The Aspen Guide
There’s something about Aspen that’s a little bewitching—meaning that there are very few one-time visitors. It could be because the actual skiing is excellent—thanks to four separate mountains, each with their own unique personality, there’s almost endless terrain. But there’s also a lot more to the town than winter sports: It’s home to one of the country’s best contemporary art museums as well as the globally recognized Aspen Institute, which hosts an annual Aspen Ideas Festival every summer. Throw in some big-city caliber restaurants and shopping, and you’ll be trying to figure out how to stay year-round. Just in time for Spring Break, we give you our favorite spots to stay, eat, and shop, plus activities for every season.
Aspen Art Museum637 E. Hyman Ave., Aspen | 970.925.8050
Many of the country's most prominent collectors house their collections in their Aspen homes, so the town has always been a hot spot for contemporary art. Thanks to the support of that impressive group of benefactors, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the quality of this tiny but sophisticated art museum has always been disproportionate to the size (and isolation) of the town it inhabits. Ambitious Director Heidi Zuckerman opened the museum's flashy new Shigeru Ban-designed building back in 2014, tripling the size of the exhibition space and bringing the location directly into the center of town. She brings in some of the world's best contemporary artists for group and solo exhibitions year-round.
Gonzo Gallery625 E. Hyman Ave., Aspen | 970.510.0656
Hunter S. Thompson lived on a ranch outside Aspen for more than four decades, and his legacy here is strong. Catch a local after a few drinks, and they’re likely to entertain you with stories of his antics around the town—he famously ran for town sheriff on a platform of drug legalization, centering the headquarters for the campaign at J-Bar at the Hotel Jerome. This accessible art gallery is just as Thompson would have wanted it (a.k.a. not too fussy), and you’ll find plenty of photography, prints, posters, and other artwork from Thompson and peers of the likes of William S. Burroughs, Thomas W. Benton, and more.
Pine Creek Cookhouse12500 Castle Creek Rd., Aspen | 970.925.1044
There are several ways to get to this lodge-style restaurant in an idyllic valley surrounded by the Elk Mountains, and none of them by car. In the summer, guests can bike or walk along a dirt road, and in the winter, cross-country skis and show-shoes (for those too beat from a day of downhill or simply too lazy, there's also a horse-drawn sleigh). After all the hard work, you'll be greeted with a round of Hot Toddies and locally-inspired cuisine, with dishes like sautéed rainbow trout, North American buffalo tenderloin, and their famous momo's—stuffed Nepalese dumplings that are a Pine Creek specialty. The convention is to make a reservation during the day, when you can enjoy the views of the surrounding valley, but there's something utterly magical about quietly making your way in the dark, with the moon and stars lighting your way.
Krabloonik Mountain Dining & Dogsledding4250 Divide Rd., Snowmass | 970.923.3953
This experience is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser for dog lovers (kids and grown-ups alike), as there's nothing quite like riding along on a sleigh behind 10 sled dogs. And while they're plenty cuddly and friendly, these animals aren't exactly your family golden retriever—the strong Alaskan huskies are bred to run, with a seemingly endless energy supply that takes you on a long ride through Aspen's wilderness. What's more, Krabloonik is a true Aspen classic, with food that far exceeds any expectations you might have of a dog sledding operation. Well-executed Western dishes, like a braised Colorado lamb shank, a grilled elk tenderloin, and a perfect salmon filet with Romanesco sauce, welcome you back at the end of the adventure.
Blazing Adventures555 E. Durant Ave., Aspen | 800.282.7238
Glenwood Springs (which you'll drive through on your way to Aspen if you fly into Denver) is a cozy little laid-back town, and it's home to sections of the Colorado River that are anything but. In the summer, kayaking and rafting trips through the stunning Glenwood Canyon are not to be missed. Blazing Adventures can set up an outing for any level of experience, from beginner-friendly kayaking to heart-pounding raft trips over difficult stretches of rapids. They also do SUP rental.
Biking315 E. Hyman Ave., Aspen | 970.925.7970
Cycling is a pretty huge part of Aspen's culture, especially in the summer, when the professionals make their way through town in the Colorado Pro Cycling challenge. And while some of the most famous rides are best left to the experienced or the extremely fit (the climb over Independence Pass, for example, is challenging), there are plenty of options for beginners as well. Bike Hub of Aspen will outfit the entire family with bikes and send you out with maps and information about where to go. As a warm-up, check out the paved bike path along the Rio Grande River, which is as tame as it is stunning.
The Maroon BellsMaroon Creek Road, Highlands, Aspen
Even if you've never been to the Maroon Bells, there's a good chance you've seen them before—the view of them from the parking lot is one of the most widely photographed vistas in the United States. While driving up the trailhead (there's a $10 entrance fee) is gorgeous, it's also crowded. To find some quiet, head up in the winter when you'll have to snowshoe or cross country ski to reach the view, or hike up to nearby Crater Lake via a 3.6-mile trail—it's steep, but worth it for the constant photo-ops.
Aspen Center for Environmental StudiesHallam Lake, 100 Puppy Smith St., Aspen | 970.925.5756
The Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES), which operates out of four different locations in the area, is a tremendous community asset. The organization provides classes and a host of educational activities for the community from a nature camp for kids, to senior birdwatching, to cooking classes using local ingredients, and everything in between. Visitors can hire a naturalist guide from the center to give a personalized—and vastly informative—tour of the surrounding mountains, focusing on wildlife, native plants, and more. You'll go by foot in the summer and snow shoe or cross-country skis in the winter.
Hike Cathedral Lake
Though they're iconic in many ways, the Maroon Bells can get grossly crowded. For those who prefer to enjoy the mountains in quiet silence, Cathedral Lake offers plenty of views and requires a lot less sharing. Meanwhile, the picturesque lake at the top makes a photo-worthy picnic spot and a perfectly serene place for a few casts. Fair warning: At 7 miles round trip and steep in some areas, this hike isn't for the faint of heart. Leave early to avoid getting caught in afternoon thunderstorms, which are are all but guaranteed in the summer. Photos: Protrails
Fly Fishing601 E. Dean St., Aspen | 970.920.6886
Aspen's Roaring Fork Valley is home to four different rivers, and between them they make up some of the best fly fishing in the United States: In the summer, the cold mountain waters are home to gorgeous rainbows, brown trout, and more. Even inexperienced fishermen will appreciate the scenic surroundings; most finishing spots also offer panoramic views. While guide companies are a dime a dozen, Aspen Fly Fishing is our pick—their experienced guides will tailor a trip to your needs, whether that means fitting you with waders or organizing a full-fledged float trip.