Once a place where only the rich and famous went to unwind, Aspen, Colorado, is now one of the top ski and outdoor leisure destinations in the United States.
Situated in the Rocky Mountains in Pitkin County, Aspen’s natural beauty combined with a remote, mountainous landscape make it the perfect vacation destination in every season. After all, it sits right in the center of the pristine wilderness of the White River National Forest.
The small population of only 7,000 people means fewer crowds and more wide-open space. Aspen is most known for its world-class ski resorts and glitzy apres-ski get-togethers. However, whether you ski or not, there are many things to do around the town.
More than 100 exclusive restaurants and cozy cafes, upscale boutiques, and one of the best nightlife scenes in the country can be found in the vibrant downtown area.
In summer, horseback riding, fishing, rafting, hiking, biking, golfing, paragliding, and rock-climbing are all popular in the Aspen area. If downhill skiing is not your thing, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are popular winter pursuits.
A number of festivals take place throughout the year, including Aspen X Games during the winter and the Aspen Music Festival, which happens during eight weeks every summer.
Below are 15 of the top things to see and in do in Aspen, Colorado.
1. Drive the Independence Pass
Scenic drives are in no shortage around Aspen, but driving along the Independence pass is a must if you’re in the area during the summer. This 20-mile scenic drive travels between Leadville and Aspen and passes through the Sawatch Mountains and along the Roaring Fork River.
As you make your way along the Continental Divide, you’ll climb to a height of 12,000 feet above sea level, and along the way, experience some sharp turns, high cliffs, and lush forest. There are picnic areas and look-offs en route, and when you reach the top, you can stretch your legs on the hiking trail that leads to a scenic viewpoint.
2. Aspen Brewing Company
A passion for outdoor living and craft beer is what set the idea for the Aspen Brewing Company to get rolling. Since 2008, the brewery has been serving up tasty, quality craft beer to the après-ski crowd, tourists, and locals alike.
The relaxing and lively taproom is where you can order a variety of options, including Silver Queen and Barrel-Aged Temerity. There’s live music on Fridays and Saturdays, and happy hour is daily. Seating is available both indoors and outdoors on a patio with mountain views.
3. Silver Queen Gondola
When you take a trip on the Silver Queen Gondola, you get access to a lot more than you would with a typical gondola ride.
Your adventure starts with a 14-minute ride to the summit of Ajax Mountain, 11,000 feet above Aspen. During this serene voyage, stunning panoramic views featuring snow-capped mountains and the town below are enjoyed.
At the top, these views can be enjoyed some more on the sundeck, where you can also grab a bite to eat. Depending on the day, you may be invited to join in on some impromptu yoga or have the opportunity to take in some live music.
The summit is also home to the country’s highest golf course and many hiking and biking trails. The climbing wall and trampoline are favorites with children.
4. When in Aspen, Go Skiing
Of course, no list of things to do in Aspen would be complete without touching on its world-class ski resorts. Snowmass, which is the area’s largest and most popular ski resort, has more than 3,000 acres of ski terrain, with 150 miles of intermediate and expert trails. Also on site is the Treehouse Kids Adventure Center.
Aspen Mountain – or Ajax, as it’s locally-known – is also a long-time favorite with winter enthusiasts. With 64 miles of skiable terrain over 675 acres, skiers enjoy stunning views as they soar down the advanced slopes.
Expert skiers head to the Aspen Highlands for a challenge and to enjoy slopes that are less crowded than the other big ski resorts in the area. Big-mountain skiing with wide-open spaces is what you can expect to find here.
Buttermilk Mountain is the best ski area for beginners as there are more runs suitable for children and various levels.
5. Enjoy Fine Dining at Element 47
Situated in The Little Nell Hotel, Element 47 offers prize-winning fine dining in a relaxed, casual environment.
Every day of the week, a variety of local, contemporary dishes, including pancakes, pasta, and salads, are served at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There are many options available for people with food allergies and dietary restrictions.
6. Wander Around a Real-life Ghost Town
If you’ve ever wanted to explore a real wild west ghost town, you can head to Ashcroft, which is only a short drive away from Aspen, and wander around the now-deserted town that was once a booming community.
Since the 1970s, the town has been preserved by the Aspen Historical Society and is now on the National Register of Historic Places. Guided tours are available at certain times of the year, or you can roam the old streets on your own. Along the way, you will see the Blue Mirror Saloon, The View Hotel, and the post office.
7. Maroon Bells
As one of the most photographed mountain areas in the world, it’s only natural that the Maroon Bells is a must-see when traveling in the Aspen area.
The twin-peaks of Elk Mountain tower more than 14,000 feet over Maroon Lake. Adventurous souls hike to the summit, but you can still enjoy the stunning views from the trail that snakes around the lake below.
8. Spend a Cozy Evening in a Log Cabin
Join Blazing Adventures on their Burlingame Sunset Dinner Tour for an evening of fun, food, and memories in a peaceful, remote location. As a bonus, a cozy log cabin is part of the deal. The journey starts in the late afternoon with a drive into high mountain country.
Upon arrival, you are introduced to the range of group and solo activities. After some time spent in the great outdoors, you’ll head inside the log cabin to enjoy dinner, followed by live music around a campfire with views of the glowing town below.
9. Soak in Some Hot Springs in Glenwood Springs
The nearby town of Glenwood Springs is home to the renowned Hot Springs Pool. For hundreds of years, this hot spring was used by Native American tribes, and today is open to the public.
For a fee, you can soak in the relaxing mineral waters for as long as you want. A trip to this spring is most beneficial after a long day or week of skiing.
10. The John Denver Sanctuary
It’s no secret that John Denver loved Aspen, and the town showed its love for him by putting up a memorial dedicated to the singer.
The John Denver Sanctuary is situated along the Roaring Fork River. The peaceful park features a group of large boulders with some of John Denver’s lyrics engraved on them, and benches where you can rest and enjoy the natural surroundings. In the summer months, a stage is set up and visitors enjoy live performances.
11. Soar High in a Hot Air Balloon
Above All Balloon Company offers visitors to the Aspen area the opportunity to soar high above the Colorado Rocky Mountains with Hot Air Balloon Tours. These tours depart at sunrise and last an hour. You’ll enjoy stunning aerial views of the mountainous landscape below.
After the tour, you can stick around for a while and enjoy a lavish Champagne brunch featuring mimosas, sausage, cheese, bagels, fruit, and various sweet treats.
12. Aspen Golf and Tennis Club
If you love to golf, you’ll love teeing off at this 18-hole award-winning golf course in the Rocky Mountains high above Aspen.
If tennis is more your thing, there are eight courts on-site. After your game of golf or tennis, you can unwind at the popular Red Mountain Grill with a hot meal and drinks on the scenic patio.
13. Go Whitewater Rafting
Whitewater rafting is synonymous with mountain regions, and Aspen is no exception. The Aspen Whitewater Rafting Company offers a variety of excursions suitable for all ages, all levels, and all preferences.
Whether you want a wild ride down the rapids to some waterfalls or a more relaxed trip down the Roaring Fork River, the well-trained and knowledgeable guides have the right trip for you. The equipment is state-of-the-art, and safety is a priority on all trips. A gourmet meal is also included.
14. Grottos Trail
If you’re looking for an easy trail suitable for the whole family, look no further than Grottos Trail. As you hike along the Roaring Fork River, explore the grottos and admire the unique rock formations. A picnic area is situated along the trail, and there are a number of other shorter trails to explore in the area.
15. Aspen Art Museum
The Aspen Art Museum’s position in the community is to provide space for the up-to-date, important developments in the contemporary arts scene.
Housed in the beautiful building that was once the Hunter Creek Power Plant, the museum brings artists and the community at large together through many free exhibitions throughout the year.