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If you aren't used to it, high altitude can catch you off guard. Drink plenty of water to help stave off the effects of altitude sickness—dizziness, shortness of breath, headache, and nausea. Slather on the sunscreen—it's easy to get sunburned at altitude. And in summer an early morning start is best, as afternoon thunderstorms are frequent and can be dangerous above the tree line.
Maroon Bells–Snowmass Wilderness Area. Aspen excels at high-altitude scenery (seven of the state's 54 Fourteeners are in the Elk Mountain range), and nowhere is the iconic image of the Colorado Rockies more breathtaking than in the Maroon Bells–Snowmass Wilderness Area. In summer, shuttle buses take visitors up Maroon Creek Road to the base of the Maroon Bells from 9 am until 5 pm. Private cars are allowed at all other times (there is a $10 recreational fee). More ambitious sightseers can select from a number of hiking trails. Friendly forest rangers staff the Aspen Ranger District office on the west side of town, where you can get recommendations for your ability level. Aspen Ranger District, 806 W. Hallam St., Aspen, CO, 81611. 970/925–3445.
Cathedral Lake. You'll get a taste of several ecozones as you tackle Cathedral Lake, a 10.4-mile round-trip trail. The popular day hike starts gently in aspen and pine groves, but you're likely to break out in a sweat during the long, steep climb into a high valley. Another series of steep, short switchbacks ascend a headwall, followed by a scree field. From there it's a short walk to a shallow alpine lake cupped by a wall of granite cliffs. When the high-country snows melt off in mid-July the meadows and willow thickets surrounding the lake are colored with blooming wildflowers. Castle Creek Rd., Aspen, CO, 81611. 970/925-3445.
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