Castle Creek Trailhead


Range: Elk Mountains
Coordinates: 39.0289, -106.80801
14ers: Castle Peak, Conundrum Peak
Elevation: 9,800'
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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.

More Info

Parking: Parking options are limited above the river crossing. There are a few places to pull-off.
Camping: Established camp sites along the 2WD road, before the river crossing.
Restrooms? No
Fees? No
Trailhead added by BillMiddlebrook
Status Updates 
Posted By: Jimmy Jay
Info: High clearance 4WD can make it to 10,600. Snowmobiles can make it up to the upper TH but nothing else. Lots of elk hunters at the lower campsites, wear high-visibility clothing so you don’t become a statistic.
Posted By: AidanDenniston
Info: October 8th

Drove out to hit castle conundrum and 13er malamute, conditions were fantastic minus the road. From the junction at pearl pass road on to the creek crossing the conditions are horrid. I struggled making it very far at all with my Outback. I saw a few jeeps, and tacos up at the upper TH but unless you are a very experienced off road driver it will be very difficult. Sharp rocks everywhere and extremely ate out. Ended up making it to 10,400 to set up camp (barely). As many know the approach is awful for this mountain, it will only get worse over the years. If you do make it passed the creek you should be in the clear until the upper TH though.
Happy hiking!
Posted By: Jack_H
Info: Definitely rougher and more difficult than South Colony Lakes and Lake Como Road up until 8,800 ft for reference. I made it to 12,400ft in a mostly stock 2007 Silverado 1500 with a leveling kit and BFGs. Much more fun on the way up than on the way down as I needed a spotter for about half of the way down and took longer than hikers to get down. I got some minor scrapes on my running boards 3 times (once on the way up and twice on the way down) but it could have been avoided if I had been paying more attention. Also got a few new small pinstripes likely. Probably could have made it all the way but it wasn’t worth it as the road starts to get pretty sloped to the side for the last little bit. Definitely would not recommend taking anything longer than my truck up. Some of the switchbacks on the way down made for a fun time. Link to video of river crossing:
Posted By: colingoodman
Info: As other comments have stated, the road is rough but very doable in a capable 4x4 vehicle (wrangler, truck, etc). I made it to the pearl pass rd junction without issue in my 4runner (stock with AT tires) but found I probably could have gone much further. The road does eventually become fairly exposed.
Posted By: GuiGirard
Info: Road is rough with deep potholes from the very beginning right off the paved county road. Access to campsites 1 to 3 is Subaru-able with no issue. Further up it gets much rougher in a big avalanche area with loose big and sharp rocks and I chickened it out quickly with my Outback. As a hiker, there is however no noticeable increase in difficulty past the creek crossing at ~10,500 ft. In fact, I saw a Crosstrek way past 11,000 ft, + a Jeep Wrangler and 4Runners. Good to know also is that there are many dispersed campsites past the creek crossing (camping being restricted to the 9 designated sites only applies to the section below the creek). So, basically, if one can make it past campsite 3, they are good to go for a good while.
Posted By: csf-lhiver
Info: 3rd gen stock Tacoma made it to Montezuma Mine. The reward portion in the risk/reward factor for driving the rest of the 0.5 miles to the end of the road didn’t exist for me. You have to be confident off road and you have no margin for error. Though it’s capable for at least a Tacoma and a Jeep Rubicon to get all the way there based on what I saw.
Posted By: mtgoatmike
Info: Road is clear to the dead end at 12,500ft. My stock 2012 Tacoma made it to the switchback just after the small wooden bridge you drive over, a few other Tacomas were higher up. Smaller SUV type vehicles made it to the dispersed campsites lower down. The creek crossing has a good sized lip down and out of the creek.
Posted By: TheSpaceForce
Info: Clear of snow all the way to the upper trailhead. Typical spring/summer runoff through the road in places, but no worse than the creek crossing near the lower 4WD TH.
Posted By: Crestoner
Info: If you can cross Castle Creek, you’ll be able to make it to the small parking area at the Pearl Pass Road intersection ~11,100 ft. Late in the afternoon, the creek is fast and turbid at the crossing...difficult to assess depth and any underwater obstacles. At 0400, flow is diminished, and water is relatively clear. We saw 2 Forerunners, 1 Tacoma, and 1 "rockcrawler" that had no problems crossing the creek. There still are several patches of snow in the road, past the creek, but these are no problem...especially after that big-tired rockcrawler blew through them.

The skeeters are out in the campsites...
Posted By: swesleyc7
Info: Drove to campsites 8 & 9 in a 2010 4WD Rav4 with no issues. The 4WD road is entirely clear of snow until the river crossing. The river crossing wasn’t deep in the morning with levels barely reaching an axle height, but snowmelt is increasing daily. If brave enough, you could cross the river and drive exactly 1-mi past campsites 8 & 9 until a large snow obstruction will finally stop you. Doing so will take off 4-mi RT from the 2WD trailhead route, however camping is only in designated areas (site 9 being the last).
Posted By: mightycuine
Info: Made it to campsite 7 in a 2wd Hyundai Tucson with 6.8" of clearance. After walking the road, I found that I could have made it to the creek ifI’d wanted. If you can get past a bad section just past campsite 3, you can get to the creek crossing. Creek crossing is another matter entirely. I only saw one F150 on the other side. There’s a snow drift at 10.4k that will block any vehicles from driving higher, but it’s melting fast. Still lots of snow as you go higher.
Posted By: Ericsheffey
Info: Clear to creek crossing. Creek crossing can be crossed in high clearance 4x4. Took my Jeep JL across it, and there was a 4Runner parked just beyond it as well. About 200 yards past the creek there is an impassable snow patch. Consistent snow on road starting around 10,400 and some downed trees that will be blocking the road once it thaws.
Posted By: Skimo95
Info: Gates open, get after it
Posted By: Eagle Eye
Info: The Pitkin County road closure of Castle Creek Road was on Tuesday, Nov 23rd.
The gate is now closed for the season, near ghost town Ashcroft.
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: berko89
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.
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