Aspen, Colorado Information
Location: Central Colorado
On CO-82, 42 miles southeast of Glenwood Springs and 43 miles northwest of US-24 at Twin Lakes.
In the winter Aspen (7,908-ft.), located 41 miles southeast of Glenwood Springs and 200 miles southwest of Denver, is renowned as a world-class ski area and playground for the rich and famous. In the summer the town takes on a decidedly different personality. Fur coats and designer attire give way to hiking boots and tee shirts as scores of regular folks descend upon the town, attracted to the area’s great recreational opportunities and amazing scenery.
The town lies nestled at the head of the Roaring Fork Valley, amid the incredible landscape of the Elk and Sawatch Mountain ranges and surrounded by the White River National Forest. Almost half of the adjacent forest is comprised of wilderness areas – the Maroon Bells/Snowmass, the Hunter-Fryingpan and the Collegiate Peaks. The forest is packed with excellent hiking trails leading over the areas high passes, traversing glorious wildflower-filled meadows and wandering past shimmering alpine lakes cradled beneath jagged peaks.
Aspen, founded as a mining camp, prospered during the Colorado Silver Boom in the 1880’s. By 1887 the town boasted a population of 15,000 and was considered one of the riches silver mining areas in the U.S. The wealth fueled a building boom. Jerome Wheeler built the Wheeler Opera House and the Hotel Jerome. Stately Victorian homes, banks and retail establishments sprung up around town.
The collapse of the silver market in 1893 lead to a half century of decline, reversed in the 1940’s with the development of a ski resort on Aspen Mountain. Thankfully during the transformation of the town into a premier ski destination the town planner’s decided to preserve its Victorian personality and historic structures.
History buffs will enjoy the Wheeler-Stallard House Museum, the former mansion of Jerome Wheeler that is now a museum displaying exhibits and artifacts from the Roaring Fork Valley. A tour of the Smuggler Mine, located on the slopes of Smuggler Mountain just north of town, is recommended for anyone who wants to learn about silver mining and the area’s mining history. The guided tour takes guests into the mine and demonstrates hard rock mining techniques used in the late 19th century. Call (970) 925-2049 for more information.
If you like Victorian architecture take an evening stroll around the town’s residential backstreets, north of Main Street, to see restored structures as well as recently built houses in keeping with the town’s historic character. Another option is a visit to the Wheeler Opera House, restored to its former Victorian opulence. Today the opera house is a great place to hear music or see a movie after a hard day on the trail.
While you are exploring town be sure to visit the Hallam Lake Nature Center. The 25-acre preserve on the north side of town at 100 Puppy Smith Street features a nice half mile nature trail that winds through wetlands with stops at various observation decks. The Center is a good place to see birds and, in the evening, deer, fox and other mammals.
There are a number of nice walks that begin from town. The Rio Grande Trail, a hiking and biking trail starting behind the Post Office on Puppy Smith Street, is an easy and popular walk following the old Denver and Rio Grande Railroad bed along the Roaring Fork River with good views of the valley. The first 2-miles of the trail are paved.
Hunter Creek is another popular trail that begins north of downtown on Lone Pine Road. The moderate trail paralleling Hunter Creek gains 700-ft in the first mile and provides access to a number of other hiking trails in the area.
The Maroon Bells Scenic Area, located 10 miles from Aspen up the Maroon Creek Road, is the premiere attraction in the area. Here you can explore a beautiful glacial valley surrounded by 14,000-ft. peaks. The center pieces of the valley are the iconic Maroon Bells, two maroon colored 14,000-ft peaks beautifully reflected in the crystalline waters of Maroon Lake.
Several short trails, the Maroon Lake Trail, the Falls Loop Trail, the Maroon Creek Trail and the Crater Lake trail, ranging from 1.0 to 3.6 miles wander around the scenic area’s lakes and meadows, providing wonderful views of the surrounding peaks. Two longer trails, Buckskin Pass and West Maroon Pass, along with the popular Four Pass Loop backpacking trail start at the foot of Maroon Lake.
Vehicle access to the Maroon Bells is restricted during the summer to preserve the fragile ecosystem. From 9am-5pm shuttle buses leave from the Rubey Transit Center in downtown Aspen and the Aspen Highlands Village to the Maroon Bells. Check the bus schedule for departure time.
A visit to the ghost town of Ashcroft, located 11 miles south of Aspen on the Castle Creek Road, is another popular diversion on a day off or after a hike to Cathedral Lake or American Lake. The self guided tour around the former mining town, once larger and more populated than Aspen, visits nine of the original buildings and the sites of several other structures. Plaques explain the history of the buildings and the area.
Another option for a day off is the scenic 20-mile drive to Independence Pass. Head southeast from Aspen on Highway 82, a narrow winding road leading to the pass at 12,096-ft. A paved trail leads from the parking area to a viewing platform at 12,135-ft. with panoramic views of the glacier-sculpted Colorado Rocky Mountain peaks. Along the way stop at the Grottos (8 mile up the road) and take a short hike past interesting rock formation and the ghost town of Independence (15 miles up the road). Independence was one of the first successful gold camps in the area. Today a self guided tour leads past the few remaining log cabins at the site. Independence Pass can also be done in conjunction with a hike to Lost Man, Midway Pass or New York Creek.
Further afield is a day trip to Redstone in the Crystal River Valley, located 47 from Aspen. The main attraction is Redstone Castle, the 42 room estate of coal and steel baron John Cleveholm Osgood. Tours include the main rooms on the first level and a few of the bedrooms on the upper floors. After the tour take a walk around the quaint little mining village to visit the antique shops, art galleries and handicraft boutiques.
Food, Lodging and Services
Aspen, its sister ski areas at Buttermilk Mountain, Aspen Highlands and Snowmass, and the fast growing down-valley towns of Basalt and Carbondale, provide a full complement of accommodations, restaurants, retail establishments and services to fit just about every budget.
With a few exceptions accommodation in Aspen, including condos, hotels and bed and breakfasts, are expensive. Better deals can be found in nearby Snowmass Village, Basalt, located 19 miles northwest of Aspen, or Carbondale, located 30 miles northwest of Aspen, which is home to a few of the chain hotels.
If you like to camp there are national forest campgrounds off Highway 82 and along the Maroon Creek Road. Campgrounds along the Maroon Creek Road are very popular. Advance reservations through recreation.gov are highly recommended.
Just about every kind of food imaginable is available in Aspen. Restaurants prices range from inexpensive to the outrageous. For those who prefer to cook for themselves there are two good grocery stores in town, Clark’s Market at 300 Puppy Smith St. and City Market at 711 E. Cooper. The best baked goods can be found at Main Street Bakery and Café, 201 E Main Street, which is also a popular spot for breakfast. Satisfy your caffeine cravings at Ink! Coffee at 520 E. Durant and Victoria’s Espresso at nearby 510 E Durant.
Hiking and backpacking supplies are available at Ute Mountaineering at 210 S. Galena. There is also a great hardware store, Alpine Ace Hardware, in the basement in the mall housing Clark’s Market at 30 Puppy Smith St.
Internet access is available in the local coffee shops and also at the Public Library on Mill Street just north of Main. Explorer Booksellers, at 221 E Main, stocks area hiking books and maps along with a great selection of leisure reading.
The main visitor center in Aspen, open Monday – Friday, is located at 425 Rio Grande Place. The visitor center at the Wheeler Opera House, 320 East Hyman Ave, is open 7 days a week.
Best Aspen Hikes
Distance: 3.4 - 9.2 miles (Round Trip)
This popular trail climbs to a 12,462-ft. pass with panoramic views of the 14,000-ft. peaks towering above the heart of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. Visual delights along the trail include lofty peaks, two stunning lakes and beautiful alpine meadows.
Distance: 9.2 miles (Round Trip)
A strenuous hike to the highest trail pass in Colorado featuring spectacular views of the high peaks and ridges of the Elk Mountains, including Castle and Cathedral Peaks to the southwest and the Maroon Bells, Snowmass Mountain, Pyramid Peak and Capital Peak to the northwest.
Distance: 3.4 - 13.0 miles (Round Trip)
Imposing peaks, pretty waterfalls, stunning lakes, a huge alpine basin and panoramic views of the Maroon Bells, Pyramid Peak and Treasure Mountain from a 12,500-ft. pass are the scenic rewards on this 13-mile (RT) hike to West Maroon Pass.
Distance: 12.8 miles (Round Trip)
This long hike ascends a pretty valley through aspen groves and spruce-fir forest interspersed with meadows to Capitol Lake, an alpine jewel nestled beneath the massive west face of Capital Peak (14,130-ft.).
Distance: 7.4 miles (Round Trip)
This lightly used trail ascends beautiful Buckskin Basin to a stunning pass with wonderful views of Capitol Peak, Snowmass Mountain and Mount Daly.
Distance: 5.6 miles (Round Trip)
This popular hike ascends steeply up Pine Creek canyon, traveling through forests and meadows to Cathedral Lake, a gorgeous alpine gem nestled in a dramatic cirque beneath rugged granite peaks.
Distance: 26.6 miles (Loop)
This popular 3-4 day backpacking loop around the stunningly beautiful Maroon Bells climbs over four 12,000-ft. passes and traverses some of the most amazing scenery in the Maroon Bells / Snowmass Wilderness area.
Distance: 4.6 - 8.8 miles (One Way)
This hike traverses two scenic valleys with pretty lakes separated by a panoramic pass. From the pass wonderful views extend to the peaks and ridges along Continental Divide, the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness and the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness.
Distance: 5.8 miles (Round Trip)
This is one of the most scenic hikes in the Hunter-Fryingpan area. Starting at 10,730-ft., the trail climbs on moderate grades through acres of meadows awash in wildflowers to two beautiful lakes.
Distance: 7.8 miles (Round Trip)
Great views of the Collegiate Peaks and the Elk Mountains beyond, solitude and a good workout are your rewards for hiking this lightly used trail to a pass high in the Williams Mountains.
Distance: 8.1 miles (Round Trip)
This trail travels up a beautiful, secluded valley to wind swept tarn and then a saddle on the Continental Divide overlooking the Fryingpan Lakes. The quiet valley offers good opportunities to spot wildlife and features fine views of the surrounding high peaks.