Snow-covered in winter and green during summer, Aspen is well-loved by outdoor enthusiasts from all over the world. This ski resort town, nestled in Colorado, has beautiful mountains and challenging slopes that make for one thrilling vacation. Of course, it also has its fair share of attractions for those who are interested in arts and culture. It is home to various theater productions, as well as music and art events.
Aspen is an ideal vacation destination whole year round. Here’s a list of some of the most awesome things you’ll find when you visit the town!
1. Beautiful hiking trails
Surrounded by mountains, Aspen is dotted by beautiful hiking trails you can explore. There’s Maroon Bells, for instance, one of the most photographed places in the alps of Colorado. It is located approximately 11,335 feet (3,455 meters) above sea level and has two peaks, the Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak. Various hiking trails in the Maroon Bells range from one mile (1.6 kilometer) to 10 miles (16 kilometers). Hiring a guide is strongly recommended. Meanwhile, visitors interested in camping can go to the Silver Bell Campground near the Maroon Creek. During winter, most of the roads in the area are closed for vehicles but Maroon Bells still welcome guests for cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and snowshoeing.
2. Challenging ski slopes
Skiing is an essential part of every Aspen winter trip. There are four main ski destinations in town, so there’s no excuse not to try the favorite winter sport of the locals. One is the Aspen Mountain, which once hosted the Ski World Cup. Imagine skiing on the same trail where world champions raced a course and earned recognition! For a quieter skiing area, head to the Aspen Highlands where you will find the Highland Bowl and also the Cloud Nine chairlift. Next, there is the Buttermilk, the smallest of all skiing destinations with only 470 acres (190 hectares) of skiable terrain. Meanwhile, the biggest of them all is Snowmass, spanning 3332 acres (1348 hectares). You may bring your own ski gear, but if you don’t own one, you can easily find ski rental shops in Aspen.
3. Aspen’s flora and fauna
Located near the Roaring Fork River, Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES) provides an exemplary setting for hands-on learning for all ages. This 22-acre (9-hectare) sanctuary provides guided walks during summer, snowshoeing activities during winter, special programs for kids, as well as raptor demonstrations. Meanwhile, if you are bringing the whole family, you can avail of the Rock Bottom Ranch Farm Tour which will take you to animal paddocks and hoop houses. It is a valuable opportunity to learn the science behind the local vegetable production and livestock system.
4. Relaxing hot springs
Conundrum Hot Springs, an undeveloped yet popular pool complex in Aspen, features two main springs with incredible views and four smaller ones which visitors can use for free. In 2008, it was mentioned in Time Magazine as one of the 50 Authentic American Experiences. Visitors would need to hike an intermediate-level trail with a total of 8.5 miles (13 kilometers) to reach the site. After the challenging hike, reward yourself with a relaxing dip in one of the pools where the temperature reaches up to 100 degrees fahrenheit (37 degrees celsius). Camping is the only accommodation option at the Conundrum Hot Springs. There’s a total of 16 campsites you can choose from. The best times to go here are during spring, summer, and autumn.
5. Great views at the Independence Pass
Great views await travellers at the Independence Pass, a passage located in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. It is approximately 12,095 feet (3686.556 meters) above sea level, lined with Aspen trees and dotted with creeks. There is a popular stop along the Continental Divide, where you can take photos and walk on paths of alpine meadows. Due to weather conditions, the Independence Pass is only accessible from Memorial Day to the first few days of November. The pass also serves as the shortcut to and from Denver, making the usual trip shorter by 40 miles (64 kilometers). Most locals will agree that it is a must-see for Aspen first-timers. Don’t forget to have your photo taken at the iconic Continental Divide sign!
6. A 2.5-mile gondola ride
The Silver Queen Gondola, a 2.5-mile (4 kilometers) cable car system, is an alternative way of reaching the summit of the Aspen Mountain. A one-way ride usually takes 20 minutes. At the summit, there are an array of activities you can choose from, which includes hiking, lawn games, kids shows and even yoga. Guided nature walks are also offered here by the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies. In case you get hungry with all these fun activities, head over to the sundeck restaurant. Here, visitors can relax and have a meal while marvelling at the beautiful landscape. The gondola operates from 10 am to 4 pm during summer and 9 am to 3:30 pm during winter.
7. Smuggler Mine Tour
Before it was known as a ski town, Aspen had been a world-class mining town for many years. In fact, the world’s largest nugget of silver was harvested here in 1894. At present, you can learn about Aspen’s mining history by joining the Smuggler Mine Tour. Put a hard hat on and let the guide take you through every aspect of mining, from its early days to its present state. Smuggler Mine, the oldest operating mine in Aspen, is 1,200 feet (365 meters) below the ground and contains relics of tracks, carts and timbers used by miners. Be extra careful when you’re inside and don’t forget to wear durable shoes. A jacket would also help since the mine has a cool temperature.
8. A family-friendly indoor recreation center
Travelling with the whole family? Take them to the Aspen Recreation Center (ARC), an indoor facility where people of all ages can enjoy leisure and entertainment. For the kids, there are hockey games, ice skating classes, guitar lessons and art activities. Sporty ones can even try martial arts, karate, and swimming lessons. Meanwhile, for the adults, ARC has a modern fitness center fully equipped with treadmills, stationary bikes, stair climbers and rowing machines. Television sets are everywhere, allowing guests to enjoy watching their favorite shows while they are sweating it out. ARC is also a popular location for birthday parties and other big gatherings. If would like to hold a celebration at the recreation center, contact them beforehand to see which areas are available on the date you have chosen.
9. The legacy of singer-songwriter John Denver
Whether you are a fan of the late singer-songwriter or just looking for a nice place to take a stroll, the John Denver Sanctuary is a must-see when in Aspen. Located next to the Roaring Fork River, it is one of the largest perennial flower gardens in the country. Included in the highlights of the park are rocks inscribed with song lyrics and quotes from John Denver. The place, tranquil and surrounded with nice mountain views, is also a perfect place to simply sit and reflect. However, during summer, expect a more livelier mood in time for the live stage entertainment organized by Theater Aspen.
10. Aspen’s annual music festival
Speaking of entertainment, music lovers from all over the world flock to this town during summer to attend the Aspen Music Festival. The event is usually held from June to August of each year, featuring hundreds of performances. Due to the number of attendees and the presence of top musicians, it is dubbed “the premier classical music festival of the United States.” Some performances are held in indoor venues, while some are conducted in an open area with lawn seating. Another great thing about this event: most of the concerts are free! Meanwhile, if you are interested to learn more about classical music, you can attend one of the master classes offered by the Aspen Music School.
11. Local theater performances
If you can’t come during the Aspen Music Festival in the summer, you can still visit local entertainment venues whole year round. There’s the Wheeler Opera House located at East Hyman Avenue, where you can watch a variety of shows including theater plays and musicals, as well as films. The opera house, which has a maximum capacity of more than 500 people, is also well-known for its beautiful 19th century-style architecture. Another option is the Aspen Hurst Theatre, a professional theatre at the Rio Grande Park. Here, both broadway talents and local artists collaborate to produce world-class musicals and plays.
12. Contemporary art collections
For visual arts enthusiasts, the Aspen Art Museum is a must-visit. It contains exhibitions of contemporary art pieces, including paintings, sculptures, and drawings, as well as multimedia installations and electronic media. It also hosts various events to engage both the locals and the visitors in arts and culture. If you wish, you can even spend time sketching here. Just take note that sketchpads allowed in the museum should not be larger than 8 ½ x 11 inches (21.6 x 27.9 cm). Ink, paint and easels are not allowed, but you may bring your own pencils. Admission to the museum is free. Meanwhile, if you get hungry, there’s a cafe on the same building which serves coffee, croissants, and lunch.
13. Local beer brew
Love craft beer? Visit the Aspen Brewing Company, a brewing facility founded in 2008, and learn all about local beer production. Reservations are needed, so make sure you contact them before dropping by. You can also visit their tap room, which is open seven days a week from 2 pm to 10 pm. Here, you can chill out with a glass of cold beer or buy them in cans and bottles to go. For free live music, come during Fridays and Saturdays throughout summer and winter!
14. Delicious burgers and sandwiches
For a juicy and greasy burger fix when in Aspen, both locals and visitors recommend the White House Tavern located in Hopkins. It is a decade-old restaurant housed in a former miner’s cottage with a Gothic-style edifice. Aside from their mouthwatering burgers, well-loved items on their menu include crispy chicken sandwich, creamed corn and deviled eggs. If the weather is good, make sure to get an al fresco seat. If not, don’t worry because you can still cozy up in one of the wooden booths inside the restaurant. Other burger restaurants in Aspen worth noting are the Ajax Tavern, J-Bar at the Hotel Jerome, 520 Grill, and CP Burger.
15. Local meat and produce
There’s a new eatery in Aspen that has captured the palate of the locals: the Meat & Cheese Restaurant of renowned cheesemaker Wendy Mitchell. Some of the best items on their menu include the meat & cheese board, the sausage board, the local rotisserie chicken and porchetta board. The best thing about their menu is that they use locally sourced and sustainably raised ingredients, yet they manage to incorporate culinary influences from all over America, Europe and Asia. In case you’d like to have a sip of wine or craft beer, just ask for their beer and beverages menu. For takeaways, go to their Farm Shop and choose from over 50 special kinds of cheeses and 20 different styles of cured meat, as well as seafood, farm eggs, and freshly baked bread.
A vacation for all seasons
It doesn’t matter which time of the year you come to Aspen, because you will surely find something you will love in this charming town all year-round. Its winters offer great skiing opportunities, while its summers allow you to explore wider trails and get sun-kissed. Meanwhile, its springs and autumns also offer a different atmosphere for outdoor enthusiasts.
A reminder for people who have altitude sickness: instead of flying directly to Aspen Airport, you can fly to Denver and spend a day there to get used to the altitude. Then, take a four-hour drive from Denver to Aspen through either Glenwood Springs or the Independence Pass, which is open only during summer.
Get Trip101 in your inbox