Castle Creek Trailhead


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: 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.
Posted By: MountainBuhn
Info: Just a status on the part before the creek as I dont think it gets much attention. My crosstrek had zero issues getting to the creek, but for anything less heres a spot of concern about .25-.50 before the creek:
Posted By: stacibaker
Info: Hiked Castle and Conundrum on Sunday 06/21. Drove up to just below tree line to find a place to camp. Have a 2018 TRD Off Road 4Runner with a 3" lift, sliders, and KO2s. The creek crossing at the bottom of the road was super easy, no large rocks and the ascent up the other side was solid. The road overall is in great shape! We used our locker in one slick spot with loose dirt and some larger rocks, i think this was right after the bridge crossing and waterfall. After that point, I would recommend 4x4 vehicles with a locker. In the AM, we drove past the snowfield at 12,100. It took a little finagling to get through it, but nothing that a good driver with a good spotter couldn’t do. I’d imagine that spot will be melted out very soon. You can drive all the way up to about 12,600 (past the mine) right now until you are blocked by ongoing snow fields.

Honestly, this road was no big deal and was fun! But it’ll depend on your off-roading experience and comfort level. We ran into a few people that were clearly new to off-roading and looked terrified and didn’t know how to use their vehicles, but live and learn right? There were really no major obstacles, but you’ll want to know how to place tires and pick lines going over rocks. The road above treeline was in good shape and has plenty of pullouts to park or allow passing. Nothing to 12,600 was off camber, but where there is still snow on the road for sure looks like that could be the off camber part, but it’ll be a few weeks before that is melted. I was never concerned about my clearance, even over some of the larger rocks.
Posted By: emily_m
Info: Creek crossing was really not that bad, even after a lot of rain in the afternoon. Any stock 4x4 vehicle could make it. If you can make it to the pearl pass junction, you could make it to the snowdrift around 12,100. I think the two switchbacks after the bridge to get to the junction are harder than anything above them (though not by much), so if you were comfortable with those I didnt think anything else would be much of an issue. There is a great pull-out/turn around above the forest switchback to check them out if needed, assuming someone else hasnt parked there. A stock 4x4 could probably make it with careful driving as long as you know where youre wheels are. The snowdrift at 12,100 is still there and will probably take a while to melt out, in addition to the drifts immediately after it (see photo).
Posted By: CaptCO
Info: Made it to 11.2k in a stock RWD f150, there was a gladiator parked below the foot bridge, where I returned to park after making it up the first switchback but the road gets super nasty and no easier all the way up and past pearl pass. Snow drift around 12k, basically a lake Como Jeep/Antero road approach all the way to the basin. departed 4:30PM avoided all running water and had dry feet to the nw ridge. After glissading I just walked through the stream on my descent which took no time, around 5hr total. Careful driving can get you to 11k near the foot bridge, after that you better have a super high clearance locking rear diff 4x4 etc imo. Creek was pretty high on my way down around 9:30 or so but I sent it. Tree and boulder still there, requires smart driving to get a full size pickup through w stock clearance and RWD
Posted By: tdurty
Info: Parked before the creek (Subaru). Probably could have cleared the creek, but theres a very large rock in the center on the opposite shore, as well as a large downed tree trunk on the left side, and a gnarly rock formation on the right.

Road has some runoff from melting snow but no drifts until about after the vehicle bridge, then some avoidable drifts until just after the cabin on the right. From there, unavoidable large drifts; looked like tractor tracks through it but nothing else. Once you break out of the trees into the basin, the road has unavoidable very large snow drifts all the way to the top 4WD TH. Dont think anything could make it to the top currently.

Saw two lifted Tacomas, a Wrangler, and a lifted Cherokee parked as high up on the road as you could go before the snow.

Edited to add: Parking just before the creek, we clocked 11.2 miles and 4,3xx’ of gain.
Posted By: LSUExplorer03
Info: Was at Castle Creek TH on Saturday, 5/16. Our Subaru Crosstrek was able to make it up to campsite 7 or 8 (maybe 1 mile past the 2WD TH). The road was fine for a higher clearance vehicle all the way to the creek crossing, but after the creek crossing there was deep snow within about 100 yards.
Posted By: LetsGoMets
Info: Snow free to the (what used to be) foot bridge crossing. Decent clearance vehicles should have no real issue. Snow starts shortly after the water crossing and is continuous from there.
Posted By: Grover
Info: Gate at Ashcroft is unlocked! The two miles from Ashcroft to the end of the road are clear- no avy debris, no snow, nothing.
Posted By: Wentzl
Info: Ice on the road stopped me at about 1.5 miles past the creek crossing. I tried to drive over it and almost ended up in the ditch. Looks easy, very dangerous. It appeared that a vehicle with chains had gone over it. This obstacle is about 1/8 of a mile below the Pearl Pass cut off. If you can get past it, clear all the way to 12,800.
Posted By: Conor J
Info: I was able to get my AWD Ford Escape over the creek, which is only about 6-8 inches high currently, and up to about 11,040 ft, at which point the road gets a good bit more 4wd esque. If you have high clearance, and are feeling adventurous, the road up to 12,800 ft is actually in relatively good shape; only a few cruxy blocks/big potholes to navigate.
Posted By: madmattd
Info: To backup 9patrickmurphy’s report, decent clearance and AWD/4WD can make it to ~11,000’ at/just above the bridge just fine (Subaru Outback/Forester-class vehicles if you pick your line in a few spots). The worst part is the first 1.25mi to the creek crossing (tons of rocks and holes), if you get that far and can make the exit of the creek (water is only ~6" deep right now, just watch your entry/exit angles), the road gets a lot better up until the bridge. There’s a washout on the far side (climber’s right) of the bridge, so stay left if you cross the bridge. At the switchback just above the bridge is room for 3-4 vehicles plus a couple just below the bridge (we saw a stock Rav4 at the switchback), the road gets very rough just past here, and is very rocky the rest of the way to the end of the road. That said, a stock Tundra with street tires made it all the way to the mine, though I wouldn’t recommend it. By and large Jeeps and modded trucks were the only vehicles that made it to the road junction or beyond.

On our hike down we ran into a local at the spring who said he and a couple other locals did all of the work clearing the road this year. Just a couple guys and chainsaws, and 12+ weeks of constant work. Huge kudos!
Posted By: 9patrickmurphy
Info: Took my stock 2004 4Runner all the way to the top, but I really wouldn’t recommend it. Mostly did it to prove to myself that I could. It’s not technically difficult, but it’s a ton of driving on the loosest rock I’ve ever seen called a "road." Pretty easy for stock vehicles to get to the Pearl Pass junction. I’d recommend Subarus park just below the bridge by the waterfall, the real crux of the drive is the rock obstacles between the bridge and the junction. If you don’t have big tires or a vendetta against the road (like I did), just park at or below the junction and enjoy the hike up, it’s not that long.
Posted By: jeffth5
Info: Road is open! Avalanche debris has been cleared from the road. Snow drift blocks the road about a half mile before the end at about 12,500ft. Creek is running high. AWD SUV can make it to the creek crossing - saw an Acura MDX at campsite 7. Stock 4wd can make it to Pearl Pass junction - saw F150, various Jeeps (wrangler, Cherokee). Modified SUV or very bold stock 4WD with good tires can make it to top - saw 4Runner, Jeep trailhawk.
Posted By: Barb1957
Info: When we got back down from hiking the whole trail the trailhead was open. You can drive quite a ways up but there is snow over one area so you might not be able to get through there.
Posted By: DeepGlue
Info: Road is clear up to the footbridge / creek crossing, 1.3 miles from the 2WD trailhead. An Outback could make it that far. But yeah, there’s an avalanche debris pile the size of a football field and tens of feet deep, the edge of which covers the footbridge and road by the creek crossing. Will probably take years to clear. You can easily hike over it, just hike to the left and then veer right back to the trail. No hiking blockages after that. Photo 1 is facing the creek crossing (the footbridge was on the left), and Photo 2 is upstream facing downvalley.

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