Kebler Pass is a bucket-list destination for Colorado leaf-peepers in the fall. The road spans about 30 miles west of Crested Butte, passing through one of the world’s largest aspen groves. It’s an awe-inspiring drive, the trees on either side thick and towering. Shades of yellow and red blend with evergreens, backdropped by the Dyke, the sharp, eroded masterpiece scraping the sky.

But Coloradans know the best adventure is outside their car. Fortunately, beside Kebler Pass there is the Horse Ranch Park trailhead. From here, one can embark far into Gunnison National Forest or, if strapped for time as we were, take a quick jaunt for great rewards.

Aspen leaves begin to turn gold outside Crested Butte, Colo. Photo by Seth Boster, The Gazette
Aspen leaves begin to turn gold outside Crested Butte, Colo. Photo by Seth Boster, The Gazette

Wildlife sightings are among those rewards — it’s no wonder elk hunters frequent the area. Trail regulars stay alert during rifle season.

If traveling uphill this way, they watch for descending mountain bikers, too, many of whom come from Lake Irwin. This flowy stretch goes to show why Crested Butte is the singletrack mecca it is.

On foot from the trailhead, we started up past a beaver dam and reached the split for the Dyke Trail 838, turning right. Lake Irwin is marked 5 miles ahead. We went only a mile through the aspen jungle — a hard-earned mile, so steep and rocky at times that some cyclists might choose to walk.

At the mile mark, we hung left for the Raggeds Wilderness. The trail descends, and the trees clear to reveal the Dyke surrounded by the aptly-named Ruby Mountains.

The vista is even more majestic ahead. Rock piles overlook the Anthracite Range and an endless valley where lone promontories appear to be floating: East Beckwith and Marcellina mountains.

Trip log: 2.5 miles (out and back), trailhead at ~8,950 feet, ~9,940 feet max

Difficulty: Moderate

Getting there: From Crested Butte, go west on Whiterock Avenue, which turns into County Road 12, Kebler Pass. In about 12 miles, see sign pointing right for Horse Ranch Park.

FYI: Non-motorized, multi-use trail. Dispersed camping allowed; locate fire ring and abide by Leave No Trace principles. Developed campgrounds along Kebler Pass. No dogs in wilderness areas.

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