A few weeks ago, I went in search of the famous aspen fall colors, and was rewarded with on one of the coolest hikes I’ve been on. It’s so hard to capture the experience in photos, but it’s always worth trying! This hike, the Inner Basin Trail, is a local spot I’d been wanting to cross off my list. It’s a popular hike for tourists and locals alike, especially in the fall. At higher elevations, like along this trail, the leaves actually turn in early October, while the lower elevations where I live hold off until later in the month. (Yes, this hike was a few weeks ago so this post is a little overdue!)
After a pretty unsettling cliffside forest road that wound us back to the trailhead, we got our start. I was happy to get an early start, since by the time we left, there were about 20 cars waiting in line for road access and parking!
The trail started as an assuming mix of a few aspens and coniferous trees. It was very chilly while the sun was still low. Plus, we were starting off at almost 9000 ft at the trailhead, which doesn’t help with the chill factor either.
As we walked along, more and more aspens started to pop up around us. The ascent along this trail is steady, but was hardly noticeable because it was so gradual.
Suddenly we found ourselves dead in the middle of an incredibly dense and pristine aspen forest. Almost every leaf both in the trees and on the ground was an intense shade of yellow.
It was especially difficult to capture how much the aspens towered above us. Their skinny, bare trunks reached high into the sky and exploded into a little tuft of color at their tops. Aspens this tall are hard to come by.
The vibrant yellow looked amazing against the blue sky–the contrast made both colors appear even more vibrant. (This makes sense because, according to color theory, blue and yellow are complimentary colors, which means the contrast appears especially striking to the eye.)
After a while, the trail dumps you out of the forest onto a road, which overlaps and intersects with a few other trails. The steady climb starts to feel a bit more taxing here as the elevation starts to become more noticeable and robs you of oxygen. The trail continues along the road for a while. This part of the hike definitely did not have the same drama or excitement.
Finally, at about 2.5 miles in, we reached the actual inner basin the trail is named for. Situated at about 10,000 feet, the inner basin is a sort of valley with a panorama of peaks around it. Even in early October, the north side of the mountains already had snow!
The entire trail is around 4 miles each way, but we weren’t up for going the whole way this time. Still, I was curious to see what was beyond the basin, so we walked a little further. The trail curved back around into the forest, transitioning into a rocky, coniferous forest instead of the aspens we’d left behind. Elevation is funny that way–the variety in ecosystems even in just a few square miles around here is tremendous. I’m told the last bit of ascent is a bit harder, but I’d like to go back and finish the upper portion of the trail, too.
Coming back down, we got different light and a different perspective. Everything was pure gold and tranquility hung in the air. Light breezes would flow through the forest and shower leaves onto the ground. There was something really enchanted about the hike that left me feeling unusually happy and refreshed. The fall air and the soft thud of my shoes on the trail were food for the soul, for sure.
Before we drove out, we circled around Lockett Meadow for more cool mountain vistas before heading home.
I’m really happy I got this awesome fall day before winter came my way. I’m looking forward to going back in the spring when the forest turns green! Anyone else get to experience some fall colors this year?