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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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, 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!).