Named after the aspen trees that flood the region, Aspen was originally a mining community founded in 1879. These days, most people know the town as the home to world-class ski resorts, upscale shopping, and the location of the second homes of international jet-setters. This exclusive year-round mountain escape lives up to the hype. In addition to the winter recreation, Aspen offers an abundance of summer activities including hiking, horseback riding, mountaintop yoga, and scenic drives in the region. The town also is home to several renowned restaurants, many of which offer beautiful views of the surrounding mountains.

4 DAY SUMMER ITINERARY

DAY 1

  • Start your day early with a trip to the iconic Maroon Bells. If you can, try to wake up early enough to catch the sunrise there - I personally thought it was worth waking up early for, the friend I was traveling with did not necessarily agree. There are a few hiking trails in the area if you want to get a workout in. More information about Maroon Bells can be found below.
  • After visiting the Maroon Bells, head to Pine Creek Cookhouse in Ashcroft Valley for a scenic lunch. Advanced reservations for patio seating are encouraged as this is a popular lunch spot. This is a bit out of the way, but it is a nice drive.
  • Spend an hour or two relaxing and freshening up and then head to downtown Aspen. Walk around the city to get your bearings and take in the mountain scenery. Head to Betula for dinner. This rooftop restaurant offers a pan-American cuisine with French and Peruvian influences. We really enjoyed the restaurant's ambiance with its upbeat music and cozy-chic decor. Their ceviche bonito, lamb entree, and royal chocolate cake were standout dishes and the cocktails were excellent. Advanced reservations are recommended.

DAY 2

  • In the morning, do a quick outdoor yoga workout or go for a bike ride to get some exercise in. Try to do these in the Snowmass Village area so that you can grab breakfast and check out the village afterwards. A good place to grab a quick breakfast or lunch in Snowmass Village is Fuel Cafe which offers delicious breakfast burritos, paninis, and smoothies.
  • Spend the afternoon driving along Route 82 to Independence Pass, a high mountain pass along the Continental Divide. The road winds up to 12,095 feet and can be very narrow at times, so be careful as you drive along it. There are several pullouts along the way where you can stop and enjoy the views. Some points of interest along the way include Lost Man's Trail for hiking and horseback riding, the Grottos for a quick hike and picnic, Devil's Punchbowl for cliff jumping, and Independence Ghost Town -- the first mining site in the Roaring Fork Valley that is now an archaeological site. Pack snacks or a picnic so that you can enjoy a scenic dinner.

DAY 3

  • Grab breakfast pastries and other delicious treats from Paradise Bakery in downtown Aspen.
  • Head to Aspen Mountain. Purchase tickets for the Silver Queen Gondola to the top of of the mountain and take a mountaintop yoga class hosted by Aspen Shakti. The gondola is $29 for a one-ride ticket or $39 for a pass valid for 3 days in a 7 day period. During the summer months, these yoga classes are offered every weekday from 10:30-11:30am and are $10. It is an amazing place to practice yoga with amazing views and the crisp mountain air. Definitely one of my favorite activities on the trip!
  • After yoga, spend some time on the hiking trails at the top of the mountain. The Nature Trail and the Richmond Ridge trails are some good options that have 360 degree views of the surrounding mountains and scenery. These trails are easy in difficulty, but the elevation can make them seem harder than they actually are. Other activities atop the mountain include disc golf, mountain biking, and dirt biking.
  • After freshening up, head to Bosq for dinner and drinks on their outdoor patio which is great for people watching. Advanced reservations are recommended. Their smoked salmon crackers and sea bass were pretty good.

DAY 4

  • Hopefully you are more acclimatized to the Aspen's elevation after a few days. If so, hike up the Ute Trail to the Ute Rock overlook. The trail gains nearly 1,100 feet of elevation in 0.9 miles and makes for a great workout! More details are included below.
  • Once you are back in downtown, grab a bite to eat and wander through the city's several shops and boutiques. If you are in the mood for some more hiking, some other trails you can try include the Smuggler Mountain Trail, Rim Trail South Hike, and Sunnyside Trail. These were on our shortlist of great hikes to do, but we did not have the chance to do them this visit. If you are in the mood for another scenic drive, you can drive west of Aspen and check out places like Basalt's historic downtown and Avalanche Ranch's hot springs and farm animals.
  • In the evening, freshen up and head to dinner at 7908 Aspen. The food here was my favorite out of the three fine dining restaurants we tried out - more details below! Advanced reservations are recommended.
Independence Pass
Aspen Mountain
Pine Creek Cookhouse
Silver Queen Gondola

LOGISTICS

GETTING THERE

Fly directly into Aspen airport or drive 3.5 hours from Denver or Colorado Springs. Aspen is also roughly a 6.5 hour drive from Salt Lake City and a 3.5-4 hours drive from Moab, making it close enough to combine with Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park.

WHERE TO STAY

Downtown Aspen, Aspen Highlands, and Snowmass Village are all great locations to base your group while in the area. Aspen is probably the most expensive town to stay in, but it is also closer to most of the action. Snowmass Village is about a 15-20 minute drive from downtown Aspen, but seems to have better hotel deals. There are several chain hotels that have properties in the area, as well as plenty of Airbnb options and local boutique hotels and inns. Check out this site to get lodging ideas for every budget. If seeking a hotel, some properties you can consider include:

  • Luxury Options: St. Regis, Hotel Jerome, The Little Nell
  • Mid-Range Options: W Aspen, Limelight Hotel, Viceroy Snomass
  • Affordable Options: Westin Snowmass Resort, Stonebridge Inn, Aspen Mountain Lodge

TRANSPORTATION

If you are staying in downtown Aspen, you most likely do not need to rent a car unless you are planning to do Independence Pass or if you plan to visit towns that are a bit father away like Ashcroft or Basalt. Because we were staying in Snowmass Village (and trying to practice as much social distancing as possible since we were traveling during the coronavirus outbreak), we opted to rent a car to get around the region easily and have flexibility with our plans. Parking was easy to find wherever we went. Downtown Aspen has paid street parking Mondays through Saturdays 10AM - 6PM, otherwise it is free. More information about parking in the city can be found here.

There is a free shuttle from RFTA within and between Aspen and Snowmass Village. You can also use RFTA buses to get around the broader region - information on fares can be found here.

ADDITIONAL THINGS TO DO

If you have additional time in Aspen, or are seeking different experiences than what is listed above, here are some ideas for things you can do.

  • Activities: Horseback riding, paragliding, catching a live concert (once coronavirus is controlled), visiting the farmer's market on Saturdays, mountain biking, dirt biking, having a spa day (Remède Spa, Aspen Vida Medi Spa), whitewater rafting, fishing. Check out this site which provides sample 1-day itineraries for various types of trips depending on what type of experience you are seeking.
  • Restaurants: Mawa's Kitchen, Cache Cache, Element 47, Matsuhisa, Clark's Oyster Bar, Jimmy's

HIGHLIGHTS

MAROON BELLS

Aspen's Maroon Bells, a set of bell-shaped peaks that rise over 14,000 feet above the Maroon Creek Valley, are the most photographed mountains in North America. In addition to spectacular views, there are a few hiking trails in the area including the Maroon Lake trail (easy) and Crater Lake trail (moderate) which is 3.8 miles long. The hike to Crater Lake is mostly uphill. I would rate the difficulty moderate mostly because of Aspen's elevation which made it a bit harder to breathe especially on the first day. Had this trail been closer to sea level, the difficulty would be somewhere between easy and moderate. I suggest wearing hiking shoes if you have them as the trail is rocky, but we saw several people wearing sneakers.

Because of its popularity with visitors, access to Maroon Bells is somewhat restricted in the summer and fall months to help control crowds. During these months, visitors are required to use the RFTA shuttle service from Aspen Highlands ($15.95 fare) between 8am–5pm. Reservations must be made in advance online. You can either park your car at the Aspen Highlands parking structure or take RFTA’s free Castle/Maroon bus to Aspen Highlands from Rubey Park Transit Center in downtown Aspen. Personal vehicles also require reservations before 8am and after 5pm. The website said vehicle permits were $10 per vehicle paid at the Maroon Bells welcome station, but there was no one there when we went around 6am (plus we had the US National Park Annual Pass which would have given us free entry). Check the website for more details or to make a reservation. For any reservation questions, you can also call 970-930-6442 or email info@visitmaroonbells.com.

UTE TRAIL

This was one of my favorite hikes in Aspen as it offered a rewarding view once you reached the overlook. The trailhead for Ute Trail is located slightly east of the city. Climb up nearly 1,100 feet in just under a mile of switchbacks to the Ute Rock overlook. The incline is consistently steep throughout the hike to the overlook. If you want to keep going, you can continue hiking for another 2 miles to the top of Aspen Mountain. Be sure to pack enough water and snacks, and take breaks when you're feeling winded. The trail all the way to the top is fairly steep and is rated as a hard trail. If you go all the way to the top, you can ride the Silver Queen Gondola back to downtown Aspen for free instead of walking all the way back down which could be hard on your knees. The last ride down is at 4:30pm.

7908 ASPEN

7908, a supper club named after Aspen's elevation, offers diners "elevated comfort food." The food, service, and ambiance were excellent. Some of our favorite dishes from their Summer 2020 dinner menu included the Salmon Crudo, Watermelon Basil Salad, Spinach Agnolotti, Lamb Loin, and Vanilla Bean Cheesecake with Strawberry Glass and Sorbet. The plating of all the dishes were amazing, as were the flavors of each dish. The cocktails were also really great! Since we were traveling during the coronavirus outbreak and practicing social distancing, we did not get to experience the restaurant turn into a nightclub where you can dance the night away (I guess we'll have to do this on our next visit!).

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