K.C. was a featured writer for Yahoo! Travel before joining trips to discover in 2013. She is the author of Best Travel Guide for First Time Visitors to Ireland, an Amazon bestseller every year between 2013 and 2016. She has been a featured expert on Newsweek, Travel + Leisure, Travelocity, among others.
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Aspen is one of Colorado’s most famous, and most stunning, mountain towns. Not only can you enjoy breathtaking scenery while you’re here, but a long list of things to do – consider these options for your must-do list.
The Maroon Bells are a must-see for anyone visiting Aspen, just a short drive from town and you can capture your own image of one of the most photographed mountain scenes in Colorado. The lake and views of the 14,000-foot peaks are absolutely jaw-dropping. The two Elk Mountain peaks can often be seen reflected across the still waters of Maroon Lake, and when the rising sun colors them golden, it creates an unbelievably beautiful vista. Of course, while you’re in this area you’ll discover a long list of other postcard-perfect views.
One of Aspen’s top attractions in the summer is the Silver Queen Gondola, where you’ll get to see the mountains with their high snow-covered peaks, the lively town, the slopes, and the soaring trees just as the birds do on the 14-minute ride to the 11,000-foot tall summit of Ajax Mountain. There is a host of activities that can be enjoyed during the summer too, like the live bluegrass music concerts hosted on Sunday, occasional yoga classes and an 18-hole golf course that’s one of the highest official courses on the planet. There are multiple mountain biking and hiking trails too. The Sundeck offers a great place to enjoy lunch outdoors, soaking up the sun and dining on Mediterranean, Asian or American cuisine.
The Roaring Fork Valley is home to miles and miles of scenic hiking trails so be sure to bring your hiking boots so you can enjoy some of the world’s most jaw-dropping scenery that can be seen from behind the wheel of a car. If you’re looking for something easy, you can take the gentle stroll on the Rio Grand Trail, which follows a paved path along the Roaring Fork River or take the 1.5-mile Smuggler Mountain Trail that leads to an overlook with gorgeous vistas of the town below. Those seeking more of a challenge might want to take the more difficult 8.5-mile trek that winds to Conundrum Hot Springs. There are also a wealth of outstanding trails around the Maroon Bells. In the summer, no matter where you go, you’re bound to see all sorts of colorful wildflowers along the way, although the American Lake and Cathedral Lake trails are two of the very best.
Aspen and the surrounding area has no shortage of world-class mountain biking trails, so you may want to get out an explore on two wheels – if you don’t want to bring your own Four Mountain Sports offers cruiser bikes to rent. You can get out on the Rio Grand Trail, which stretches all the way to Glenwood Springs, or if you’d rather go road cycling, take the 22 miles round-trip on Maroon Creek Road to the iconic peaks of the Maroon Bells. Expert mountain bikers might want to join one of the hosts of bike tours available, offering the chance to ride world-class singletrack trails, like the Rim Trail, Tom Blake, Sky Mountain Park and Government Trail where you’ll not only enjoy the awe-inspiring mountain scenery, but the pro guides will help you hone your skills. A host of full-day and half-day trips are available through Blazing Adventures.
Aspen is already at a very high elevation of about 8,000 feet, but it you want to get even higher, consider soaring the skies in a hot air balloon. Above It All Balloon Company offers an hour-long sunrise hot air balloon ride above the Elk Mountains for the ultimate bird’s eye view, and the chance to truly feel at once with Mother Nature, breathing in the fresh air while effortlessly gliding across the breathtaking Colorado Rockies. After landing, the experience isn’t over as you’ll get to enjoy an amazing Champagne brunch, which includes mimosas, or sparkling cider if you prefer, along with pastries, bagels, cheese and crackers, sausage, fresh fruit, yogurt and chocolate covered strawberries. While you dine, you’ll get an interesting lesson in the history of ballooning too.
The late singer John Denver has long been associated with the Colorado Rockies, thanks to his 1975 hit “Rocky Mountain High.” If you’d like to pay tribute to Denver and his wonderful lyrics, head to the John Denver Sanctuary. If you hike the Rio Grande Trail, you can’t miss it. The picturesque park sits on the banks of the Roaring Fork River and hosts a number of memorials to Denver, who not only penned the song but lived in Aspen for a while. The spectacular region was the inspiration for many of the songs he wrote. One of the most impressive features is the in the park is the grouping of giant boulders engraved with his lyrics. In the summer, Theater Aspen provides a stage here for outstanding live performances too. If you can’t be here then, simply enjoy relaxing one of the benches in this peaceful park, enjoying the sounds of the water and contemplating the lyrics of Denver’s beautiful songs – it’s a great way to discover just why he was so passionate about this area.
Another way to get that picture-perfect photo of the Maroon Bells is to head out on the trails on horseback. If you can be here during the autumn season when it’s blanketed in gold, the area is particularly striking. Maroon Bells Guides and Outfitters offers excursions through the aspen trees, alongside Maroon Creek and through alpine meadows passing beaver ponds – all with the backdrop of the Maroon Bells peaks, of course. Give your thirsty horse a drink in the reflective, glass-like lake that sits just below the aspens and conifers, framing the jagged and often snow-dusted rocky peaks. Adventure seekers can take a two-day ride through the Maroon Bells Wilderness to the top of East Maroon Pass, dropping down into Crested Butte, while families with little ones might want to let the kids hop on a pony ride, or bring everyone on a fun and old-fashioned horse-drawn wagon ride.
Aspen hosts a number of outstanding festivals during the summer, as well as a special series of free concerts. Between June and September, it becomes a high altitude Dionysian playground, boasting an exciting calendar of events that cater to just about every taste. The most popular are the annual June Experience and three-day Labor Day Experience, hosted by Jazz Aspen Snowmass. The Aspen Music Festival & School, which is held between June and late August, honors classical music while providing training to college-age students. Then there are the art festivals, the beer festivals, the theater festivals, the Saturday Farmers Market and bluegrass on Sundays atop Ajax, and more. The list really is almost endless.
After a day of outdoor exploration, sipping a tasty cold brew at the Aspen Brewing Company, the town’s only brewery, is a most. Today, its Silver Queen, Seasonally Inspired, and Barrel-Aged Temerity can be found not only in Colorado, but through the nation. You can visit the popular Tap Room to sample the flavorful beers and enjoy a lively atmosphere, particularly on Fridays and Saturdays when the brewery hosts live music. You can even meet the producers to be let in on secret recipes.
With its world-class skiing during the winter and as a hiker’s paradise during the summer, Aspen also draws many celebrities, making it ideal for those who are hoping to spot the stars. Celebrity sightings have become commonplace, and visitors can shop alongside some of their favorites, like Mariah Carey and Goldie Hawn, while at high-end retailers such as Prada, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton as well as skiing down the slopes next to the likes of Hilary Swank and Elle Macpherson. If your goal is to hobnob with the rich and famous, stay at The Little Nell Hotel – or, at least have a drink in the bar.
Even if you don’t care about celebrities if you like to shop, save some time on your busy schedule to check out Aspen’s over 200 retailers that range from consignment shops and eclectic boutiques to designer offerings. Stroll the pedestrian malls and browse the vintage apparel, fashion trends, accessories, art, home goods, unique souvenirs, and much more.