David Cicconi / Food & Wine

Whether you're looking to shop, hike, or après ski, Aspen offers just about everything.

Brad Japhe
Updated May 02, 2019

To the uninitiated, Aspen might seem like a place for skiing, and not much else. It’s a reasonable assumption. There are a total of four slopes here: Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Snowmass, and Buttermilk. Each offers pristine access to the region’s 176 inches of annual snowfall. But winter activities are just the tip of the iceberg here. The busiest time of year actually extends from July into early August, when the warm, dry Aspen weather lifts to 85 degrees during the day. The Rocky Mountains shimmer under the summer sun. Hiking trails lead in every direction connecting downtown to wilderness. Whether you’re into mountain biking, rock climbing, fly fishing, or yoga, your needs are satisfied on a daily basis.

Or perhaps you’re more of a shopper. In which case you’ll find it heartening that Aspen concentrates over 200 boutiques into an area of 20 square blocks. It is improbably cosmopolitan for a town of less than 7,000 year-round residents. Aspen's art center, museums, and music festivals are teeming with life. (People watching is practically a sport all its own.) No matter when you visit, there’ll surely be plenty to do. Here are just a few suggestions to keep you busy on your next trip to Aspen. 

Outdoor activities

Snowmass ski resort is Aspen’s largest—and one of Colorado’s premiere destinations for winter activities. There are 150 miles of trails here, spread across 3,300 acres of terrain. The season typically kicks off at the end of November, lasting until mid-April. Lift tickets are slowly creeping up to the $200-per-day mark if you purchase on the day of. Save some cash by purchasing multi-day tickets, in advance, on the Aspen Snowmass website.

Hikers of all ages and abilities can find trails suited to their needs in Aspen. A popular outing of moderate difficulty is the Smuggler Mountain Trail, providing sweeping panoramic views of the surrounding mountainscape. The three-mile roundtrip trek gains 800 feet in elevation, summiting at a small observation deck.

For something more ambitious, climb to the top of a 14er (one of Colorado’s 58 peaks above 14,000 feet in elevation). La Plata is one of the more accessible: an 8.3 mile out-and-back journey, starting just west of the scenic Twin Lakes. Aspen Alpine Guides and Aspen Expeditions are two guiding services specializing in tours of more rugged terrain.

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Mountain bikers can pedal unimpeded throughout much of Aspen—a cycling paradise. Follow intermediate "blue" markings along the Rio Grande Trail and Hunter Creek or go more advanced with the lift-serviced downhill slogs at Snowmass. There’s a reason why cycling sommeliers, including James Beard Award-winning Bobby Stuckey, have made a home here.

When it’s time to stretch it out, ACES—an environmental science education organization—offers weekly al fresco classes atop Aspen Mountain and at nearby Hallam Lake. When you’re indoors during winter, you can still maintain a mountain view by signing up for space at O2 Aspen. This was the preferred meditative retreat for chef Daniel Humm when he hosted the EMP "Winter House" popup here in 2018.

Art and culture in Aspen

The new Aspen Art Museum, designed by award-winning architect Shigeru Ban, opened to the public in 2014. Recognizable by its stunning, rusted lattice facade, it houses four stories of gallery space—concentrating on contemporary installations.

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For the aspiring artist, Anderson Ranch is an educative collective offering classes in everything from painting to furniture making.

Students of the stage can take their talents to Theatre Aspen, a summer repertory offering Broadway musicals and plays in the heart of downtown. Nearby, the historic Wheeler Opera House features year-round entertainment inside a stone-crafted building dating back to the 19th century.

Spring through autumn marks music season in Aspen. JazzAspenSnowmass offers festivals in June as well as Labor Day, attracting headliners like Sting and Portugal The Man. On a more regular basis, the Aspen Music Festival offers more than 300 performances spanning a diverse range of styles. The outdoor Benedict Music Tent is home to weekly performances from June 27th through August 18th in its upcoming season—its 70th.

If you’re in Aspen the last week of June, you might want to think about attending the Aspen Ideas Festival, on the campus of the Aspen Institute. Billing itself as a "public gathering place for leaders from around the globe and across many disciplines," it includes 450 presenters and 400 sessions spread out across nine days.

Shopping in Aspen

There is no shortage of designer apparel on the streets of downtown Aspen. Gucci, Prada, Moncler, and Ralph Lauren all operate storefronts within two blocks of Wagner Park. If you have a hankering for cowboy gear, peruse Kemo Sabe, where leather boots and tasseled handbags line the shelves. Pitkin County Dry Goods is a fun, family-owned boutique for more casual attire. And if you need to stock up — or at least marvel at — high-priced performance gear, wander into Gorsuch where a bright yellow performance parka from Frauenschuh will set you back $1400.

Aspen restaurants

The annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, held every June since 1982, has hoisted the local restaurant scene onto a global stage. Today, there are no less than 80 restaurants and bars peppered across the Aspen landscape. Check out the best ones for each time of day here.

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