Aspen is all about the mountains — the Rockies rise dramatically from the outskirts of town, beckoning explorers with their jagged peaks, wildflower-lined trails, and picturesque forests. This is a ski town at heart, but there's much more to do away from the slopes, too.
Spend the day hiking, biking, or paddling, and head downtown in the evening for a touch of culture and world-class cuisine. Keep your eyes peeled; there's a good chance you'll spot a celebrity sipping a cocktail or browsing a local boutique.
No visit to Aspen is complete without heading out to one of the local ski resorts: Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk, or Snowmass. A single lift ticket gets you into all four resorts, so you can ease in with beginner-friendly groomers or fly down wild bowls in the backcountry. Bring your own gear or rent skis and snowboards on site.
Prefer to stay on flatter terrain? Go Nordic — rent snowshoes or cross-country skis at the Aspen Cross Country Center, and explore more than 55 miles of gentle trails.
One of Colorado's most legendary wilderness areas, the Maroon Bells are known for their incredible natural beauty. Two rugged rock peaks, an aspen and evergreen forest, and the crystal-clear Maroon Lake create the perfect mountain scene.
Come in the spring to see the tiny wildflowers that blanket the valley, and return in the fall to hike through the neon-yellow trees that give this oasis its name. Access is limited to protect the environment; reserve your entry time with the Aspen Chamber Resort Association as early as possible.
Hidden in the forest near Independence Pass, a network of underground caverns awaits. These are the Grottos — an undulating series of caves formed by water and ice. In the winter, bizarre ice formations appear inside; strap on your crampons and discover this natural wonder. To get there, drive up Highway 82 toward the beautiful Independence Pass, and keep an eye out for the Grottos Trail parking area.
After you explore the caves, continue along the trail to the Cascades. This slickrock waterfall is one of the most instagrammable spots in the region. Climb around the rocks, but be cautious in the spring; the snowmelt makes the river run high and fast.
Aspen Art Museum is a local icon, and not just because of its cultural value. The architecture alone is a work of art — a natural-wood cage surrounds the structure, creating a unique view from every angle. Inside, a mirrored grand staircase, sculptural wood trusses, and an elegant glass elevator enhance the effect.
This museum doesn't collect art; instead, it showcases a constantly changing series of exhibits and installations. Check out the latest displays, and attend lectures from the current artists in residence.
For a town of fewer than 8,000 people, Aspen has an impressive performing arts scene. The historic Wheeler Opera House hosts a varied lineup that includes everything from opera and theater to comedy and scientific lectures. Catch a professional play or musical at Theater Aspen, or book tickets for bands and stand-ups at Belly Up Aspen.
In the summer, head to Snowmass for the free outdoor concert series — performers run the gamut from funk to pop. In the mood for classical music? The Aspen Music Festival and School has a full schedule of instrumental and vocal recitals.
Pedal along the Roaring Fork River on the well-maintained Rio Grande Trail. This multi-use path runs for 42 miles; enjoy a short afternoon adventure, or ride all the way to Glenwood Springs.
Along the way, you'll enjoy unobstructed mountain views and plenty of walkable shore-fishing spots. Runners, walkers, and horseback riders are also welcome. While you're at it, stop by the John Denver Sanctuary to check out the engraved rocks and stunning views.
Like any self-respecting Colorado ski town, Aspen has a solid craft-brewing scene. After a day of skiing or hiking, kick back at one of the local taprooms. Aspen Brewing Company is a classic — sit outside on the patio or in the sunny taproom, and enjoy a wood-fired pizza with a flight of locally brewed beer.
Two other standouts are Hops Culture, known for its comfort-food menu, and the ski-in, ski-out Highlands Alehouse.
After a day of playing in the mountains, refuel at one of Aspen's exceptional restaurants. For a small town, the restaurant scene is remarkably diverse. You can indulge in tater tots and tacos at Zane's Tavern one night, and nibble on sustainable caviar at Clark's Oyster Bar the next.
If you're a fan of Hunter S. Thompson, a pilgrimage to the quirky Woody Creek Tavern is a must; this laid-back bar was the journalist's favorite haunt. Come as you are — most local eateries embrace Aspen's signature upscale-rustic vibe.
Get to know Aspen's natural environment with a guided tour from the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES). Summer programming includes guided hikes into the mountains; in the winter, join an experienced naturalist on a snowshoe trek. As you hike, you'll learn about the environment and local history.
Do you have a specific trip in mind? ACES provides custom private tours, too.
See the Rockies from a new perspective as you paddle down the Roaring Fork River. Rent stand-up paddleboards from one of the in-town outfitters; many provide shuttle service for convenience.
If you're new to paddleboarding, start with the calm stretch of river that flows through the North Star Nature Preserve near the Wildwood School. The water moves slowly, so it's easy to get your bearings. To try your luck with rapids, paddle the Colorado River near the tiny community of No Name. For beautiful views, it's hard to beat the picturesque (and cold) Twin Lakes.