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Best Things To Do in Aspen
If there's one thing Aspen's known for, it's skiing. This tiny mountain town is surrounded by four monumental ski areas: Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk (a favorite among beginners) and the ever-popular Snowmass Ski Resort. The luster isn't lost when the snow melts, however. The Rockies offer some spectacular hiking spots – like the Maroon Bell peaks – with jaw-dropping vistas. If you're looking for a more relaxing getaway, treat yourself to a massage at an area spa or try a therapeutic soak in the Glenwood Springs natural hot springs.
Updated July 29, 2020
- #1View all Photos#1 in Aspen9.1 miles to city centerNatural Wonders, Hiking, SightseeingTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND9.1 miles to city centerNatural Wonders, Hiking, SightseeingTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Rising more than 14,000 feet, these twin peaks are a favorite spot for hikers and wildlife-watchers, boasting beautiful vistas and breathtaking scenery. In fact, Maroon Bells' jagged peaks and multicolored slopes make it one of the most photographed sites in North America. The surrounding area features numerous trails and campsites, granting you a variety of viewing points from which you can capture the perfect shot.
Whether you choose to head toward the summit or to lazily stroll around the beaver-laden Maroon Lake, this is sure to be one of the highlights of your Aspen trip. Recent travelers praise the uninterrupted beauty of this area, calling the Maroon Bells "stunning," "awe-inspiring" and "one of the loveliest places on earth." Some say it's the perfect place for a day of hiking and a picnic lunch. Past hikers recommended getting to the mountains early as the area can get crowded.
- #2View all Photos#2 in Aspen15.4 miles to city centerFree, Recreation, SightseeingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND15.4 miles to city centerFree, Recreation, SightseeingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
If there's one reason to rent a car in Aspen, it's to take the 20-mile drive through Independence Pass. This scenic road is one of the highest in North America, meandering along the Continental Divide at a whopping 12,095 feet above sea level. Get ready to feel like a daredevil as you navigate tight turns along towering cliffs and through thick forests. When you're ready to stretch your legs, a paved hiking trail leads to a sightseeing platform where far-reaching views of the Continental Divide are sure to make your jaw drop.
Those who cruised through Independence Pass say the scenery is truly breathtaking, adding that there are spots along the way to stop for a picnic and snap photos. Although travelers agree that a drive down Independence Pass is a must, they also advise that you proceed with caution because of the daunting nature of the narrow, winding road. (Some go as far to say if you are prone to carsickness, this is not a trip for you.)
- #3View all Photos#3 in Aspen6.7 miles to city centerSkiing, RecreationTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND6.7 miles to city centerSkiing, RecreationTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Aspen's largest and most popular ski area is the ultimate destination for winter sports enthusiasts. Comprising 3,332 acres of skiiable terrain, this massive complex features 150 miles of trails, multiple lifts and a charming village with a variety of shops and restaurants. Roughly half of the trails here are designed for intermediate-level skiers, but more advanced powder hounds will find plenty of challenging stretches of snow to try. Snowboarders should also note that Snowmass has one of the best snowboarding schools in the United States.
Previous visitors raved about the ski area and its terrain variety, noting that there are runs for all types of skiers and that the lift lines and trails were not terribly crowded. But when it comes to shopping and dining options, some travelers were disappointed by Snowmass Village.
- #4View all Photos#4 in Aspen1.2 miles to city centerSkiing, RecreationTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND1.2 miles to city centerSkiing, RecreationTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
It's this mountain – first opened to skiers in 1947– that put Aspen on the map. And with spectacular summit views and slopes that will make even the most advanced skier's heart race, it's no wonder why Aspen Mountain remains a favorite spot for winter sports-lovers. "Ajax," as it's fondly called, features approximately 675 skiable acres with 64 miles of runs (complete with a variety of bumps and steeps); you can also make your own tracks along the Aspen Mountain Powder Tour's backcountry terrain. And when you're ready to call it a day, you can satisfy your appetite at one of the nearby restaurants or bars.
When they compare it to Aspen's other ski areas, visitors and locals say that Aspen's veteran mountain is the best. However, novice skiers beware: Travelers warn this is not a mountain for beginners. They say it's made for intermediate to expert skiers and snowboarders, due to the challenging nature of most of the terrain. Skiers do say they appreciate the variety of trails, from groomed blues to powdery black diamonds to expert-only double black diamonds.
- #5View all Photos#5 in Aspen2.1 miles to city centerSkiing, RecreationTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND2.1 miles to city centerSkiing, RecreationTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Aspen Highlands has been the preferred ski area among Aspen residents for more than 50 years. If you're looking for a challenge, this is the ski area for you: more than half of the trails here were carved with advanced and expert skiers in mind, with routes like Golden Horn, Highland Bowl and Olympic Bowl offering stomach-dropping descents.
Skiers love the local feel of this mountain and say it's a bonus that it's rarely crowded. Travelers note the majority of terrain is definitely geared toward advanced skiers who know how to handle steep pitches and deep powder. When it comes to mealtime, previous visitors strongly recommend dining at Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro, which offers breathtaking views of the Maroon Bells.
- #6View all PhotosfreeGlenwood Springs#6 in Aspen36.8 miles to city centerFree, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND36.8 miles to city centerFree, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
While you'll have no trouble finding ways to fill your time in Aspen proper, you would be remiss if you visited the Roaring Fork Valley and didn't make a stop in Glenwood Springs. Sitting about 40 miles northwest of Aspen along Route 82 – near the junction of I-70 – Glenwood Springs offers just as many spots to hike as its more popular neighbor, not to mention fishing and whitewater rafting opportunities. The town is also home to an intricate collection of caverns that are worth exploring
But it's not caves and trails that earn Glenwood Springs a good reputation among travelers in-the-know – it's the town's legendary hot springs. Formerly known by regional Native American tribes as the Yampah Hot Springs, the Hot Springs Pool has been used by Native American tribes for centuries; and the bubbling pools have catered to such legendary clientele as President Theodore Roosevelt, the unsinkable Molly Brown and the notorious Al Capone. Swimmers today mention that a visit to the pools can be pricey (adult rates range from $15 to $22, depending on the season; bring your own towels to save some money). However, the admission fee allows you to stay and soak for as long as you like. Travelers say a soak in the hot springs is quite relaxing and rejuvenating after a few days of skiing; some previous visitors also recommended visiting during the evening for a less crowded experience.
- #7View all Photos#7 in Aspen2.6 miles to city centerSkiing, RecreationTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND2.6 miles to city centerSkiing, RecreationTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
With 21 miles of open, stress-free trails, Buttermilk is the perfect spot to try your first run or to teach your kids to ski. According to visitors, all the beginner trails are groomed and the runs are wide so there's plenty of room for skiers to maneuver. You can also sign up for private ski and snowboard lessons if you need some guidance. Recent visitors described the instructors as friendly, positive and helpful.
Beginner-friendly slopes aside, this mountain also offers trails for intermediate and expert skiers and is known for its 22-foot superpipe and X Games-inspired course. Buttermilk's two terrain parks (not counting an easier area for novice boarders) comprise more than 100 distinct features.
- #8View all Photos#8 in Aspen0.3 miles to city centerRecreation, SightseeingTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND0.3 miles to city centerRecreation, SightseeingTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
The Silver Queen Gondola travels 2.5 miles from the heart of Aspen to the 11,000-foot-high summit of Aspen Mountain. Once you reach the top, there are plenty of opportunities to hike, dine and even take in some live music. A sundeck and eatery greets visitors at the top of the mountain and makes for a great spot to relax, grab a drink or a bite and take photos of the surrounding landscape.
Despite the promise of a fantastic view, some travelers say that gondola tickets are as steep as the incline. (You can save some coin by purchasing your tickets in advance.) Even though the prices are high, travelers agree that a ride on the Silver Queen Gondola is a must for visitors to Aspen, citing the fantastic views and the enjoyable journey up the mountain.
- #9View all Photos#9 in Aspen0.2 miles to city centerTours, Wineries/BreweriesTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND0.2 miles to city centerTours, Wineries/BreweriesTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Aiming to bring the craft beer scene back to Aspen, Aspen Brewing Company was founded in 2008 and has been brewing and serving up beers ever since. The brewery offers a wide variety of beer, ranging from blonde and red ales to stouts and pilsners to seasonal brews. With seating indoors and on an adjacent patio, Aspen Brewing Company's tap room encourages visitors to grab a pint and #DrinkInTheView. There's live music most weekend nights during the summer and winter, and daily happy hour specials on pints, pitchers and growlers from 5 to 7 p.m.
Travelers have nothing but praise for this brewery, citing the friendly and entertaining staff members, the tasty brews and the relaxed atmosphere as prime reasons to return. Those interested in the brewery's history and entire operation should take the tour first, then head to the tasting room, according to visitors.
- #10View all Photos#10 in Aspen0.2 miles to city centerEntertainment and Nightlife, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND0.2 miles to city centerEntertainment and Nightlife, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Constructed in the late 1800s by business tycoon Jerome Wheeler, this opera house has been a major source of entertainment in the Roaring Fork Valley for more than a century. Today, this performance venue remains an Aspen gem, featuring Victorian architecture, beautiful decor and a stunning electric chandelier (Aspen was the first town west of the Continental Divide to enjoy electricity).
The theater still hosts regular events ranging from concerts to film screenings to plays, and according to recent travelers, you shouldn't turn down the chance to catch a show here. Visitors love the small, intimate theater and say that it makes for a cozy atmosphere with great acoustics.
- #11View all Photos#11 in Aspen0.2 miles to city centerFree, Parks and Gardens, Monuments and MemorialsTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND0.2 miles to city centerFree, Parks and Gardens, Monuments and MemorialsTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND
Anyone who's a fan of John Denver's music knows that the famous singer-songwriter was a big fan of Aspen; he immortalized the town's beauty and character in several of his songs, including his famous "Aspenglow." The town decided to pay tribute to its favorite musician (who died in 1997) with the John Denver Sanctuary, a memorial nestled near the Aspen Art Museum in Rio Grande Park. The memorial is composed of several stone slabs bearing the musician's name and some of his lyrics. Travelers strongly recommend a visit, even if you're not a diehard Denver fan, noting the area's beautiful flower garden and the impressive inscribed boulders.
The John Denver Sanctuary is always open and admission is free. For more information, visit the Aspen Chamber of Commerce website.
- #12View all Photos#12 in Aspen0.3 miles to city centerMuseums, Zoos and Aquariums, Parks and GardensTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND0.3 miles to city centerMuseums, Zoos and Aquariums, Parks and GardensTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Sitting just north of Main Street, this research center and wildlife sanctuary works to educate visitors about Aspen's natural surroundings while preserving local flora and fauna. While here, you can attend wildlife workshops, tag along on a winter snowshoe walk and even come face-to-face with America’s favorite bird, the bald eagle. If you're visiting with children, consider signing them up for one of the kid-friendly arts and crafts classes or nature hikes.
Fellow nature lovers say that the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies is the place to go to get to know this town's wilder side, and many visitors are quick to praise the facility for its environmental protection efforts.
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