Explore Colorado / Explore The Outdoors

Hike to Ice Caves, Waterfall and Erratics on Grottos Trail Near Aspen, Colorado

This is a short hike with a huge wow factor. The Grottos Trail off of Independence Pass near Aspen, Colorado, has geological wonders including unusual boulders, an ice cave and cascading waterfall. Grottos Trail is very popular. To be the crowds, do what my friend Lisa and I did. Get to the trailhead before 7 a.m. We started hiking about 6:45 a.m. and had it to ourselves. The early start also explains the no makeup look. By 10 a.m., the small parking lot is usually full.

We decided to hike the loop counterclockwise to do the caves before the cascades. Shortly after crossing the bridge, you see your first geological wonder. There are boulders on a huge slab of granite that look like they were just dropped there. Those are called erratics. The large stones were transported by a glacier and left behind after it melted about 18,000 years ago. The smooth rock knoll the erratics are resting is called a whaleback.

It only takes about five minutes to get to the sign for the ice caves.  Walk across the slick rock to a clump of small trees in front of a protruding boulder.  That’s the entry.  It’s about a six-foot climb down, and back out, of the ice caves.  Wear hiking shoes and sneakers on this trail.  You’ll want the traction on this short climb.

Once inside, there is so much to look at as you listen to the water.  There are usually large slabs of ice, even in summer.  The walls are ultra-smooth.  It really looks like something out-of-this-world. It’s a place you can visit many times and never has the same experience because the ice caves change depending on the weather.

Once back out, follow the trail signs.  There are a lot of them.  When you’re on top of the slickrock, take a quick detour carefully walking over to the large crack.  That’s the opening to the ice caves you were just in. You’ll cross a wooden bridge that also had an interesting view of the ice caves.

It’s just a few more minutes to the cascades.  As the sun starts to shine on the water, it’s extra beautiful.  There’s a part of the falls that looks like a giant wash tub to me as the water swirls and churns in it.  There’s plenty of space to explore and have a picnic.

Followed the trail along the river, although it’s not as well marked as other parts of it.  You’ll see a small bridge, but you have to climb down the slick rock.  We found it easiest to walk over by the water and scoot down then traverse back over to the three natural steps.

After you cross the river, climb up slick rock for a close up very of the erratics.

You’ll see the trail you started on.  Take it back across the river to the parking lot.

The trailhead is 9 miles east of Aspen on Highway 82 (Independence Pass). The parking lot is a little tricky to find. When you see the Weller Campground sign, slow way down as Grottos Trail parking is only 200 yards on the right. The sign isn’t easy to see driving from Aspen.

Author Jennifer Broome has spent a lot of time in and around Aspen in all seasons. Check out her blog on John Denver Sanctuary for one of her favorite spots in town.

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