Aspen is one of the most famous ski resorts in Colorado. But what are the best things to do in Aspen? To help you plan the perfect Aspen trip we have put together a list of the best Aspen attractions in summer and winter. Both seasons are great to visit the mountain town of Aspen and where you can explore the slopes in winter, there are lots of great walks and adventures to be had in summer. Here are the best things to do in Aspen in winter and in summer!
You might also want to read:
Table of Contents
Things to do in Aspen in Winter
It is no secret that Aspen is most popular in Winter. Americans and Europeans travel to Aspen for its famous Rocky Mountain slopes and jet-set community. While you can enjoy the great runs during the day and take advantage of the best Aspen restaurants and evening entertainment later on in the day, there is a lot Aspen has to offer in winter. You can travel to this ski town during the holiday season for a true Winter Wonderland experience with hot chocolate and ice skating… or you can come outside of the expensive holiday season to experience some of the best skiing in the state. Here are the best things to do in Aspen in winter – both on the slopes as downtown Aspen!
Aspen Snowmass is the name of a ski resort in the US state of Colorado. It’s a little confusing as Aspen Snowmass is both a separate sub-area with 241 kilometers of ski runs, as well as the name used to refer to all the ski areas around the city of Aspen.
Around Aspen you will find 513 kilometers of ski slopes, 241 of which are in the Snowmass sub-area.
At the base of the ski area you will find Aspen Snowmass Base Village. A large village with hotels and apartments, shops and restaurants. The village actually consists of two parts. On the one hand you will find larger lodges that are very attractively designed and on the other hand you will also find small-scale chalets on the mountain slope, in the middle of the ski area surrounded by forests. You will also find ski-in ski-out accommodations here.
Aspen Snowmass is a versatile ski area. There are certainly beautiful slopes for beginners and children, but there honestly aren’t that many. As there are more than 240 kilometres of slopes and runs in Aspen Snowmass – it might not be the best place to take kids or beginners as only a fraction of these runs is suitable.
However, average and (very) experienced winter sports enthusiasts can really indulge themselves here. The ski area is large and extensive, very sunny and yet very snow-sure. Aspen Snowmass truly is a winter sports mecca.
Ski Aspen Mountain
Aspen Mountain is the home mountain of the American town of Aspen. Aspen Mountain is also the name of the ski area which is located around this mountain. This ski area has a total of 103 kilometers of ski slopes.
Aspen Mountain is thus Aspen’s home mountain. Aspen is not a village, but a real town. A typical American town, super well-organized with streets and avenues. You will find plenty of accommodations, restaurants and shops. Aspen is a fashionable place where you can run into famous actors or singers during the winter months.
The Aspen Mountain ski area is not ideal for novice winter sports enthusiasts. In America they use green, blue, black and double black as designations for beginner slopes to slopes for very experienced skiers respectively. There are no green runs on Aspen Mountain, only blue, black and double black ski runs.
Aspen Mountain is a fairly compact but still large ski area with more than 100 kilometres of ski slopes. Aspen is located at an altitude of more than 2400 meters and the highest point is the top of the Aspen Mountain at more than 3400 meters. The ski season starts at the beginning of December and continues until mid-April.
In Aspen Mountain you can of course go skiing and snowboarding, but there are also other (winter) activities to do. Of course you can dine extensively or go (window) shopping. There is an indoor climbing hall and, as night falls, you can ride a snowmobile to a romantic mountain hut for a candlelit dinner. Also, the Norse god, responsible for snow, Ullr is honoured on some Friday evenings. All kinds of activities take place on the mountain in the dark. You can also go snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, just about anything is possible in Aspen.
Ski Aspen Highlands
Aspen Highlands is a created ski area with a ski resort as a village. You will find larger lodges with hotels in the little Aspen Highlands village, but also a number of smaller chalets surrounded by greenery.
Aspen Highlands Village is located at an altitude of 2,451 meters. The highest point is Highland Peak at 3777 meters. Fun fact: you can’t reach this point with a ski lift, but you can walk there or let a pistenbully take you there.
When you have reached this point you can descend into a so-called bowl, with ungroomed slopes and meters of powder snow and sometimes even moguls. The drop in altitude here is considerable and you don’t have that many slopes in Aspen Highlands for the novice winter sports enthusiast.
Beginners can enjoy skiing at Aspen Buttermilk, which is a family-friendly and modest ski area with the more easy runs. Aspen Highlands is for the absolute experts. It is not so overcrowded with tourists and according to the local residents that is completely fine and they like to keep it that way.
Aspen Highlands is particularly snow-sure. This is of course partly due to the altitude, but also because an average of 7 meters (275 inches) of snow falls annually.
At Aspen Buttermilk you won’t find a real village but rather a resort with a number of hotels and of course a large parking lot. Here you will also find a number of practice lifts and ski runs and a ski lift that takes you into the ski area and to the ski slopes.
Buttermilk Base Area is located at approximately 2400 meters altitude and the highest point is the West Summit at over 3000 meters altitude. You will not find a great drop in altitude here and this is reflected in the difficulty of the slopes.
In Buttermilk you will find mainly green and blue ski slopes. Beginner lessons are given here and children also have a great time. The ski area is compact and well-arranged and if you stay on the slopes, you can’t really get lost.
Aspen Buttermilk is a snow-sure ski area. On average, 4 (157 inches) to 5 (196 inches) meters of snow fall here every winter. Aspen Buttermilk’s ski season begins in early December and ends in the first week of April.
Visit Aspen brewing Company
Do you like beer? Then you need to visit the Aspen Brewing Company. The Aspen Brewing Company is located on S Gelena Street, Downtown Aspen. This microbrewery offers beer, wine and spirits. The Aspen Brewing Company is also a part of the Packer X Ski Division. Packer X Ski Division has created a strong team that represents locally owned businesses.
The beers offered at the Aspen Brewing Company are brewed at the location. You can choose between the Silver Queen series, the seasonal inspired series and the Temerity series. Some of the popular beers include the Tartastic Berliner Weisse, Snowcat Porter and many more.
The Aspen Brewing Company has been brewing great craft beer since 2008. Now they are one of the most famous craft breweries in Colorado. Their beer is available all over Colorado and can be purchased in 3-packs of 16oz cans, 22oz bottles, 1/2 barrels, and growlers. The beer is well-loved in the Denver craft-beer scene.
You can either head to the bar to taste the beer for yourself or book a visit to the Aspen Brewing Company to learn all about the process of brewing craft beers. They offer several beer tasting flights, too. And yes, your kids are welcome to tag along! Don’t miss out on their happy hour which runs from 3PM to 5PM every day!
Visit the Wheeler Opera House
Are you into history? Then you should not miss out on the Wheeler Opera House. This opera house was built in 1890 and still hosts theatres and operas today!
The Wheeler Opera House is one of the most famous buildings in Aspen and can be find on the corner of East Hyman Avenue and South Mill street. The building itself was designed by Willoughby J Edbrooke. Edbrooke tried to blend elements of the Romanesque Revival and other Italian styles that were incredibly popular at the end of the 19th century.
It was also one of the first buildings that made it onto the National Register of Historic Places in Aspen! Every year the Wheeler Opera House hosts concerts for the Aspen Music Festival and locals are incredibly proud of this gorgeous Opera House.
When visiting Aspen it would be a good idea to check if there are any events going on in the Wheeler Opera House and whether there are tours organised to visit this historic Opera House on the inside!
Visit the Aspen Art Museum
The Aspen Art Museum is a museum located in the city of Aspen, Colorado. The museum is a non-collecting museum which means they do not have a regular collection. Instead they try to organise exhibitions of both established and upcoming artists. An interesting aspect is the commitment to artists from the nearby mountain region.
The museum was established in 1976. Aspen had acquired an out of use hydroelectric powerplant built in 1888 and decided to make it into an art museum. It wasn’t until 2014 that they decided it was time to build a new museum which is now one of the most modern and beautiful buildings in the centre of Aspen.
If you are a fan of art and want to take an afternoon off – the Aspen Art Museum is a great place to visit in Aspen!
Have an afternoon out at the Aspen Recreation Centre
The Aspen sport and recreation centre is a recreation centre with an indoor climbing wall, a subtropical swimming pool with rides and slides, an ice skating rink and a fully-equipped gym.
If you are looking to either warm up in the hot pool and hot tubs or do some indoor climbing, the Aspen Recreation Centre is the place to be! They even offer yoga classes and there are personal trainers at hand if you want to get in shape during your holiday.
The Aspen Recreation centre is a great choice if you are traveling with kids as there is a lot to do! It is also the perfect place to spend the afternoon for those who like to go to the gym, love yoga or want to do some indoor ice skating!
Go for Apres Ski
Why not head out for a good Apres Ski in Aspen? There are loads of amazing bars to visit and most bars and restaurants even offer happy hour between 3PM and 5PM – perfect when coming down from the mountain. As well as the most famous and most visited bars in Aspen such as Bootsy Bellows and Geisha, there are a few cool places that most people may not know about. I have written an article on the best restaurants in Aspen and some of them have amazing apres ski offers!
Did you know you can also go paragliding in Aspen? There are a couple of great companies that offer paragliding experiences in Aspen in winter and summer. They leave from Aspen village and will bring you up to Snowmass for an experience of a lifetime. You can glide over the slopes and get a birds eye view over all of the Aspen ski areas. You will be paragliding in tandem which means you will have a very experienced instructor strapped to your back. You do not need any experience – just a taste for adventure!
Go on a snowmobile tour
Did you know you can go on a snowmobile tour in Aspen? These Snowmobile tours through Snowmass will have you explore Aspen’s high country and take you through your favourite ski slopes and some of the lesser known areas of the mountain. For the more adventurous this tour will have you exploring off the beaten track trails along the backbone of Aspen Mountain. You will even be able to get to places skiers are not allowed into!
You can book trips from two hours to four hours and your lunch will be provided by the tour operator. There is also a Klondike lunch tour where you can dine on ranch-raised Wagyu burgers and warm up on a firepit outside of a remote Klondike cabin. You can also take a tour of the Independence pass where you can take pictures of dramatic and wide views of the continental divide, see frozen waterfalls from close by and even explore the old ghost mining town of Independence.
Go snowshoeing in Aspen
Love hiking and walking? It can be a bit difficult in winter due to the snow. Luckily there are snowshoe tours available in Aspen where an experienced guide will help you explore the mountain on foot!
You will be joined by a knowledgeable naturalist who will teach you everything about the animals living on the mountain, avalanches and the mountain ecology. In the Snowmass area you can take a tour organised by the Aspen Centre for Environmental Studies and enjoy the silence of a snow-covered forest!
Things to do in Aspen in Summer
Although winter is obviously the busiest time of the year in Aspen, the mountain and the surrounding areas are known for their unrivalled natural beauty in summer. There is a lot to do in Aspen in summer! Below you will find the most popular things to do in Aspen this summer.
Walk through Maroon Bells
Did you know that the Maroon Bells is one of the most photographed places in the state of Colorado? Maroon Bells attracts lots of tourists because of its beautiful views and the two large snow-capped mountains in the distance. From Maroon Bells you will have an amazing view over Maroon Peak and the North Maroon Peak. The highest summit in Maroon Bells Scenic Area is North Maroon Peak at 14, 163 feet (4, 322 m).
About a forty-minute drive (17 km) west of Aspen you can find Maroon Lake. Here you are at the beautiful photo location and at the starting point of walks in the area. For example, you can climb (uphill) to the top of Castle Creek Pass (2. 8 km / 1. 7 mi).
In summer this is a very popular location. From early June to early October, you have to use the shuttle bus to get there (between 8:00 AM and 5:00 PM). The bus departs from Aspen Highlands Ski Area, approximately 3.5 km from Aspen on Maroon Creek Road.
You buy your bus ticket in the sports shop there. Before 08:00 and after 17:00 you can drive independently to Maroon Lake for ten dollars per vehicle. However, the parking spaces there are already full well before 08:00. We therefore I would actually recommend taking the bus.
Visit Independence pass
Independence Pass, originally Hunter Pass, is a high mountain pass in the Sawatch Range, part of the Rocky Mountains in the US state of Colorado. The pass traverses the continental divide, forming a portion of the boundary between San Isabel National Forest and Gunnison National Forest. It has an elevation of 12, 095 feet (3, 705 m) above sea level.
The Independence pass is crossed by Colorado State Highway 82, making it one of the highest paved roads in Colorado and it is the highest paved road across the Continental Divide in the United States. The Independence Pass Ski Area, located on the north side of the pass, was named in honor of the “Independence Day” of July 4, 1859, when prospectors first discovered gold on what became known as “Alder Gulch. “
Heavy snowfall closes the pass in winter, cutting Aspen off direct east access during the winter sports season. In summer the pass is a popular attraction.
From a vantage point, visitors can experience the alpine, treeless tundra environment. You will also have a good view of the east of Mount Elbert, the second highest mountain of the 48 contiguous states. Longs Peak, Mount Massive and the Collegiate Peaks can also be seen. Other nearby mountains include Mount Yale (the third highest in Colorado), Missouri Mountain, Mount Columbia, Castle Peak, Belford Peak, North Star Mountain, Chicago Peak, Wind
There are also hiking trails and opportunities for bouldering. Cross-country skiing is available on the slopes of Independence Pass in late spring and early summer. The USA Pro Challenge has also been passing over the mountain pass since 2011.
Go on an adventure in Glenwood Springs
Glenwood Springs is a lively place in the US state of Colorado. Over millions of years, water eroded the Glenwood Caverns in Iron Mountain. This was due to underground water streams. These special waters were stored by the waterfalls in the caverns. Today, it has been turned into a sightseeing area for tourists.
You can take a tour of the Glenwood Springs cave system and take a ride on the whirligig, roller coasters or cable car above ground. There are three zip lines, one of which is the world’s highest vertical zip line at 2, 400 feet. You can also ride a horse on a 35-acre ranch in the area or go for a float down the Gunnison River in an inflatable tire.
There are also hot springs and you can follow the challenging trail to the beautiful Hanging Lake. This 3/4 mile trail ascends 1, 000 ft. as it winds around to the basin and dramatic, 100 ft. waterfall that plunges into the lake.
Glenwood Springs is located on two rivers: Colorado River and Roaring Fork River. It will therefore come as no surprise that rafting is one of the most popular summer activities here. The most famous of Glenwood’s rafting destinations is just outside the city: Lower Canyons on the Gunnison River. It features two canyons, Narrows and Reservoir.
The raging Roaring Fork River tumbles and slides its way through Glenwood Canyon, which provides an impressive backdrop to your aquatic adventure thanks to its high stony cliffs. Known as the “Gem of Colorado, ” Glenwood Canyon is not only an engineering wonder but it’s also known for the fun, fast rapids that run the length of this wondrous stretch of water.
Visit the John Denver Sanctuary
The John Denver Sanctuary is a sanctuary honouring the famous Colorado singer-songwriter John Denver. It is located in a secluded area near Aspen, Colorado. It comprises four parcels of land that Denver owned: the Shadow Mountain Ranch and three other contiguous properties. The Sanctuary was established in order to preserve nature and ecology at the request of Denver.
You can easily walk the John Denver Sanctuary and there are famous quotes and lyrics carved into stones along the hiking paths.
Have a day out at the Aspen Centre for environmental studies
The Aspen Centre for Environmental Studies is a center that promotes environmental education and offers visitors tours through the Aspen landscapes, mountains and lakes. The Aspen Center for Environmental studies offers courses and workshops to help kids and adults understand nature or teach them about the human impact on the environment. The centre also offers day camps, school programmes and children’s activities for families.
One of the most important programs ran by the Aspen Centre for Environmental Studies is the Forest program. Many forests in Colorado are struggling with infestations and the changing climate. The Aspen Centre for Environmental Studies tries to raise awareness and teach people about the human impact on the Colorado forests. They offer programs of restoration, education and fund new research.
The Aspen Centre for Environmental studies runs a large amount of classes and programs including workshops on pollination ecology or birding walks and tours. This centre is a fantastic way to learn about the many topics around nature and the environment.
It is a great place to visit with kids as your kids will be able to meet the farm animals kept at the center and learn more about how to grow fruits and vegetables. In summer kids can also go on camps and adults can take naturalist courses, workshops and classes.
Visit Crater Lake
If you love a beautiful lake, then Crater Lake should not be missed. This beautiful lake is located near the Maroon Bells just west of Aspen. The lake is only accessible through the Maroon Bells hiking trails and lies about two miles from the white river national forest’s parking area – the same one you park at to visit Maroon Bells.
Though it can be tackled by hikers of all levels, the steep 2. 7-mile ascent gains an impressive 1, 000 feet of elevation—and even the shortest section of trail requires a 10-foot climb to an observation deck for spectacular views of the lake and the surrounding hills and mountains.
In order to get to the Crater Lake, you need to climb about 500 feet of rocky terrain. From there on out it is an easy walk to the shores of Crater Lake.
You can see the lake from several points as you make your way up, and when you reach the Rim Drive trailhead on the east side of the caldera, you have the choice of three different loops. Each year, the Crater lake grows and shrinks before drying up in October. The best time to visit Crater Lake is spring as you will be able to see the many beautiful spring waterfalls.
Embrace your inner monkey in The Lost Forest
There’s an adventure park for the whole family hidden among the Aspen trees. It has thrills for everyone, whether you’re 5 or 50. The Breathtaker Alpine Coaster, the Rugged Ascent Climbing wall, and a Canopy Run Zipline excursion are all available at the Lost Forest on Snowmass Mountain. Lost Forest Adventure Zone: The Lost Forest is a six-acre “timber-tastic” adventure zone.
A day in the Lost Forest is like hiking through the tough Rocky Mountains, but it’s a little safer and more comfortable. There is also a ropes course for kids where they can get a taste of authentic rock climbing and even face their fears as they climb up the ropes.
The zipline, which is brand new to Snowmass Village this summer and reaches a top speed of 40 mph, will thrill the entire family.
If thrills aren’t your thing, there’s also half-day tours for adults and novice fly-fishing for youngsters. There’s no better area to experience trout fly fishing than the Roaring Fork Valley, which has some of the best in the country.
Snowmass Mountain also has a full outdoor paintball course for the older kids in all of us. Paintballing at Snowmass is a true adrenaline thrill, combining natural and manmade characteristics.
Don’t want to spend $200 or more per person on a round of golf? The Lost Forest includes two full-size disc golf courses that are free to enjoy if you bring your own frisbees. This 18-hole course was originally designed and built by the SCC in 1991. The other course is an 18-hole winter disc golf course. This course changes every year. New holes are installed as often as funds and volunteers allow.
Combine the two courses for a total of 18 holes of relaxed golf. Many residents prefer disc golf to traditional golf because it allows them to get into the woods without having to worry about dropping balls in the water trap on every drive.
Take a tour downtown Aspen
Why not take a walking tour through Aspen? There are quite a few tours to take such as the evening ghost tour, the aspen history tour or even a scenic Aspen tour. And while on the tour you can get tips from locals on where to shop and great restaurants.
Take a history and architecture-focused stroll through Aspen’s Victorian West End residential district. Discover little-known details about the homes in the neighborhood and the individuals who lived there.
You can take the following tours in Aspen:
Follow the grottos trail
The Grotto Trail hike is ideal for families and is only nine miles from Aspen. Explore ice caves, a waterfall, and woodlands on the one-mile loop. The gentle incline is also perfect for beginning hikers, and the well-groomed trail will provide breathtaking views of the hills and valleys surrounding the trail.
The Roaring Fork River’s gushing water created the Grottos near Aspen. The three-quarter-mile loop has a total elevation increase of about 300 feet, making it an ideal hike for families. To access the Grottos, follow the paved Upper Loop Road from either the parking lot or White River Campground. The entrance is on the south side of the Upper Loop Road, and there is a free trailhead at each end of the loop.
To hike the Cascade Loop, cross the Roaring Fork River bridge from the trailhead parking area. The Grottos Trail is located 500 feet to the left of the bridge. To get to the ice caves’ entrance, hike down over some very flat boulders. To go into the caves, you’ll need to climb or shimmy down, so wear sneakers, hiking shoes, or tough sandals.
Visit the Ashcroft Ghost Town
Ashcroft is a ghost town that was established in 1881. It is a historic destination known for its abandoned structures, mining operations, and more. The coal-mining town is located in Dona Ana County. It’s population was never very large, only 35 at the highest point. However, there are about 25 structures remaining in the area that date from the 1880s to 1950s, many of which are still in good condition.
The Ashcroft Ghost Town has been voted as the best thing to do in Aspen because of its rich history and beautiful buildings. The trail to Ashcroft takes you around the old abandoned mining town. Ashcroft started booming when Charles B Culver and W. F. Coxhead left Leadville in 1880 to look for silver deposits in the Castle Creek Valley.
Coxhead would then return to Leadville to get more men to join them in their search for silver. He would ultimately return with no less than 23 more men and organised a Minder’s Protective Association in 2 weeks, built a courthouse and planned out the street. They first christened the camp Castle Forks City but it was later changed to Ashcroft.
Ultimately when the Miner’s association was launched, there were 97 members in total. All of the members paid $5 in return for a building lot. Three years later the town had grown from 97 to 2000 people. There were two newspapers, a school, a smelter and no less than 20 saloons. This made Ashcroft larger than Aspen and more important as it was closer to the Crested Butte Railroad.
Now you can still visit the Blue Mirror Saloon – one of the 16 to 20 saloons that stood in Ashcroft during the book around 1883. Another great building to visit in the Ashcroft Ghost Town is the post office which is an original building still standing in its original location. It looks like a house and doesn’t quite look like a post office but this was due to the fact that it was originally a private residence.
The old post office of Ashcroft, however, used to be a lot bigger. As the town started to shrink, so did the post office. They ultimately loved to a smaller building which was cheaper and easier to maintain.
Lieze Neven is a globetrotting travel writer and expat currently based in Nepal. With a passion for exploration, she has lived in Dubai, the UK, and Belgium, alongside her international teacher husband. Her parents live in France and she tries to visit Paris at least once a year. Together, they travel the world looking for the best hotels, experiences and food locations have to offer!