.
Posted By: Msbaker
Info: I made it about a mile up the 4WD road in my stock Mazda CX-5 which has about 8 inch clearance. The road is definitely difficult and requires some finesse. Almost all of the cars that made it past the creek (which is about 1.3 miles up the road) or further were 4 runners, tacomas, or rubicons.
Posted By: hikerjess
Info: First of all, make sure you have plenty of gas to get in and out, and then some if you plan on going up all the way up. The road is free of snow all the way up to 12,800 ft. Biggest water crossing is tame and wasn’t more than 8 inches deep, but the drop in and out is pretty steep so I wouldn’t recommend anyone with low clearance to attempt it. Same goes for beyond this crossing, the road gets worse as you go higher. Got all the way up to about 12,500ft in my TRD off-road 4Runner with KO2s with only one spot that was questionable. Probably could have made it all the way though. Lots of ruts, exposed, and loose rocks. I would only attempt this if you are pretty comfortable with 4x4 roads and quite a bit of exposure during the last 1.5 miles. On the way down, try not to ride your brakes, keep it in 4-Lo, and pick your line carefully. Camped at 12,500 and it was beautiful! Cut a good amount of time off our day, too!
Posted By: tefensmom
Info: Snow free all the way to 12,800! If youve got the the clearance and 4x4 for this go get it!
Posted By: Flyingfish
Info: Made it to just shy of 11,400 to where there is a very large snow field that blocks a substantial length of road at the highest stream crossing. Snow is melting quickly.
Posted By: daway8
Info: Made it up to Pearl Pass in my stock Jeep Renegade Trailhawk with KO2 tires. Most of the road was fairly easy (if you’re used to 4WD roads) but does require some clearance (mine has 8.7 inch clearance). My skid plates took a couple minor hits here and there (mostly from impatience or poor line selection). Creek crossing looked imposing in the dark but posed no issues coming or going. Negligible snow up to Pearl Pass but a little beyond at 11,350 there is an impassable snow field totally blocking the road (but no sign of the downed trees mentioned in an earlier update). Minimal parking at the Pearl Pass junction; sporadic pull-offs before then. Biggest challenge on the road was just before the final switchback - a very capable looking truck was parked just below this which made me uneasy but I got up and down in 4LO with minimal skid plate action and only a little bit of uncomfortable tipping.
Posted By: colin j
Info: Road has some drifts beyond the creek crossing that have been driven through. Creek crossing looked okay this morning but it was flowing quicker at 1 pm. There are two downed trees just past Pearl Pass junction; do not go past the junction unless you intend to remove them.
Posted By: dubsho3000
Info: Several of the campsites along the road to the TH (there are 9 numbered spots) are too muddy for camping. There are maybe just four or five that are good. The last two (8 and 9) are just before the stream crossing. 9 is good, but 8 is currently too muddy.
Posted By: Ericsheffey
Info: Creek crossing on road is flowing strong but I was able to make it across in a Jeep Wrangler. We crossed a few snow patches in the road after that but then encountered an impassable patch of snow around 10,500’ so we turned the Jeep around and parked at a pull-off just below this. Consistent snow on road/trail by 11,000’.

Pictures of creek crossing attached.
Posted By: ClimberSkierDave64
Info: We parked at the creek crossing due to snow very shortly after that’s blocking the road. The creek is crossable if you were able to make it up to the crossing but its just not worth it. Intermittent snow patches for the first mile, and then continuous snow starts. We ended up just hiking the first mile before transitioning to skis. The switchbacks just past the Pearl Pass junction are patchy and you have to take your ski off multiple times. The first mile past the 2wd trailhead that used to be passable for most passenger vehicles now seems to be much rougher and decent is necessary imo.
Posted By: angry
Info: 4wd can make it to -10,200.
Posted By: supranihilest
Info: Plowed to Ashford 2-2.25 miles from the lower, 2WD trailhead.
Posted By: Thevirtualsherpa
Info: Without pushing it at all, my legacy made it to the 3rd campsite. If you have the ability and willingness to scrape a awd subie car could make it higher. For me it just wasnt worth the extra walking. IMO, any stock suv should be able to make it to 11,200 pulloff.
Posted By: john curtis
Info: I have a Jeep Wrangler with 2.5 inch lift and 33 tires. No issues all the way to 12,800 ft. Pretty easy drive for anyone with offroading experience. Never had a concern of bottoming out. Dispersed campsite 7 on Pearl Pass has the best view (IMO).
Posted By: stratton42
Info: Nasty. That’s the best word to describe this road. Right after you cross the wooden bridge it starts to get nasty. The other reports make it sound like there are one or two obstacles but that’s just not true. Going up is way worse than down because of the steep angle you are hitting most of these. You will start to slip/slide and have to gun it to get past. And of course, many of these were near or in switchback corners. You’ll be getting out to look a lot if you are alone. I didn’t count but there were probably at least 10 "challenges". I stopped at 12200 where there was a nice level pulloff because I had enough. I made it just fine but it wasn’t worth the wear and tear. My recommendation: At least 10" clearance, off road tires with good tread, and 4wd low (locking rear diff/limited slip would also be helpful, it sure helped me). I would not take anything new or that I cared about up this road if it wasn’t already prepped with my previous sentence. Also when you see the pine tree (12k?) its time to pull your mirror in. When you pass it you’ll see evidence of everyone who forgot. My pulloff at 12200 would fit 3 vehicles. another above it would easily fit 5 and the end of the road could probably fit between 15 - 20. Trip date: 7/31/20
Posted By: DannyH
Info: I drive a stock 2003 Honda CR-V. I agree the roughest parts of the road are indeed the first 1.25 mile to the creek. I made it across the creek without incident in my vehicle, but I understand that streamflow may be higher in other months. There was a rut approximately 100’ on the other side of the creek that prevented me from going further. This was a bummer, because the the road would have been fine for my vehicle for another mile or so up to the Pearl Pass bridge. Please note that parking is extremely limited along this entire road!
Posted By: SummitStormer
Info: Road is very rough: normal passenger cars could make it to the 3rd campsite. Creek is a non-issue, any 4WD vehicle can cross easily. I drove a stock Jeep Cherokee, made it to Pearl Pass turn-off at 11,200, although the areas within 0.3 of Pearl Pass were somewhat involved. There are a handful of places for vehicles to park after the creek crossing if the switchbacks prove too much. 4-5 parking spots at Pearl Pass junction, if you make it that high.
Posted By: geneseejen
Info: Agree with previous report that the most difficult section was the switchbacks just before Pearl Junction. I have a stock 2020 4Runner and encountered no major issues (no scrapes or slips); stopped and checked out like 3 areas first to find the best line. Road above 11.4K (after fording the shallow creek) which I walked enroute to Castle Peak was in good shape all the way to the end (12.8K).
Posted By: Carsonj20
Info: I have a completely stock 2011 GMC Sierra 1500 Z71 and I made it all the way to 12,800 and the end of the road. I would not recommend parking here over night, the lightning storms were big time sketchy. There was one obstacle right before tree line that was difficult, I hung left on the way up and slid off the rock rib right into rocks, luckily they hit the skid plates. On the way down I went on the far left (right when going up) and had no troubles. Wouldnt recommend this if you have a brand new, pretty, stock truck or regular running boards.
Posted By: csu-peter
Info: Did not feel comfortable taking the risk screwing other people over by getting stuck in the creek crossing 0.9 mi from the 2WD TH in my stock 2013 Jeep Compass. I wasn’t a huge fan of the angles/incline when drive up and out of the crossing. However, I think I could have made it. I would have made it pretty high up the road if it hadn’t been for that crossing. (For reference, I made it pretty damn high up the Antero road.)
Posted By: garrettanton
Info: Made it to the Pearl Pass junction with no issues on 7/6 in a stock height Toyota Tacoma TRD Offroad with rock sliders. Creek crossing was less than 1ft deep and entry/exit was no issue going both directions. A few spots with large rocks where line choice was essential; sliders were helpful but could be unnecessary with better line choices or more careful driving. Never needed 4low or lockers, but above the creek relatively high clearance was critical.

Stopped at the junction because there wasn’t much info about parking or road difficulty above the junction, but after hiking the road from the junction I agree with previous reports that if you can make it to the junction you can make it to at least 12,100 and probably all the way to the end of the road. There is currently no snow on the road all the way to the end, and the switchbacks before the junction were by far the worst part. Above the junction the road improves somewhat. There is ample parking approximately every 1/4 mile above the junction and plenty of places to turn around, so unless you’re aiming for strict 3000ft rule ascents, save yourself at least some of the road walk and continue past the Pearl Pass junction.

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