Once a place where only the rich and famous could unwind, Aspen, Colorado is now one of America’s top ski and outdoor recreation destinations.
Aspen is located in the Rocky Mountains of Pitkin County, and its combination of natural beauty and remote mountain landscapes makes it the perfect vacation destination for every season. After all, it sits in the heart of the pristine wilderness of the White River National Forest.
A small population of only 7,000 people means less crowds and more space. Aspen is known for its world-class ski resorts and glitzy après-ski parties. But whether you’re skiing or not, there’s plenty to do in town.
More than 100 upscale restaurants and cosy cafés, upscale boutiques and one of the best nightlife venues in the country can all be found in the vibrant city centre.
In summer, horseback riding, fishing, rafting, hiking, biking, golfing, paragliding and rock climbing are all popular in the Aspen area. If alpine skiing is not your thing, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are popular winter sports.
Numerous festivals take place throughout the year, including the Aspen X Games in winter and the eight-week Aspen Music Festival each summer.
Here are the top 15 things to see and do in Aspen, Colorado.
1. Driving Independence Pass
There’s no shortage of scenic driving routes around Aspen, but if you’re visiting the area during the summer, you’ll have to drive along Independence Pass. This 20-mile scenic drive runs between Leadville and Aspen, and crosses the Sawatch Mountains and the Roaring Fork River.
As you follow the Continental Divide, you’ll climb to an altitude of 12,000 feet, passing through some sharp turns, towering cliffs, and dense forest along the way. There are picnic areas and viewing decks on the way, and when you reach the top, you can stretch your legs on the scenic hiking trails that lead to it.
2. Aspen Brewing Company
A passion for outdoor living and craft beer was the idea that Aspen Brewing Company began to develop. Since 2008, the brewery has been serving delicious, premium craft beers to the après ski crowd, tourists and locals alike.
You can order a variety of options at the lively bar, including Silver Queen and Barrel-Aged Temerity. There is live music on Fridays and Saturdays and happy hour every day. The mountain-view patio features indoor and outdoor seating.
3. Silver Queen Gondola
When you travel on the Silver Queen gondola, you can get more than a normal gondola ride.
Your adventure begins with a 14-minute drive to the summit of Ajax, 11,000 feet above Aspen. On this peaceful sailing, you can enjoy stunning panoramic views featuring the snow-capped mountains and the town below.
At the top, you can enjoy these views from the sundeck, where you can also grab a bite to eat. Depending on the day, you might be invited to some impromptu yoga or a chance to enjoy some live music.
The summit is also home to the highest golf course in the country as well as many hiking and biking trails. The climbing wall and trampoline are kids favorites.
4. In Aspen, go skiing
Of course, no list of things to do in Aspen would be complete without mentioning world-class ski resorts. Snowmass is the largest and most popular ski resort in the region, with over 3,000 acres of skiable terrain and 150 miles of intermediate and expert ski runs. The Treehouse Children’s Adventure Center is also on site.
Mount Aspen – or Ajax as it’s known locally – is also a long-time favorite for winter lovers. 64 miles of skiable terrain spanning over 675 acres, skiers can enjoy breathtaking views as they soar along advanced slopes.
Professional skiers head to Aspen Heights for the challenge and enjoy the less crowded slopes than other large ski resorts in the area. Here you can find big mountain skiing with open space.
Buttermilk Mountain is the best for beginners as there are more trails for kids and levels.
5. Eat at Element 47
Located at the Little Nell Hotel, Element 47 offers award-winning cuisine in a relaxed and casual setting.
Every day of the week, a variety of local contemporary dishes are served for breakfast, lunch and dinner, including pancakes, pasta and salads. People with food allergies and dietary restrictions have many options.
6. Wander a real-life ghost town
If you’ve ever wanted to explore a true Wild West ghost town, you can head to Ashcroft, just a short drive from Aspen, and stroll through this now deserted town that was once a thriving community .
The town has been preserved by the Aspen Historical Society since the 1970s and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Guided tours are available at certain times of the year, or you can wander the ancient streets on your own. Along the way, you’ll see the Blue Mirror Salon, the View Hotel, and the Post Office.
7. Maroon Bells
One of the most photographed mountains in the world, Maroon Bells is naturally a must-see when traveling in the Aspen area.
The twin peaks of Elk Mountain tower over 14,000 feet above Sorrel Lake. The more adventurous will hike to the top, but you can still enjoy stunning views from the trail that winds around the lake.
8. Spend a cozy night in a cabin
Join Blazing Adventures’ Burlingame Sunset Dinner Tour for an evening of fun, food and memories in a peaceful backcountry. As a bonus, cozy cabins are part of the deal. The journey begins in the late afternoon with a drive into the alpine country.
Upon arrival, you will be introduced to a variety of group and solo activities. After spending some time outdoors, you’ll head to the chalet for dinner, followed by live music by the campfire and views of the glowing town below.
9. Soak in some hot springs at Glenwood Springs
The nearby town of Glenwood Springs is home to the famous thermal pools. Used by Native American tribes for hundreds of years, this hot spring is open to the public today.
After paying, you are free to soak in the relaxing mineral water. After a long day or week of skiing, travel this spring is most rewarding.
10. John Denver Conservation Area
It’s no secret that John Denver loves Aspen, and the town is showing its love for him by erecting a monument dedicated to the singer.
The John Denver Conservation Area is located along the Roaring Fork River. The peaceful park features a set of boulders engraved with the lyrics of John Denver, as well as benches where you can rest and enjoy the natural environment. During the summer months, a stage is set up and visitors can enjoy live performances.
11. Soar in a hot air balloon
Above All Balloon Company offers travelers to the Aspen area hot air balloon rides that give them the chance to soar above the Colorado Rockies. These tours depart at sunrise and last an hour. You’ll enjoy stunning aerial views of the mountainous landscape below.
After the tour, stop here for a sumptuous champagne brunch including mimosas, sausage, cheese, bagels, fruit and a variety of desserts.
12. Aspen Golf and Tennis Club
If golfing is your thing, you’ll love teeing off at this award-winning 18-hole golf course in the Rocky Mountains above Aspen.
If tennis is more your style, there are eight courts on site. After a round of golf or tennis, enjoy a hot meal and drink on the landscaped patio and relax at the popular Red Mountain Grill.
13. Go white water rafting
Whitewater rafting is synonymous with mountains, and Aspen is no exception. Aspen Whitewater Rafting Company offers a variety of excursions for all ages, all levels and all preferences.
Whether you’re looking to dash to some waterfalls in the rapids, or enjoy a more relaxed trip on the Roaring Fork, trained and knowledgeable guides have the right tour for you. The equipment is state-of-the-art and safety is the number one priority for all trips. Also includes a gourmet meal.
14. Grotto Trail
If you’re looking for an easy trail for the whole family, the Grottos Trail is for you. Explore the grottoes and admire unique rock formations as you hike along the Roaring Fork River. Picnic areas are located along the trail, and there are many other shorter trails to explore in the area.
15. Aspen Art Museum
The Aspen Art Museum’s place in the community is to provide space for the latest important developments in the contemporary art world.
Housed in a beautiful building that was once the Hunter Creek Power Plant, the museum brings artists and the entire community together through many free exhibits throughout the year.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Aspen, CO
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