From out of the Frying Pan into the (camp)fire, here’s an intro to basecamp options in the Frying Pan Wilderness Area with intel on a handful of day-trip excursions for hiking, climbing, 4WDing or simply floating.
FRYING PAN ROAD SOUNDS LIKE THE TITLE OF A FOODIE MOVIE.
It’s what Midland Avenue becomes as soon as Basalt’s main thoroughfare turns uphill and begins winding alongside the gold medal Frying Pan River. Simply “the Pan” if you live within sight of it, this river is so narrow and steep in parts that you won’t see rafts or even the most intrepid kayaker on it. Instead, you’ll see cabins, an original homestead, and the remnants of old whistle-stop towns. As well as blue heron. You’ll occasionally come across a bear in broad daylight lumbering down the road, and if you slow down and look up the craggy red cliffs to your left at around mile marker 3, you may see Bighorn sheep, one of the largest managed wild herds in Colorado.
FOR THE FIRST 14 MILES
Expect ski boat on trailers up to Ruedi Reservoir, and strings of road bikers climbing the narrow canyon, an early-season training ground.
Frying Pan Road gets way more interesting, and way less trafficked, as you pass Ruedi. Be sure to slow down to an utter crawl through the towns of Thomasville and Meredith, as their posted signs about baby foxes crossing the road are actually not just cute. Further along, the Norrie Colony began as a 19th Century ice-production camp. The original railroad line carried ice blocks heading East over the Continental Divide. More evidence of early American Western railroad history shows up as the road changes from pavement to dirt.
FROM RUEDI TO HAGERMAN PASS
The winding switchbacks ultimately connect the Roaring Fork and Frying Pan drainages to Leadville and the Arkansas River. In this remote area, the same water diversion infrastructure operates that has defined water rights and management systems since the 1940s, and still plays a major role in the West. Slow down. Or pull over and look around. There is a lot to see. Here are a few favorite ways to explore the backcountry in this storied, remote, yet accessible wilderness area.
a. Mollie B. Campground
Located at the Ruedi Marina, the Mollie B. Campground offers standard non-electric RV sites with a public grey and black water dump location and vault toilets. Popular with boaters who use the marina boat ramp to access Ruedi Reservoir.
b. Deerhammer Campground
One loop with eleven sites located on the Frying Pan River at the top of Ruedi Reservoir. Standard non-electric RV-tent sites with fire rings and pit toilets.
c. Beyul Retreat
Just past Montgomery Flats on the Frying Pan Road is the Beyul Retreat at Diamond J Ranch. (Pronounced Bay-Yule, a Tibetan word meaning “hidden lands.”) Under new ownership and management, here is a wilderness glamping destination with cabin rentals and rooms in a historic, renovated lodge house. Farm-or-Frying Pan-to-Table dinners. Weddings. SUP excursions. Private parties, or yoga retreats. Book your stay on one of the weekends when they plan a Vision Quest, or when the campfire songs are provided by a nationally followed a touring jam band at Beyul for their own R&R and a private concert for guests.
d. Harry Gates Hut*
The largest of the 10th Mountain-owned huts, with two floors that can sleep 16. A three-level hut with six sleeping areas, including two private rooms upstairs.
e. Elk Wallow Campground
Seven primitive campsites are adjacent to the North Fork of the Frying Pan River. Suitable for tent camping and small, high-clearance RVs. Amenities include fire rings, picnic tables, and one pit toilet. No reservations; first-come, first served.
f. Chapman Campground
While Chapman Dam / Reservoir Area can make a fun day trip for fishing and SUPing, the campground offers 84 standard non-electric sites for tents or RVs, plus one large group site that can host up to 50 people. Please note the COVID restrictions in place at press time. At this point, Pitkin County limits the usage of the group site to 10 people. Individual sites vary in terrain from riverside spots to campsites near the reservoir. Amenities include multiple vault toilet facilities, potable water, bear lockers at most sites, and a .8 mile hiking loop with views of the Continental Divide.
g. Margy’s Hut*
Named for Margy McNamara, the wife of former secretary of defense and member of the 10th Mountain Division, Robert McNamara. Margy’s Hut and the McNamara Hut were the first two huts constructed by the 10th Mountain Hut Association. Margy’s Hut is located just below timberline, with beautiful views of the Elk Range.
h. Betty Bear Hut*
Handicap-accessible during the summer season, with two-level and four sleeping areas. It is located on the western slope of the Continental Divide near Hagerman Pass at 11,100 feet.
*A note about Summer 2021 use of 10th Mountain Huts
Because of physical distancing requirements, huts are currently available for entire-occupancy bookings only. The Harry Gates, Margy’s, and Betty Bear Huts are all accessible by road in the summertime by 4WD roads, as indicated on our map. Driving offers an opportunity to have a first hut experience without the navigational and terrain challenges inherent in planning wintertime hut trips.
D. Lime Creek Loop
Eagle/ Thomasville Road #400 and Burnt Mountain Road #506
1. Rock Climbing Area
In the summer and fall, the huts, trails, and crags in this area are used for hiking, camping, and climbing. You have two options for summer access to this area: Eagle Thomasville Rd 400 or Burnt Mtn Road 506. Snow can be persistent on the shady sides (north-facing slopes) well into the spring and early summer months as the elevation for the area hovers around 10,000ft. Also, be aware that the road surface deteriorates substantially with any amount of accumulated rain. Studded, mud, off-road, and any form of dedicated tire and chain combination are virtually ineffective in gaining traction. The warning signs at the start of the roads should not be overlooked.
TH7 Lyle & Mormon Lakes Trail
This is a great family hike with beautiful, high alpine meadows and seasonal wildflowers. It runs just west of the Continental Divide. The overall trail is 3.3 miles to Mormon Lake with Lyle Lake as a midpoint. You will gain less than 1000 feet of elevation, starting at approximately 10,700 ft and climbing moderately to 11,369.
2-3 Hagerman Tunnel
Here is an interesting short excursion that can be included as an exploration hike from the Betty Bear Hut or could be done as part of a day trip out looking at the railroad history of the Upper Frying Pan. The remains of the Hagerman Tunnel can be found below the Continental Divide and can be accessed on the old railroad grade that had been routed by Ivanhoe Lake. It’s a worthwhile landmark and poking around on either side of the Divide can be great to gain some understanding of the magnitude of the early 20th-century investment in the railroad and engineering.
C. Hagerman Pass
Frying Pan Road (#104 and #105) crosses the Continental Divide at Hagerman Pass and continues to the town of Leadville. The route beyond the pass requires a high-clearance vehicle with four-wheel drive AND a driver experienced with 4WD techniques. It is not uncommon to come upon a driver hopelessly stuck, waiting for help in an area without cell reception.
Aspen Alpine Guides: Trained mountaineers with expert knowledge for planning and guiding your trip.
Beyul Retreat: Wilderness lodge with guest cabins, lodge rooms, and distinctive programming.
10th Mountain Huts: Backcountry huts for winter and summer lodging. Ask for the West Side System Map for Summer Hiking and Biking.
Recreation.gov Online booking for Mollie B, Deerhammer & Chapman Campgrounds.