Aspen, Colorado! One of the cutest most interesting little towns! It has such a cool mix of locals who have lived there forever and people who come from all over the world (Spain, Argentina, Mexico, the midwest, etc.) to live for a few months, a year, or even a few years. The obvious draw of Aspen is the skiing and snowboarding with incredible mountains bordering the town so you can easily hop right on the gondola at Aspen Mountain and hit the slopes. But don’t sleep on “off season” Aspen which is just as beautiful. You can enjoy the town which is the perfect oxymoron of high end luxury sophistication and outdoorsy rustic fun. Take advantage of minimal crowds by hitting up the restaurants which might typically be hard to get into, doing some awesome hikes and partying with the locals!
Things to Do
Ski/Snowboard – If you head to Aspen during the winter, skiing and snowboarding is a must! Make sure you get out on the mountain early though… not only do you want to get first tracks… but if you get some good riding in the morning by the late afternoon you’ll be ready to kick back and Après Ski! Both the Little Nell and the new W Hotel have amazing outdoor areas right near the bottom of the gondola which are perfect for Après!
Maroon Bells – The Maroon Bells are two incredible mountains – Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak separated by half a kilometer. Where you arrive, there is an amazing lake in the foreground so you have amazing views of the two mountains with the lake in front which of course results in phenomenal photography shots. Its the best in the fall when the trees are changing colors but really is beautiful all summer long. This will be included in the hiking section as well where I’ll talk more about the trails, but even if you aren’t into hiking, I still recommend you head out there and just enjoy the natural beauty of the mountains and the lake from the beginning drop off point.
Weller Lake Trail – This short hike was perfect for the day I arrived in Aspen just off the plane as it is a 1.2 mile hike total there and back. The trail takes you right to Weller Lake however if you are feeling adventurous like we were, you can decide to scramble on and around the rocks to get to the other side of the lake. I’m glad we did it to get a different vantage point and to get to a large field where we could let my dog run around in all of her glory. However with all of the freedom she did decide to jump in the lake and ended up a muddy mess! Either way it was worth it and I would do it again in a second.
Ute Trail – This was the hardest hike I did while in Aspen but of course it rewards you with the best views. This trail which is a sequence of switchbacks heading up a steep trail is 0.9 miles to Ute Rock. From the Ute Rock, you can look down and see the entire town of Aspen which is an insane view especially knowing that you started from there and made your way all the way up on your own! We of course had to get some awesome pics from the rock which as I mentioned had the best view but I’ll tell you that it was a bit scary standing on the top of the rock looking down over the cliff! Turns out I’m a little bit scared of heights! Especially when the wind picked up like crazy as I was standing on the top of the rocks. Yikes! Its a pretty steep vertical to get up there and apparently stays just as steep if you continue on and do the full 3.1 miles to the top of Aspen Mountain. If you hike all the way to the top, you can take the gondola down for free. Since we turned back after Ute Rock, we hiked back down the 0.9 miles making it a 1.8 mile roundtrip journey.
Maroon Bells – We hiked the moderate hike from Maroon Lake to Crater Lake which is 3.8 miles total there and back. It was a beautiful hike surrounded by Aspen trees for the majority of the hike ending at the smaller Crater Lake. Dogs are allowed and it is the “hardest” hike you can do there without doing a 13 mile hike. There is also a 3 mile Scenic Loop Trail that goes around Maroon Lake that is apparently an easy one because it is flat however you cannot bring dogs. There are three other hikes you can opt for upon arrival as well one of which being the hard 13 mile hike. The other two appear to be easy hikes and are more just to enjoy the scenery.
Smuggler Mountain Overlook – I’m going to call this trail a sneaky moderate trail. Sneaky because it seems easy since you’re walking up a dirt road rather than a trail but you’re still going up a relatively steep incline via switchbacks all the way up. Its just sneaky because they are wide road windy switchbacks rather than short tight small trail switchbacks. Basically, I was panting most of the way up and trying really hard not to stop to take breaks. It was a 2.9 mile total there and back hike. The awesome thing about this hike was that it boasted another amazing view of downtown Aspen but from the other side! So I could actually look across to where the Ute Rock trail lookout was from the other side of town. This spot was great though because there was a little overlook deck that had a small billboard with info about each of the mountains you were looking at in front of you. Love a good educational moment!
Take the Gondola to the Sundeck – The Silver Queen Gondola is a fun activity in and of itself being swept along up the mountain with an awesome view of downtown Aspen, the beautiful Aspen trees in the mountains and if you’re lucky, a bear sighting! (We saw a bear way far below us trying to get into someone’s trash can, it was amazing). However, once you get to the top, you can enjoy the Sundeck at Aspen Mountain! Whether you just want to grab a drink and enjoy the views, grab some food or take some awesome pics from the top of the mountain its worth heading up there at least once. Of course if you’re in Aspen during snow season, you’ll likely take the gondola up in order to ski or snowboard down and perhaps have lunch or Après Ski at the Sundeck so you’ll definitely check this off your list!
Shop – Honestly, I didn’t do any shopping while I was in Aspen because we just hiked, ate and partied the whole time! But we did walk down the streets past some of the beautiful luxury name brand stores that I was used to walking past in Soho in NYC so I can tell you the shops are definitely there for you if you’re ready to drop some money!
Element 47 at The Little Nell – The incredible luxury restaurant inside of the boutique hotel The Little Nell has an ever-changing seasonal menu although always starting off with the amazing parker house rolls, delicious salads and pastas like the Sourdough Rigatoni with Lobster which might just be the best pasta I’ve ever had in my life. The dessert was also incredible, my personal favorite being the rich Banana Cream Pie which was not a typical rendition of the dessert but much much better. Their cocktails and wines are also amazing. All in all, this high end restaurant totally lived up to its expectations.
Matsuhisa – The chef who brings you Nobu has a restaurant in Aspen with his own namesake as well but this time his last name, Matsuhisa, instead of his first name Nobu. This high end Japanese restaurant tends to stay busy even throughout the off season so make sure to get your reservation in advance!
Clark’s Aspen – This seafood restaurant was amazing! Not only does it have the prettiest wooden exterior, but it has a cute but fancy vibe inside as well. And of course the food is incredible. We shared the oysters to start which were delicious and then I had the Crispy Gulf Snapper which was incredible! I was torn between getting that and the Lobster Roll and although I didn’t regret my decision because the fish was so good, the Lobster Roll looked crazy good and was piled high with Lobster meat. If you like seafood, definitely check this place out!
Public House – This restaurant is in the Historic Wheeler Opera House so a really cool venue right in the middle of downtown Aspen. We had lunch here where I devoured my kale caesar salad which was amazing but both the breakfast and dinner menus look incredible as well and I would love to go back to try it all!
Ryno’s – The perfect casual pizza place downtown where you can order full pizzas or large custom slices. After a full day of hiking and being out and about, all I wanted was to go and chow down on some delicious pizza. This also happens to be where they have karaoke on Monday nights which I heard is a total blast – I was extremely upset when I found out because I left town on Monday and missed it!
Places to Stay
The Little Nell – The ultimate boutique luxury hotel. As I mentioned their restaurant is amazing but they are also one of the top places to stay in Aspen. They also have a party hot spot bar downstairs that apparently gets wild during the winter season! Another amazing feature is how close The Little Nell is to the gondola! You can practically walk right out of the hotel and onto the gondola to get to the top of Aspen mountain. This is perfect too for when you’re done skiing or snowboarding for the day and can just jump off of the gondola and right into Après Ski at the Ajax Tavern. Keep your eyes peeled as you’re walking through or dining because famous people frequent The Little Nell and you might just spot a celeb!
The St. Regis – This is another very popular luxury hotel teeming with famous celebs. Aspen isn’t that large so its still quite an easy two block walk to get to the gondola that will take you up Aspen Mountain. The St. Regis is luxury at its finest and the exquisite outdoor circular pool is just as gorgeous as the rooms and the interior of the St. Regis.
The W – A trendy brand of hotels in major cities, I expected nothing less of the W Aspen. It just opened this summer but I can assure you that by winter season it will be another Aspen hot spot. With an amazing outdoor lounge area equipped with a cool lounge area featuring fire pits, it will be the ultimate Après ski spot. They also have a rooftop area that will be another hot spot with the outdoor heated pool, hot tubs, etc. I was lucky enough to be in town when they had the opening party for their downstairs bar lounge which was very cool, trendy, and a little bit cozy with pink velvet lounge seats surrounding the circular bar room.