Heading out from McNamara Hut for turns on Bald Knob.
Located in an area known as Burnt Hole, deep in the forest on the north side of Bald Knob (11,092 feet), McNamara Hut has a cozy secluded feeling that lends itself to sipping tea by the wood burner or exploring the nearby forest. You'll find good intermediate ski touring on Bald Knob, and experts can strike out on long tours east towards the Continental Divide.
Compared to many other huts, the McNamara has limited choices for ski routes. For ski-throughs, use the Spruce Creek route north to Margy's Hut, or you can travel west to the Hunter Creek Trailhead.
For branch routes, an ascent of Bald Knob makes a nice jaunt, but one that can lack interest for experts. Hard-core bushwhackers can try reaching the Williams Mountains in a long day from the hut — this is quite a challenge. For quick ascents to the hut, going from Hunter Creek is the most popular, mostly because it is near Aspen. Skiing from Lenado is a slightly shorter trip, but not by enough to make one choose that trailhead over Hunter Creek.
Lenado Map below connects to our Margy's Hut map on the right (east), and our Aspen map at the bottom (south). If you have trouble viewing or printing the Lendado map below, please try our PDF version.
Hunter Creek Trailhead—McNamara Hut via Van Horn Park
HUTSKI.COM FREE TOPO MAPS: Aspen, Lenado
TIME: 6 hours up, 4 hours down
DISTANCE: 6 miles ELEVATION GAIN: 2,000 feet; loss: 20 feet
This 10th Mountain suggested route is the only practical way to get to the McNamara Hut from Aspen. And going the opposite direction as a route from the hut to Aspen, this is usually the route of choice, though experts can ski to Aspen via Midway Pass (see book, "Dawson's Guide to Colorado Backcountry Skiing.")
The Van Horn Park route follows old, well-defined logging roads and is well marked with signs and blue diamonds. There are, however, several confusing junctions, and finding the trailhead can be trying. If you start from the Hunter Creek Trailhead you'll soon need climbing skins, so put them on before you start.
For travel from Aspen to the hut, leave from the Hunter Creek Trailhead. Ski a fairly level trail NE through scrub oak 1/8 mile, then across the Benedict Bridge over Hunter Creek. From here the trail climbs steeply for 3/4 mile on the south side of Hunter Creek, then breaks out into an open area at 8,600 feet elevation. Continue NE through lower angled open areas for 1/4 mile, then turn N and cross the 10th Mountain Bridge over Hunter Creek (8,640 feet). This bridge is well marked and easy to spot, but could be elusive in poor visibility. In that case, stay close to the stream past 8,600 feet elevation and you'll bump into the bridge.
After you cross the 10th Mountain Bridge, continue N for a few hundred feet, then make a climbing traverse W (downvalley) to within sight of a sturdy fence and private home. Staying about 100 feet E from the fence, begin climbing N again and you will intersect a clearly visible snow-covered (or possibly plowed, see below) road at about 8,720 feet. Follow the road as it takes a 1 1/3 mile climbing traverse to Lower Van Horn Park at Lenado Gulch. Take care not to turn left into Lenado Gulch. Just continue on an easterly tack across Lower Van Horn Park, through a gate (usually open), then climb NE through another aspen forest into Van Horn Park—a classic alpine "open space."
McNamara at nightfall.
The road just past the 10th Mountain bridge over Hunter Creek may be plowed, thus being an unpleasant walk. For better backcountry atmosphere take the following alternate route: After crossing the footbridge, take a route marked with blue diamonds on bamboo poles, which heads up the valley paralleling Hunter Creek. About a mile from the footbridge the route swings N and climbs several switchbacks of foot-trail to intersect the plowed road at a higher point just before Lower Van Horn Park at Lenado Gulch. Walk the road a short distance to reach Lower Van Horn Park, then continue with the directions above to reach Van Horn Park.
Read your map with care and ski up the north side of Van Horn Park to Lower Van Horn Saddle (really just a low-angled shelf) at 9,760 feet. Continue along the north side of the park to Upper Van Horn Park, then Upper Van Horn Saddle, a more definitive saddle at 9,925 feet, just E of point 10,097. From Upper Van Horn Saddle, ski easterly up a well-marked, narrow road-cut through the forest. This road gradually climbs 2 miles to the McNamara Hut. Generally, this trail is easy to follow. If you happen to catch it unbroken, use your compass and altimeter, and take care to not drop N down into the dense timber and steep terrain of the Woody Creek drainage. You'll usually smell wood smoke before you see the hut, as it is hidden by trees until you are within a few hundred feet.
REVERSE ROUTE: Reversing the route above is fairly simple. The crux is to get on the trail as you leave the cabin, as myriad ski tracks can be confusing. After you're on the trail, you'll find a fast downhill traverse to Upper Van Horn Saddle. From there ski the fall line down through Upper Van Horn Park. At the lower end of the park swing slightly left (S) and drop through trees into Lower Van Horn Park. Ski W across Lower Van Horn Park, re-enter the trees at the west end of the park, and find a distinct road-cut that takes you on a "flying downhill" traverse into Hunter Creek.
SAFETY NOTES: This route has almost no avalanche danger and is at the easier end of the intermediate rating. The steepest slopes in Upper Van Horn Park could avalanche given extremely unstable snow. The downhills force you into some narrow slots, so ski in control.
SUMMER: Good summer trail, hut not open.
Lenado Trailhead—McNamara Hut via Woody Creek
HUTSKI.COM FREE TOPO MAPS: Aspen, Lenado
TIME:5 1/2 hours up, 5 hours down
DISTANCE: 5 1/4 miles
ELEVATION GAIN: 1,720 feet
As a route between trailhead and hut, this alternate trail is less popular than the Van Horn Park route described above, mostly because most people like the convenience of a trailhead closer to Aspen, but also because the lower 1 1/2 miles of trail is not marked by 10th Mountain. Yet for just those reasons you'll find more wilderness solitude on this route.
Start with climbing skins. From the Lenado Trailhead, ski about 1/4 mile up the road from the trailhead to a point just before an automobile bridge crossing Woody Creek (8,680 feet). On the right side of the road you'll see Forest Service trailhead signs. Leave the road here and ski past the signs and up the Woody Creek drainage. The best route follows that of a summer pack trail but snow cover and low branches may dictate custom route-finding. Your exact route up the drainage is not important, while drainage identification is. Using all the navigation tools at your disposal, spot Cliff Creek's confluence with Woody Creek. Continue up Woody Creek, and at the next confluence, that of Spruce Creek and Woody Creek, find the marked 10th Mountain trail on the north side of Woody Creek (9,440 feet).
Due to the well-maintained and marked 10th Mountain suggested route from here to the McNamara Hut, orienteering is easier above this point. One note, however: you won't see blue diamonds—this section of trail is marked with tree blazes. From the Spruce Creek confluence follow the 10th Mountain marked trail another mile along the north side of Woody Creek. Stay on the trail as it crosses to the south side of Woody Creek (9,900 feet), then makes a switchback to the W, climbing up the south side of the Woody Creek drainage. This is perhaps the most critical juncture of the route, but it can be easily identified by careful altimeter use. Follow the switchback 1/2 mile W into a shallow gulch, then turn S and continue on the marked trail as it climbs the gulch to 10,240 feet. Here the trail turns and begins a westerly, gradually climbing traverse 2 miles to the McNamara Hut. The hut is visible from several hundred yards away.
REVERSE ROUTE: Leaving from the front porch of the McNamara Hut, ski directly SW a few hundred feet, then swing E and follow a gradually dropping contour for 2 miles to 10,240 feet at a shallow gulch. Turn N and ski down the gulch (this can be difficult, use caution) to 9,960 feet. Stay on the trail as it turns and follows a dropping traverse E into the Woody Creek drainage, crosses Woody Creek, then follows the north side of the creek to Woody Creek's intersection with Spruce Creek. Here, the marked 10th Mountain suggested route continues up Spruce Creek to Margy's Hut.
To continue to the Lenado Trailhead, stay in the Woody Creek drainage. Ski the north side of Woody Creek for another mile or so, then cross the stream and ski the south side the next 1/2 mile to the automobile bridge mentioned above, then continue a short distance down the main road to the plow turnaround. Again, remember that the 10th Mountain suggested portion of this route is mostly marked with tree blazes, while the portion in lower Woody Creek has few markers of any sort.
SAFETY NOTES: With extremely unstable snow, bank sluffs are possible on the steep sides of the Woody Creek drainage. These areas are easy to avoid, but pay attention. Be careful as you ski down into Woody Creek, as many tempting runs have stumps and rocks just under the snow's surface.
SUMMER: This route is a fine hike, but horses should avoid the section from Woody Creek to the hut, as this trail is mostly just a marked winter route with no real path. Cyclists should note the wilderness boundary a short distance up Woody Creek from the trailhead. Hut is not open in summer.
Lenado Gulch Trailhead—McNamara Hut via Lenado Gulch
HUTSKI.COM FREE TOPO MAPS: Aspen, Lenado
TIME: 7 hours up, 6 hours down
DISTANCE: 6 1/2 miles
ELEVATION GAIN: 2,300 feet; loss: 480 feet
This alternate route follows classic, old-fashioned logging roads. Usually these are the perfect angle for hiking, horses, cycling, or mellow skiing—this one is no exception. Due to it's lack of "official" status, this is another lightly traveled trail that allows more solitude and requires more map work.
ROUTE DESCRIPTION: As it is with many routes from trailhead to hut, the crux of this trip is finding the start of the trail. We'll be adding this trailhead to our trailheads section, for now know it's fairly easy to find in Lenado (see trailhead links at top of this page), just use your HutSki.com free topo map and a GPS, see the map for your GPS cords..
Once on the trail the going is mostly straightforward, but a few tricky spots can catch the unwary. Put your climbing skins on at the start. From the road, follow the trail for several hundred feet S, stay on the trail as it makes a left, then climbs E, then S, and switchbacks W. The trail then makes a long 2-mile climbing traverse W along the side of the Woody Creek valley, winding in and out of numerous small gulches to a turn left (S) around a shoulder at 9,700 feet. From here turn S and follow the trail 1/3 mile as it passes first though open forest, then through a few open areas to a meadow at 9,800 feet. This meadow is called Four Corners, and may be marked by a sign (which may be covered by snow). Continue S downhill from Four Corners on a distinct road-cut for 1 mile to a grove of aspen at the lower (W) end of Lower Van Horn Park (9,360 feet). Here you intersect the Van Horn Park route (see above), which you follow to the McNamara Hut.
REVERSE ROUTE: To follow this route from the McNamara Hut, descend the Van Horn Park reverse route to the aspen grove at the lower (west) end of Lower Van Horn Park. Leave the marked route here and turn right (N) onto the Lenado Gulch road-cut. Climb 1 mile and 440 vertical feet to Four Corners. Start down the hill N from Four Corners and identify the trail as it swings E to the side of the Woody Creek drainage. Stay on the trail as it takes a wild downhill traverse E into the Woody Creek valley, eventually dropping you onto the Woody Creek Road a short distance downvalley from the winter plow turn.
SAFETY NOTES: See routes above. Take care at Four Corners to use your orienteering skills, many groups have become a bit bewildered here -- or even lost. GPS recommended.
SUMMER: Good summer trail, hut not open.
McNamara Hut to Margy's Hut via Spruce Creek
HUTSKI.COM FREE TOPO MAPS: Aspen, Lenado
TIME: 8 hours
DISTANCE: 8 1/4 miles
ELEVATION GAIN: 1,860 feet; loss: 920 feet
This is the 10th Mountain suggested route from the McNamara Hut to Margy's Hut. For most of the tour you'll be in dense conifer forest. From McNamara a well marked trail to the Spruce Creek/Woody Creek confluence, where the Spruce Creek Trail intersects the Woody Creek Trail (9,400 feet). Keep a careful eye out for this junction, it's marked by 10th Mountain, but that's no reason to shirk your map and GPS duties. At the junction put on your skins and ski N then NE up the well-defined, well-marked Spruce Creek Trail. You have a long pull ahead of you, as the trail follows the Spruce Creek drainage 3 1/4 miles and 1,560 vertical feet to the west end of Sawmill Park (11,000 feet).
As soon as you enter Sawmill Park keep a sharp eye out for another trail fork on your left. Many groups miss this junction—the trick is to identify Sawmill Park, then stay at the lower (west) end of the park and carefully search out the 10th Mountain junction markers on a couple of medium-sized evergreens. GPS recommended. If you've skied more than 75 feet into the open park, you have gone too far. Once you find the junction, leave the main trail and follow a spur W then SW as it makes a 1 3/4-mile climbing traverse up to the hut. The hut is usually visible from several hundred yards away, but it may be hidden by snow on heavy snow years, with just the upper front windows visible.
SAFETY NOTES: Be careful on the downhill into Woody Creek. Use care identifying the junction in Sawmill Park.
SUMMER: This route is a good hike, but most equestrians will find too much brush and deadfall for fun horse travel. Cyclists are not allowed on this wilderness trail.
McNamara Hut to Benedict Hut via Slab Park and No Name Creek
HUTSKI.COM FREE TOPO MAPS: Aspen, Lenado
TIME: 8 hours
DISTANCE: 7 1/2 miles
ELEVATION GAIN: 2,120 feet
Get back to Wilderness values with this route—it passes through such pristine forest that no trail marking is allowed! Map, compass, altimeter, GPS, pull out all the stops—this is the real thing! From the McNamara Hut, follow the well used trail towards the summit of Bald Knob (see route description above). At 10,800 feet swing E and do a 1/2 mile contour to a saddle. This is your first highpoint and the Wilderness boundary, where the markers change from plastic diamonds to tree blazes. Ski from the saddle SE down into Slab Park. At the bottom (south) end of Slab Park you’ll enter a small drainage. Cross the drainage and continue SE though an elongated clearing that leads you through a low-angled saddle, then to the clear area of Hunter Flats. Scoot S down the fall line from Hunter Flats, making sure you stay within 1/4 mile of Thimble Rock since there is only one good passage down the steep valley-side into Hunter Creek.
To preserve the pristine nature of this part of the Hunter/Fryingpan Wilderness, the next section of trail has no standard markers. Cross Hunter Creek at 9,440 feet, identify the No Name Creek Drainage, then head up the E side of No Name Creek to about 10,060 feet. A concrete water diversion structure is located slightly farther up the creek (perhaps this area is not as pristine as we'd like to think), if you pass this you’ve gone too far. Leave the No Name drainage by climbing switchbacks W to 11,000 feet, then follow an unmarked route SW and W through timber and open areas 1 3/4 mile to the huts. The key here is to reach the area of Warren lakes (see map) rather than deviating north or south to the extent that you miss the open areas around the lakes. Expert use of map and compass is essential here, and a GPS would be helpful with the hut location entered as your destination. The huts are visible after you cross through a small timbered area 1/4 mile away.
SAFETY NOTES: This tricky route lacks the usual plethora of plastic trail markers you'll find on most official 10th Mountain hut routes, and the best path does not always follow obvious drainages or ridges. So carry all your tools for detailed navigation, and enjoy wilderness travel as Davy Crockett must have known it (or program 47 waypoints into your GPS).
SUMMER: Enjoy hiking and horseback riding in this terrific Wilderness. Multi-use areas near the huts are great places for cycling and other forms of mechanized recreation. Motorized restrictions vary, so check signs and maps if you’re driving.
McNamara Hut Regional Skiing
Bald Knob from McNamara Hut
HUTSKI.COM MAPS: Aspen, Lenado
TIME: Several hours round trip
DISTANCE: 2 miles round trip
ELEVATION GAIN: 732 feet round trip
This is the most popular branch from the McNamara Hut. The spectacular view of the Elk Mountains from Bald Knob (11,092 feet) makes up for the McNamara Hut's lack thereof, and the skiing is terrific. From the hut's front porch ski to the water hole, then continue SW up the left side of the intermittent stream shown on the USGS Thimble Rock map. At about 1/4 mile swing left and climb S up open areas with burnt trees, then through a grove of evergreens to Bald Knob's summit. Enjoy the view of the spectacular Elk Mountains and try to spot Margy's Hut which is visible from several spots near the Bald Knob summit. For downhill skiing check out the aforementioned open areas, or explore glades to the east of the summit, taking care to traverse back to the hut before dropping into Slab Park.
SAFETY NOTES: Remember that Bald Knob is not a maintained ski resort! Hidden obstacles and sudden drop-offs exist. Ski in control.
SUMMER: This is a beautiful wildflower hike. No maintained trail exists for bikes or horses. The wilderness boundary runs north/south through the summit.
Williams Mountains from McNamara Hut
HUTSKI.COM FREE TOPO MAPS: Aspen, Lenado,
TIME: Very long day
DISTANCE: 14 miles round trip
ELEVATION GAIN: 2,890 feet round trip
Few peak climbs are possible from the McNamara Hut. The alpine ridge nearest the hut is miles away, with an approach through heavy timber that can make the best orienteer weep. Skilled ski mountaineers still enjoy trying this route—and some make it. All groups attempting this route should have a map, compass, altimeter, and avalanche transceivers. A GPS unit could be handy as well.
To begin, take the well traveled ski route to the summit of Bald Knob. Get out your map on the summit and plan ahead, with the following description as a guideline. Ski E than NE down Bald Knob into the upper end of Slab Park (10,600 feet). Put skins on here, then climb E into Horse Park, then ski to the far east end of Horse Park. Use compass and map here to climb E onto a bumpy, timber-studded ridge that climbs 2 miles to the summit of point 11,900 (a good goal in itself), then drops another 3/4 miles E to a saddle at 11,500 feet. Take care with your orienteering on this ridge, as you'll be in some dense timber. It may be possible to save some work by contouring the south side of point 11,900.
Climb E from the saddle and you'll soon break timberline and be on a beautiful west face dropping from the Williams Mountains ridge. Before you climb to the ridge, spend some time doing your avalanche evaluation. This slope is often wind-scoured and safe, but may be loaded with unstable snow. Depending on conditions, hike or ski the 650 vertical feet from timberline to the ridge top. Return via the same route, perhaps with a traverse below Bald Knob to save energy.
SAFETY NOTES: This route requires expertise in all aspects of winter mountaineering, hence its expert rating. You'll find little problem with avalanche danger until the final open slope on the Williams Mountains ridge, where you should use extreme caution. Turn back if you have doubts.
SUMMER: Heavy timber on much of this route makes for difficult hiking. The Williams Mountains ridge, however, is a worthy summer objective. To avoid some of the timber, use the pack trail shown dropping from the 11,500-foot saddle. With either choice the route is long and strenuous.
Please note: The information in this website is based on the experience and research of the site owners and their sources, may not be accurate, and might not be perceived as accurate by other persons. Therefore, extreme care should be taken when following any of the backcountry skiing 10th Mountain Huts, Summit Huts and Braun Huts routes described in this website. This website is not intended to be instructional but rather is a guide for backcountry users who already have the requisite training, experience, and knowledge for the activities they choose. An advanced level of expertise and physical conditioning is necessary for even the "easiest" of the routes and activities described herein. Proper clothing and equipment is essential. Failure to have the necessary knowledge, equipment, and conditioning will subject you to physical danger, injury, or death. Some backcountry skiing routes for 10th Mountain Huts, Summit Huts and Braun Huts have changed and others will change; avalanche hazards may have expanded or new hazards may have formed since this website's publication.
Mission statement: The mission of HutSki.com is to provide backcountry skiers and other Colorado hut users with a complete set of high quality free topo maps, plentiful how-to information, and brief route descriptions that include alternate routes as well as standard trails.