'Magic' Crystal River

by K. Christopherson

Many anglers head to the Aspen area for the fine flyfishing on the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan. And most of these people overlook one of the region's other fine streams, the Crystal. This freestone river runs for almost 35 miles along a quiet path which is sided by some of Colorado's gorgeous scenery.

The headwaters of the Crystal lie above the town of Marble. This alpine country of high peaks is home to a large marble deposit. The marble was quarried for use in many well-known buildings, including the Lincoln Memorial. The quarry re-opened a few years ago, and will supply the marble for the restoration of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. As you drive to the headwaters of the Crystal, you'll drive through the town of Marble where the mill was. Large blocks of marble lie everywhere. This makes for scenic footing as you cast into the river!

The Crystal ends at Carbondale where it merges with the Roaring Fork. Note - this is where some of the finest fishing, albeit not the greatest scenery, can be found. The confluence can be great fishing during the spring and fall when the rainbows and browns (respectively) run up the Crystal to spawn. You'll also find a large population of Whitefish in the Crystal. Get off you high horse about these fish - they're fun to chase too!

Crystal River near Marble, Colorado
White marble and snow line the banks in the spring

All but the last six miles of the river's course flow through White River National Forest. This makes access a bit easier to figure out, as long as you respect the private lands within the forest. The upper reaches can be accessed at campgrounds and turnouts. Fishing is also allowed at the historic Redstone Lodge (for a fee).

The Crystal has a good mix of water with flatter sections spelling the rough 'n tumble, boulder-strewn plunge pools. This same water attracts kayakers in the Spring. On that subject, the Crystal river is not always crystal clear. The beauty of the area, in part created by the geology, also lends a hand in muddying up this stream during runoff or heavy rains. During these times, your best bet will be to head east and fishing the Roaring Fork above its confluence with the Crystal.

Crystal River near Redstone, Colorado
Flowing near Redstone
Flyfishing on the Crystal in Colorado
Views of the higher country

Access near Carbondale:

  • Days Inn at Carbondale: Park in the lot near the Days Inn. Signage will explain the access (about 1/2 mile of river)
  • Satank: Just northwest of Carbondale; take Hwy 82 north and turn south onto Satank Road. Road will end and there's a parking area. You can fish the Crystal to the confluence with the Roaring Fork.
  • Staircase Park: Turn off Hwy 133 and drive behind the 7-11 and City Market. You're looking for Crystal Village. Turn in at the entrance and turn right on Oak Run. After about 1/4 mile look for a walkway down to the river and a park.
  • DOW Hatchery: Fishing allowed on the Crystal near and at the hatchery. Located on Hwy 133 about 1 mile south of Carbondale
  • Else, drive upstream and look for public access on National Forest lands

Side trips:

  • If the Crystal is blown out, or you yearn to fish a smaller creek, turn off Hwy 133 at Avalanche Creek (this is about 11 miles south of Carbondale). This small creek can be fun to fish for brookies. The area is closed to dogs part of the year for wildlife protection
  • There are hot springs in the river. These are natural (not developed) and offer a fun way to end your day!. Park by the side of the road just above the "Narrows" or about 1.5 miles north of Redstone Campground. They're called Penny Hot Springs, but don't look for any large flashing signs. If no one is in the river bathing, look for some rock pools formed at the river's edge. Jump in and adjust the temp to your liking by changing how much river water mixes with the thermal waters.


colorado fishing bookClick here to buy an Ebook about Trout fishing on Colorado State lands - includes info about areas near Marble and Basalt.


colorado fishing topo map Click here to buy topo maps for this area. You need map 128 which will cover a good portion of the Crystal.  Maps are produced by National Geographic Maps

Check out the web site for White River Nat'l Forest for info on camping, hikes, and drives


In the area are numerous campgrounds and a variety of lodging types. In Basalt try the Taylor Creek Cabins


  • No special fishing regs on the Crystal or Avalanche Creek.