Just nine miles east of Aspen on Highway 82, Independence Pass, are grottos. A grotto is a geological term for a cave or cavern. The Grottos near Aspen were formed by rushing water of the Roaring Fork River. There is only an elevation gain of 300 feet on the three-quarters of a mile loop making it an ultra-family friendly hike. Take a picnic and fishing poles to enjoy even more time along the Roaring Fork River.
From the trailhead parking lot, cross the bridge over the Roaring Fork River to hike the Cascade Loop. Just 500 feet from the bridge, you’ll see the Grottos Trail to left. You’re on it for about 5 minutes. At the split, you can go right to the waterfall or left for the ice caves.
Hike down over some fairly flat boulder to get to the opening of the ice caves. You’ll have to climb or shimmy down to get into the caves so make sure you have sneakers, hiking shoes, or rugged sandals.
The underground world is a stunningly beautiful world of rock and water. By July, the ice has usually melted, but it is still worth the effort to get into the network of caves and explore them in late summer and fall.
After exploring, go through a rock tunnel to get back to where you climbed down. Then head back out on the rooted trail toward the waterfall. You’ll quickly see some flat rocks to the left of the trail. Go out on those to see the crevasse you were just in. A picturesque bridge is worth a stop to watch the stream flow into the caves.
From the bridge, follow the trail by looking for the cairns marking it. You may loose the trail as you venture out on rocks that look like cooled lava or rock waves. That’s okay, keep going. As you crest the rocks, you enjoy the beauty of a playground for water as it cascades down in a series of small waterfalls.
You can get close enough to feel the spray as the water rushes over rocks.
Make sure to look downstream and check out the colors in the small pools. You’ll see everything from white to jade in the pools.
Continue following the falls down. There is one spot on the trail where you have to climb down, but it is relatively easy. After you cross another bridge, the water quickly calms down as you follow the loop through tall pines and enjoy the short trek back to the trailhead.
What an interesting place this must have been to explore!
It is! Put it on your list next time you’re in Aspen.