Best things to do in Aspen

20 Best Things To Do In Aspen

A former silver mining town, Aspen has grown into one of the most popular destinations in Colorado. While some travelers know Aspen as a popular skiing destination, there are many cool things to do in Aspen in summer from hiking the surrounding mountains to camping and exploring downtown Aspen. 

Driving from Denver to Aspen 

To get to Denver from Aspen, take Interstate-70 and take an exit toward the Independence Pass which will bring you straight to Aspen. This is the fastest way to get to Aspen if you are traveling from May through October when the pass is open.

If you are traveling from Denver to Aspen in winter, you can either drive on Interstate-70 before getting off at Glenwood Springs (since the pass is closed) or fly into Aspen by taking a flight from Denver or other destinations. 

Best things to do in Aspen

1. Ute Trail

Length: 6 miles round trip (2-4 hours)

Difficulty: strenuous 

Ute trail is one of the most challenging hikes in Aspen that is often used by local hikers to test their physical stamina. The trail begins at the end of the Ute road and reaches the Ute overlook after the first mile and continues toward the top of the Aspen gondola. 

The Ute trail goes 3,000 feet to the summit of Aspen Mountain also known as Ajax, among aspen and pine trees. It’s one of the most difficult hikes in Aspen that allows you to see the popular ski resort without any snow and also get bragging rights since this is a challenging trail and most people come here by gondola. 

Another option is to hike to Ute Rock, a shorter version of the hike that will allow you to get a spectacular view of Aspen without continuing to the top. The more ambitious hikers can continue to push forward 🙂

After reaching the summit, you can grab some food and a drink at the Sundeck restaurant and catch the Silver Queen Gondola on the way back. The Gondola operates from July through September and from September through October only on weekends. 

If you’re short on time or looking for a quick family hike, climb approximately one mile to the Ute Rock Overlook (with lots of switchbacks), then turn around and head back down into town.

2. Smuggler Mountain 

Length: 3 miles round trip 

Difficulty: easy 

Hiking is one of the best things to do in Aspen, but you don’t necessarily have to do challenging trails to claim the bragging rights. 

If you want to enjoy the spectacular views of Aspen without a hard workout, Smuggler Mountain is the best place to do that. The trail to the top of Smuggler Mountain goes along a rocky dirt road and arrives at the scenic overlook where you can enjoy the sprawling views of the mountains from a platform and take a quick break on the bench. 

Most people arrive at the observation platform after 1,5 miles of hiking and head back the same way they came from. This is a popular trail, and you will meet many fellow hikers as well as mountain bicycles – remember to watch out for them! 

Another option is to continue this hike by going toward Hunter Creek Trail, or by continuing to Warren Lakes, which is a 12-mile round trip. 

Independence Pass is one of the best things to do in Colorado

3. Independence Pass 

Independence Pass is the highest continuous paved road in the United States that offers incredible views of the surrounding Rocky Mountains. Independence Pass is a major bucket list for many travelers and driving on top of it is one of the best things to do in Aspen. Rent a car in Aspen to the top of this 32-mile road to enjoy the spectacular alpine views or one of the hikes along the pass like the Lost Man trail. 

If you have more time, take an Independence Pass from Leadville, the highest mountain town in the United States by elevation with an altitude of 11,000 feet. Leadville has an interesting mining history which you can explore in its quaint downtown and is also near Twin Lakes where you can kayak and paddle board.

July is the best time to visit Independence Pass to see the blooming wildflowers. 

Maroon Bells is one of the best places to visit in Colorado

4. Maroon Bells 

One of the most photographed spots in North America, Maroon Bells is a spectacular sight. 

One of the best places to visit in Colorado, Aspen is a town known for its stunning scenery and several ski resorts. While winter and summer are the two busiest seasons here, early-to-mid fall is the best time to visit Aspen, in my opinion. With thousands of aspen trees turning gold, Indian summer is the best time for hiking, mountain biking, and spending time outside.

The Aspen area is also home to Maroon Bells, the most photographed peaks in North America. Make sure to come from middle to late September to see these iconic mountains framed by the golden colors of the surrounding aspen trees. 

5. Glenwood Hot Springs 

For a fun day out, take a quick drive to Glenwood Springs where you can enjoy the bubbling waters of one of the best hot springs in Colorado. This is a perfect mini-getaway that will help you to regenerate in the healing alters of hot springs and enjoy a more quiet atmosphere.

Since this is a popular destination, consider coming here on a weekday. Another alternative is Iron Mountain Hot Springs, which is located nearby nut nowhere near as crowded as Glenwood Hot Springs.

6. Silver Queen Gondola (or Ute Trail)

Don’t want to spend hours making your way up the Ute trail?

Taking a Silver Queen Gondola is one of the classic things to do in Aspen that is popular with visitors. And the best thing is that the slopes are still open, even in summer.

The Silver Queen Gondola brings you to the top of Aspen Mountain which is 11,212 feet tall. Here you can grab a bite at the Sundeck, enjoy grand views and have lots of fun. 

7. Hanging Lake 

Where to stay near Hanging Lake: Glenwood Hot Springs Resort

Located near Glenwood Springs, Hanging Lake is one of the best places to visit in Colorado. A few years ago, thousands of people were stopping to see it until officials implemented a permit system to save the lake’s fragile ecosystem.

The permit costs between $10-12 and has to be obtained before your visit. While Hanging Lake is worth a visit, plan your visit early morning. Many people travel to Hanging Lake by car, and to minimize the wait time and skip traffic, you can take a shuttle from Glenwood Springs.

Want to continue your adventures? Read about the best hot springs in Colorado.

8. Sample vegan food around Aspen 

Aspen has many good places to eat but none of them are as good as vegan restaurants in Aspen.  

Some of the best vegan restaurants in Aspen are the Bangkok Happy Bowl, a great Thai restaurant that has a separate vegan menu; Spring Cafe which has sample menu items like vegan spinach and mushroom enchilada, almond flour blueberry pancakes, chickpea carrot veggie burger. 

Aspen Pie Shop has vegan pizza with vegan parmesan, and a selection of pizzas and salads that can be made vegan upon request. Little Ollie’s is a popular Aspen restaurant that has available vegan options. 

9. Visit Snowmass Village

Some travelers think that visiting Snowmass Village is all about skiing and winter sports, but you can also enjoy this area in summer thanks to several hikes like South Rim Trail. Overall, Snowmass Village is quieter in summer with many people coming here to hike and mountain bike. 

10. Castle Creek Road 

Castle Creek Road is one of the hidden gems in the area and taking this scenic drive is one of the best things to do in Aspen. Also known as County Road 15, this is one of the most scenic drives in Colorado that takes you through the beautiful Elk Range straight to Ashcroft, a ghost mining town. 

This is not a long drive (only 13 miles long), but an incredibly scenic one, so you will have plenty of opportunities to pull over and enjoy scenic views. 

Like some roads in the area, Castle Creek is open only seasonally, from May through late October when the area gets its first snowfall.

11. Ashcroft 

The Aspen area is home to several ghost towns where you can learn about what life looked like in the area when silver mining was booming. One of the most famous ghost towns near Aspen is Ashcroft where you can find the remains of the Wild West with several saloon buildings as well as homes still standing.

Another ghost town in the area is Independence which was founded after gold was discovered in the area. Visiting these places is one of the best things to do in Aspen for history buffs, as it will better help you understand the local history. 

12. Cathedral Lake 

Length: 5.6 miles round trip (3-4 hours)

Difficulty: moderate/difficult 

One of the most popular hikes in Aspen, Cathedral Lake is often recommended for hiking during fall because of its gorgeous colors, but I think that it’s equally gorgeous in summer. 

The trail gains about 2,000 feet of elevation in 2.8 miles, so come prepared with plenty of water, good hiking shoes, and sunscreen. This spectacular hike takes you through the aspen groves and a series of switchbacks before you arrive at the gorgeous alpine Cathedral Lake.

Some hikers also bring hiking poles on this trail, and if you are not an experienced hiker, it’s a good idea to bring them, since parts of the hike are a bit more technical. 

And, if you would like to spend camping in the wilderness, you can spend a night in one of the dispersed campgrounds near the lake. Keep in mind that these are primitive campsites that have no amenities or hook-ups, so you will need to bring everything with you. 

If you plan on staying here overnight, sign at the trailhead and keep your paperwork with you. 

13. Explore downtown Aspen

Exploring downtown Aspen is a must! Here you will find some of the best restaurants in Aspen and also will be able to check out many stores. Make a stop at the sister plaza where you can learn about Aspen’s sister cities around the world. 

Whether you want to grab a bite, do some shopping, or explore art and history, Aspen has it all! 

14. Go paragliding 

Paragliding over Aspen is a special experience. Although Aspen is a popular destination for outdoor lovers, few other activities can compare to soaring above the green peaks and valleys while you observe the spectacular scenery below you. 

What is paragliding?

If you have never done paragliding, I’m here to explain how it works. Paragliding is a form of flying where you launch for a high point like mountains or hills and soar above the landscape with the help of a flying machine. 

Aspen Paragliding is the main company that can offer you an incredible paragliding experience. Even if you are a newbie paraglider, you will have a great experience, as you will go in tandem with an experienced instructor who will help you to pilot your aircraft. 

Aspen Paragliding School also provides various paragliding courses and certifications. And before t you do a paragliding session with them you will get a complete crash course in paragliding. 

15. Aspen Art Museum 

Located in the former Hunter Creek Power Plant that looks like a woven basket, the Aspen Art Museum is the place where you can learn about the most recent news in the art community and challenge your perception of modern art. 

While this museum doesn’t collect any art, it serves as a space where modern artists can connect with the Aspen community. What’s especially cool about Aspen Art Museum is that has free exhibits showcasing little-known and under-appreciated artists and offers a fresh outlook on contemporary art through various events. 

Address: 637 East Hyman Avenue, Aspen, Colorado, USA

16. Aspen Brewing Company

If you have been to Colorado before, there’s a chance you already know that the state is a heaven for beer lovers. Colorado has hundreds of micro breweries where you can try local craft beer and even go on a beer tasting tour in Denver that is geared toward travelers who want to enjoy the best of the Denver beer scene.

But if you are in Aspen, you absolutely should visit Aspen Brewing Company, a brew house located in downtown Aspen. The venue offers a variety of locally made beer tastes.

Here you can sample various types of beer in different tasting rooms, and enjoy other drinks on the menu like cocktails, wines, and yummy food. And, just so you know Aspen Brewing Company has one of the best patios in town where you can enjoy a signature drink on a hot summer day while taking in the magnificent views around you. 

17. Mountain biking 

You already know that this city is a heaven for all things outdoors, but let’s not forget about the mountain, one of the most fun things to do in Aspen for outdoor junkies. 

Even if you don’t have a mountain bike, you can easily rent one in Aspen in places like. Aspen has many bike trails for all levels, so whether you are a newbie or a pro you will find a multitude of trails ranging from easy paved trails in the city’s downtown to challenging trails that will give you a healthy dose of adrenaline. 

For a nice warm-up head to the Rio Grande Trail follows the Roaring Fork River that connects Aspen and Glenwood Springs. This is a flat, easy trail that is perfect for newbies and those travelers who want to get their bearings on Aspen trails first before hitting more advanced trails. 

Sky Mountain Park in Snowmass Village is a perfect middle ground thanks to small climbs and many scenic features along the way, that make for a fun ride. 

18. Paddle down the Roaring Fork River 

Aspen Whitewater Rafting Company is a top company in town that offers a one-of-a-kind experience what water rafting experience in the Rockies.

Whether you want to a fun ride down the Roaring Fork River or more challenging adventure in Slaughter House Falls, this company offers some of the most fun things to do in Aspen. The company has many experienced guides who can take you on a fun adventure in the Colorado’s backcountry.

19. Go camping

Camping in Aspen is where the real adventure begins. The nearby White River National Forest offers plenty of opportunities for camping in developed and dispersed campgrounds with many visitors coming here for backpacking and camping. 

There are also some campgrounds just outside of Aspen near Independence Pass like Lost Man Campground, Weller Campground, and Difficult Campground on the way to Aspen and also a campground just outside of Basalt. 

Some of the most coveted campgrounds near Aspen are Silver Queen, Silver Bell, and Silver Bar located in the Maroon Bells Scenic Area. These campgrounds are hugely popular and if you want to snag a spot, your best bet is to make your reservation ahead of time. 

20. Aspen Center For Environmental Studies 

Aspen Center For Environmental Studies is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think about the best things to do in Aspen, and yet, it is worth a stop on your itinerary. Located just to the north of Main Street, this is a wildlife sanctuary and research center that aims to educate visitors about local flora and fauna through events and interactive exhibits. 

Address: 100 Puppy Smith St, Aspen, CO 81611, United States

Final thoughts on the best things to do in Aspen 

Aspen is known as one of the best beautiful places to visit in Colorado, and for a good reason: This town offers unparalleled outdoor opportunities and fun chivito es year-round, so no matter when you are visiting Aspen, you will have an amazing time. 

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. At no cost to you, I might earn a small commission if you make a purchase through the links in this article. 

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