North Fork Trail, North Fork Lake Creek Trailhead, Aspen - Snowmass, Colorado

North Fork Trail - 8.1 miles

North Fork Lake Creek Trailhead

Open valley travel on the North Fork Trail

Open valley travel on the North Fork Trail

Round-Trip Length: 8.1 miles
Start-End Elevation: 10,795' - 12,438' (elevation at pass)
Elevation Change: +1,643 net elevation gain (+1,918' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Moderate
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: Yes
Related Trails:

North Fork Trail - 8.1 Miles Round-Trip

The North Fork Trail runs 4.05 miles through a broad, glacially carved valley to Fryingpan Pass (12,438') in the Mount Massive Wilderness. The pass spans a rocky saddle on the Continental Divide under Deer Mountain between the Fryingpan River and North Fork Lake Creek drainages.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

The approach travels up a classic U-shaped valley topped by 13,000' peaks and a large tarn just below the pass. There are many good places to camp and fish in the lower valley before a strenuous climb up the headwall. 

The North Fork Trailhead is located 4.5 miles east of Independence Pass on Highway 82 between Aspen and Leadville, just far enough away from each to be overlooked. Visitors will enjoy lighter crowds and stunning alpine landscapes on the North Fork Trail:

The trail begins on a flat road bed that narrows up to a stream and the Mount Massive Wilderness Boundary (.71 miles : 11,018'). Hop the stream and continue on mild grades between thin bands of timber and the North Fork of Lake Creek. It levels from 1.3 - 2.4 miles across broad meadows under steep, open slopes ideal for glassing wildlife. 

The trail weaves through willow leading to the west branch of the creek, which you'll cross (right) and rise up a subtle ridge between branches of the North Fork (2.4 miles : 11,540'). Note that after a brief time the route will follow the east branch up to the pass.

Grades steepen through treeline along the east branch to a big grassy basin under the headwall (3.3 miles : 11,880'). Follow cairns to the base, where you'll climb nearly 500' in .5 miles to a large tarn just below the pass (3.85 miles : 12,378'). 

The cairn-marked trail may lose clarity across this rocky basin, but it's a clear and easy scramble from here to Fryingpan Pass (4.05 miles : 12,438').

Views down both valleys are exceptional, and an unmaintained but intuitive route continues into the Fryingpan drainage to join a maintained trail at Fryingpan Lakes

Deer Mountain (13,761') stands prominently over the pass, with a similar basin and tarn between it and Mount Champion (13,646') that can be reached with modest effort.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N39 06.940 W106 32.268 — 0.0 miles : North Fork Lake Creek Trailhead
  • N39 07.336 W106 32.134 — .5 miles : Fast, level travel into valley
  • N39 07.489 W106 32.170 — .71 miles : Mount Massive Wilderness Boundary
  • N39 07.724 W106 32.174 — 1.0 miles : Mild, undulating rise along creek
  • N39 08.024 W106 32.253 — 1.35 miles : Begin relatively flat stretch along creek
  • N39 08.545 W106 32.382 — 2.0 miles : Fast, level travel on valley bottom
  • N39 08.777 W106 32.455 — 2.4 miles : Cross creek and follow its east fork
  • N39 09.119 W106 32.436 — 2.9 miles : Grade steepens with views of U-shaped valley
  • N39 09.259 W106 32.069 — 3.3 miles : Level across alpine basin below pass
  • N39 09.441 W106 31.831 — 3.7 miles : Very steep switchbacks
  • N39 09.534 W106 31.865 — 3.85 miles : Large tarn just below pass
  • N39 09.669 W106 31.838 — 4.05 miles : Fryingpan Pass (12,438')

Worth Noting

  • Scaling the headwall may require technical equipment with snow cover, and the descent can be equally challenging. Traction and other devices may be necessary on this steep pitch with snow.

Camping and Backpacking Information

Backcountry Camping

  • Dispersed backcountry camping is permitted in the Mount Massive Wilderness. Self-registration permits are required. These are available at each trailhead and/or Wilderness Boundary. There is no fee or limit to the number of permits issued. Backpackers must carry a completed registration form with them for the duration of the trip.

  • Camping is prohibited within 100' of any trail, lake or stream. Group size is limited to 15 individuals (or 25 total with people + stock).

  • Campfires are permitted in the Mount Massive Wilderness. Campfires are not permitted above or within .25 miles (440 yards) of treeline, or within 100' of any lake or stream. Location and seasonal-specific restrictions may also apply.

  • Contact the Leadville Ranger District (719.486.0749) for the latest weather, trail conditions and trail-specific guidelines when planning your trip.

Fishing Information

  • Fishing is permitted at Blue Lake and on North Fork Lake Creek with a valid Colorado fishing license. Contact the Colorado Division of Wildlife or the Leadville Ranger Station (719.486.0749) to learn more about rules and restrictions related to Greenback Cutthroat Trout.

Rules and Regulations

  • Dogs must be leashed at all times in the Mount Massive Wilderness.

Directions to Trailhead

The North Fork Lake Creek Trailhead is located off Highway 82, 4.5 miles east of Independence Pass at Mile Marker 66. 

The trailhead turnoff is approximately 19.1 miles west of the HWY 24 - HWY 82 intersection at Twin Lakes, and 23.6 miles east of Original Street in downtown Aspen.

The North Fork Lake Creek Trailhead is marked by a sign below a steep switchback on Highway 82. A .1 mile dirt road leads to a small lot. The road is bumpy but short and suitable for 2WD cars in good condition.

Contact Information

Leadville Ranger District
810 Front Street
Leadville, CO 80461

Pike and San Isabel National Forest
2840 Kachina Drive
Pueblo, CO 81008

Trip Reports

There are no trip reports on this trail.


"I hiked this a few years ago and it was awesome. I was at Blue Lake first, which is in a big bowl under the divide. I wandered up to the rim and realized the North Fork was just below me. Instead of backtracking I bushwhacked down and connected with it, which was actually not that hard to do. It was steep, but most of the terrain is above treeline so there weren't many obstacles until reaching the valley floor. Once in the valley it was easy to find the North Fork Trail. The headwall up to the pass is steep, but the rest is pretty moderate. The tarn just under the pass is pretty awesome and worth going just for that. If anyone knows the name, please post it (it's not named here). Next time I'll go directly to the pass and climb Deer Mountain. I recommend the North Fork - beautiful and I didn't see anyone until getting back to the trailhead."
Tyler D.  -   -  Date Posted: April 18, 2017


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