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Castle Creek Trailhead
Added by BillMiddlebrook

Location:  Elk Mountains
14ers Served:  Castle Peak, Conundrum Peak
Road Type:  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.
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 1.3 miles to a river crossing. In spring and early summer, this crossing is a challenge for some 4WD vehicles. Continue another 1.7 miles up FR 102 to a junction. Left will take you up the nasty Pearl Pass 4WD road. Staying right will keep you 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.
14er Trailheads on Google Maps
Date Status Information Posted By  Photos  Comments Likes Dislikes    
2012-08-12 Stock 2008 Jeep Commander Drove up through the creek and past the wooden bridge. Had to drop into 4L to get out of the creek on the going-up creek exit. Stopped at the 1st switchback after looking at the big boulder in the middle of the road. Drove back down 50 feet past the wooden bridge and camped with a great view of the waterfall. Great spot to camp! I was pretty curious how this road would be in a stock Jeep and overall stopping below that big boulder was all in my comfort level and I only scraped one rock. From a comparison standpoint I put this road as easier than the Antero road up to Baldwin Gulch. Titan         
2012-08-04 ‘98 stock Jeep Cherokee - The road is plenty wide so passing oncoming traffic or turning around is never an issue. There are 7 designated Forest Service campsites within the first mile past the paved road before you have to cross the stream. A passenger car should be able to make it to sites #1 and #2 but higher clearance is needed to make it to sites #3-7 (all within the first mile before the stream crossing). The stream crossing has a solid / flat bottom but the banks are a little steep getting in and out. There is a pedestrian bridge right next to the stream crossing, so get out and scout it before attempting. At low water (August in a bad snow year) it was not difficult, but could be challenging with higher stream flows. Past the stream, the road continues gradually up the mountain. Just past a house on private property on your right, there are a few nice (non-designated) camping spots before the wooden bridge. The road becomes more rough as you cross a wooden bridge with a waterfall just before the Pearl Pass junction. There are 4 or 5 trouble spots that are rocky and this where the trail earns it‘s 4 (out of 6) rating. I recommend getting out and scouting the difficult areas. The trouble spots are fairly short and are spaced out, so you have room to plan your line (or turn around if needed). I was able to make it through without hitting bottom on any of the trouble spots but if you‘re not careful, you could do some damage. After the Pearl Pass junction, around 11,250‘ the road improves and becomes more gradual. There are two nice (non-designated) camping spots and a few "do for tonight" spots just below treeline. The road above the Pearl Pass junction (~11,250‘) to the upper trailhead (12,800‘) is not rough and if you‘ve made it this far, you‘ll have no problem making it to the top. Be careful of a few large boulders in the road which are avoidable but may be difficult to see in the dark. There is plenty of room to park along the road and if you‘re sleeping in your car or parking to hike, there are tons of places to pull off. Have fun storming the Castle! MonGoose         
2012-06-10 Made it to just below the last set of switch backs before the upper parking area (about 12,400‘) in a 1996 Jeep Cherokee (just larger tires). Creek crossing was no problem at any point in the day. There was a Subaru Forrester on the opposite side of the creek. Two main rough spots are same as described before, right around Pearl Pass Road junction. Two switchbacks in a row are rough but other than those nothing too terrible up to above treeline. There are a handful of large boulders in the road above treeline, one of which caused us to stop on the way up in the dark. Clearly in daylight it could have been done but I was okay with the extra 1/2 mile or so of hiking. Slightly modified 4Runner made it to the top of the road. Above that last set of switch backs there are a couple of spots where the hillside is sliding onto the road meaning you would get a bit tippy and one pretty large boulder directly in the middle of the road. If you‘re going in the next couple of days there is some snow directly at the trailhead but if you got this far, you can skirt by it with a bit of rough road. Otherwise, that should be gone shortly. E-dorvs         
2012-05-27 It‘s clear all the way if you‘ve got the vehicle to make it. I made it to the first 4wd th at 11,160. I was in a new outback. The creek crossing at 10,180 was pretty intimidating. I definitely wouldn‘t try it in anything less than an outback (which I think has 9" clearance). Also, awd/4wd is a must. Other than the creek crossing I think it‘s more like 3.5 than a 4 rating. If you stop where I did that is. mikefromcraig         
2012-04-28 Open to the first creek crossing with the pedestrian bridge. Road seems rougher than in years past and I wouldn‘t want to take a 2wd or low clearance vehicle to the first creek crossing! Still lots of snow past the first creek crossing, took skis off twice and walked across dirt/rocks twice. But I think some other sections will melt out soon. cheeseburglar         
2011-12-03 Road is closed at Ashcroft Ghost town AspenEx         
2011-10-14 The road is still clear of any snow and ice up to the creek crossing with the foot bridge. This is just past campsite #7, so all the official campsites are still easily accessed with a somewhat high clearance 2wd (ie my 2wd Ford Escape and I got to site 7). Past the creek with the foot bridge is another issue. Compacted ice covers about 65% of the road up to the Pearl Pass turnoff. I saw a jeep with hefty chains parked up at about 11,200 and the highest I saw any vehicle tracks was 12,100. Up and down past the footbridge would be a bobsled run for most vehicles. Barrett Cooper  1       
2011-09-03 From paved road to the first creek crossing, about a mile in: The guides say this is doable in a 2wd car, but a 2wd truck would be better. I drug my Enclave over a rock on the way in and out. It is pretty flat, and 4wd is not needed. We stopped at the first creek crossing. From there, the hike was about 13 miles round trip. From the creek crossing to just past Pearl Pass Bridge: If your vehicle can make it across the creek, the next really challenging section is about another mile away. The least capable vehicles I saw go through the creek were a Mercury Mariner (Ford Escape) and the latest model Honda Pilot. The creek was maybe 9" deep in the morning and afternoon. The Hard Part: About 200 yards past Pearl Pass Bridge, the road turns hard left and goes sharply uphill. There are some big rocks and ruts in the way. A recent trip report has a picture of them. Once you get past this section, getting to end of the road is easier. I saw a stock Jeep, stock Forerunner (3rd newest generation), and stock old Chevy Blazer past this point. Low range for this section would be helpful. I was shocked to see that the newest model Honda Pilot made it past this point. I wouldn‘t recommend that. There is parking for about 3 cars just before this section. Cars that didn‘t attempt it included a Murano and an Xterra. I think the Xterra could have done it. At one point, the stream runs down the trail/road. Go straight up this section a few hundred yards and veer to the right. Once you get to the end of the road, there is plenty of parking. Also, the last good bathroom is about two miles before the trailhead on the east side of the road. It‘s a vault toilet that is part of a park. It‘s easily visible if you look for it. DaVikes         
2011-07-29 4-WD creek crossing in good shape--with proper clearance. Avoid large rock at lower entrance to creek crossing. Creek crossing was a little higher in the afternoon..water running down lower portions of lower Montezuma Road; Snow still in basin area.. chasrobt  2       
2011-07-16 Handled the creek crossing today at 0500 with an 1100 return. I had no problems in my stock Jeep Liberty. The Pearl Pass intersection is still the "end of the road" for now with river/snow cover up higher. Beautiful day on Castle & Conundrum with great glissading. jrb6907         
2011-07-12 Same condition as reported by Dick on 7/9. We made it to the first turn in the road after the second creek crossing. Above this point the road is a river. Stream crossing was intense but doable. Gopherboy  1       
2011-07-09 we made it to around 11,000 feet (just past a bridge over Castle creek (more like a raging river) with a huge waterfall on the left side). Creek crossing was easy (Sequoia and a good driver). Above 11,000 feet the road is a river and judging by the amount of snow still hanging around it‘ll be that way for some time. Dick         
2011-07-07 Only made it to first creek crossing as 10,200‘ which was flowing WAY to high for my Dakota. Watched a full sized pickup cross comming down in the afternoon and it was almost too much for him. Flow increased several inches from morning to afternoon. YEONDERIN         
2011-06-24 Pretty much the same as the previous updates. There is avalanche debris not too far past the first stream crossing. Not much point in driving through the stream even if you can. The road is picked up again by angling slightly RIGHT after you loose it in the snow. It pretty much follows the stream. Significant avalanche debris (trees) in several locations on the road and then you pretty much totally lose the road in the snow a little after the Pearl Pass junction. Lots of snow! Conundrum Couloir was still in great condition and the glissades down from the saddle and below were pretty good. Check the jameseroni TR for some nice pics of different parts of the route. unclegar         
2011-06-18 Last update still accurate, you can drive a little ways past the first creek crossing but after that there are still some deep patches of snow in the trees that will likely take a couple weeks to melt. There is also substantial avalanche debris that will take a few weeks to melt. The debris includes lots of trees that will need to be removed. As for the 4wd road to the upper basin, this is buried quickly after the avalanche debris and I would guess it will be at least three weeks before this is clear, possibly longer with cooler weather. RJansen77         
2011-06-11 Road is mostly dry up to the first creek crossing. Just after the first creek crossing you can make it a couple hundred yards higher but then there are some drifts, which should melt soon. The bad news is that there was a huge avalanche covering the road about a half mile above the first creek crossing and continuous snow after that. It will be a while before this melts out. CODave    2      
2011-06-04 Snow starts a few hundred yards after the road turns to dirt but with a decent SUV or truck you can make it to the first switchback in the road - there was a lot of melting on Saturday so you should be able to get a bit higher by next weekend. Road is in pretty good shape and should be fine for any stock 4wd vehicle. hberry         
2011-05-28 Snow drifts start immediately after the paved road, continuous snow after the first creek crossing 1.3 miles in. No big suprise but it is going to be a while before you can even get to the 1st creek. nebraskaflatlander         
2011-05-15 Gate at Ashcroft is open and plowed to the 4WD road. The road has continuous snow starting here. ScottN         
2010-07-30 Drove a lightly modified xterra to the top of the road on Friday night. The road was in good shape for wheeling with very few loose areas and only a few really large rocks in the way that couldn‘t be bypassed. If you‘re going to attempt the drive up I suggest a minimum of 31" tires and some skid plates. I feel pretty sure my skids and sliders took some modest hits along the way. There were a couple of sections above 11.5K feet that looked as if the slope had slid onto the road creating situations that felt a bit tippy. Nothing that couldn‘t be overcome though with careful wheel placement. Feel free to shoot me a PM if you are thinking about driving up there this summer and want any extra info. Cruiser  1       
2010-07-06 We arrived Castle Creek rd on Friday (2 July) and were greeted with the recent "Bear Incident" signs and the pink tape across the campsites. We drove my Tacoma passed the 1st stream crossing with no problem and parked at the top of the hill after the 2nd stream crossing with the bridge. We slept in my truck for the night due to the bear activity. Hiked Castle the next morning with perfect weather and we‘re joined by quite a few others. Snow was soft for the climb and nice for the glissade down. Thankfully all the rain had passed thru the day before. theredmex         
2010-07-04 Some campsites on the upper approach are closed but this information is sketchy: "Camping spots on upper Castle Creek Road were closed by the U.S. Forest Service Friday after a black bear invaded tents to get food Wednesday night and Thursday. When a bear attacked a tent at an unoccupied campsite on Thursday, agency officials decided to close the spaces rather than take chances. There is no campground in the area that was closed but designated campsites are scattered along the gravel portion of upper Castle Creek Road." see article here: DrDenbo         
2010-06-26 Got a stock (with slightly taller tires) 2000 Nissan Pathfinder up to the 2nd switchback after the 2nd stream crossing (11,100ft?). The first stream crossing was over knee deep on the way back in mid-afternoon, but vehicles will actually straddle the deep section so the current has no affect. Saw several vehicles up there, some parked further than mine and a Jeep Wranger 4 door actually made it to 12,600ft or so. yosemite98         
2010-06-05 last update is current, but now you can drive a bit further past the "river" crossing, up to 10500‘. If you aren‘t comfortable with how high the water is running in the morning, don‘t cross the creek. It gets higher! Boggy B         
2010-05-16 Road is completely dry on the north bank of the creek all the way to the foot bridge where it crosses over to the south bank. From there, the road is dry for less than 1/4 mile and then becomes snow for the remainder of the route. luca_brasi         

The 2WD trailhead. (Added by: billmiddlebrook on 2007-06-12)A closer look at the start of the Castle Creek Road (FR 102) (Added by: billmiddlebrook on 2007-06-12)The stream crossing at 10,200‘ – 1.3 miles up the road (Added by: billmiddlebrook on 2007-06-12)stream crossing on 6/6/10.  For reference Bronco has 6" lift and 35s on it. (Added by: summitbound on 2010-06-08)

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