Aspen is a small mountain town with a big character and an even bigger reputation. The town is known for its big mountain skiing and has four mountains for skiers to choose from – it’s no wonder it is considered a world-class winter destination.
That said, Aspen is a dream for outdoor enthusiasts all year round. When the snow disappears, you have horseback riding, rock climbing, biking trails, and hiking trails. Aspen also sits in the middle of White River National Forest, so you are never short of wilderness to explore. One thing is for sure; there are plenty of things to do in Aspen.
This guide will cover the very best things to do in Aspen. From scenic gondola rides to art museums, these attractions will keep you entertained and content.
1. Ashcroft Ghost Town
Visiting a ghost town is probably not the first thing you expect to do in Aspen. However, Ashcroft Ghost Town is easily one of the most entertaining attractions in the Aspen Area. Once a silver mining town, Ashcroft Ghost Town is now completely uninhabited. Instead, the Aspen Historical Society opens the town up for visitors annually between June and October.
You can explore old historical buildings, including the old post office, Blue Mirror Saloon, and a former hotel building. Ashcroft Ghost Town is a unique opportunity to step back and immerse yourself in Old Western history. Ashcroft Ghost Town is a fantastic attraction if you’ve never visited a ghost town before, want an unusual day out, or are interested in the Old West. Walking between the log cabins and wooden public buildings is kind of creepy and fun.
The town is located on Castle Creek Road, about eleven miles south of Aspen. It took us about 25 minutes to drive to Ashcroft Ghost Town, and we saw plenty of people cycling, which we found out is only an hour and a half one way. Not bad for a day out.
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2. Wheeler Opera House
If you love live music, watching movies, or attending festivals, visiting the Wheeler Opera House is one of the best things to do in Aspen. The 1889-built theater is a prized local attraction and is considered the home of performing arts in Aspen. A blend of Romanesque and Italianate architecture, Wheeler Opera House is a stunning venue and special place to enjoy the arts. Check the Opera House’s schedule to see what live music events and performances coincide with your trip. Catching a show is a fantastic way to unwind in the evening after a busy day outdoors.
Interested in the history of the Opera House? Aspen Historical Society runs tours of the venue, so you can always indulge in an informative exploration of the Opera House, not just a performance. And, as an extra tip for live music lovers, Aspen Music Festival runs between late June and August. Summer is full of concerts and performances, so check that schedule as well if you’re visiting Aspen during this period.
3. Go skiing
You can’t visit one of the US’s best skiing destinations without skiing. Going skiing is easily one of the best things to do in Aspen, and, as we said, you have plenty of slope options. The four main ski areas are Aspen Mountain, Snowmass, Aspen Highlands, and Buttermilk Mountain. Between them, there are 5,300 acres of skiable terrain, but let’s take a quick look at each option individually.
- Aspen Mountain (formerly Ajax Mountain) is for skiers with experience under their belt. The runs are moderate to difficult, so expect a challenging time on the slopes – perfect for perfecting your skill and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. Aspen Mountain is situated in the heart of Aspen, which is excellent for those wanting a central location.
- Snowmass is a small ski village about a twenty-minute drive outside of Aspen. It’s the largest of the four mountains and is family-friendly. You’ll find a variety of slopes and cross-country skiing, making it a great ski area for beginners to intermediates. Snowmass also has the Treehouse Kids Adventure Center, which provides state-of-the-art childcare services and ski schools. The only downside of the Aspen Snowmass area is that it’s the furthest from Aspen town center, while the others are within walking distance.
- Aspen Highlands is another mountain for experienced skiers. Aspen Highlands ski area is known for the Highland Bowl, which summits at 12,392 feet above sea level and has some of the steepest descents in the area. If you want adrenaline, the Highlands is where you’ll find it. And even better? You only have to walk a few miles along Maroon Creek Road to reach Aspen town center from the Highlands Ski Resort.
- Finally, Aspen has Buttermilk Mountain. Buttermilk Mountain ski area is famed for the Winter X Games, which could make you suspect that it’s for experienced skiers only. The mountain actually caters to all levels exceptionally well, though, and even beginners can enjoy steadily zipping through Aspen trees on gentle ski slopes.
So, which of these ski areas will you choose? The choice is yours, but we loved Snowmass the best. Skiing/snowboarding are some of the most exciting things to do in Aspen, and the range of ski resorts means it appeals to anyone, regardless of your experience level.
4. Grottos Trail
Grottos Trail is often described as otherworldly, and you’ll quickly see why. The trail is full of surprises, including waterfalls and cool ice caves. A section of the track resembles a dark grey version of Antelope Canyon. You’ll scramble through ribbon-like canyons and crevices to complete the hike.
Grottos Trail is ideal if you want an exciting and rewarding hike near Aspen. While only 1 km long, the trail has a lot to admire along the way, and it is one of the prettiest trails in the region. It is suitable for any hikers of moderate fitness – just be aware that Grottos Trail can get slippery when you are scrambling over wet rocks. Sturdy shoes with good grip are a must when tackling the hike.
Also, we recommend either getting there early in the day (before 9 am) or late in the day (after 6 pm) as this trail is really popular and there are limited parking spots.
5. Aspen Center for Environmental Studies
All these adventures are good fun, but what about the educational side of nature? Aspen Center for Environmental Studies is where to visit to learn more about the town’s natural surroundings and the naturalists who prioritize local conservation.
Aspen Center for Environmental Studies has a little nature reserve with a lake and numerous birds of prey to spot. There’s also the chance to book one of the center’s tours. On its mission to connect humanity with the natural world, the center runs tours like snowshoeing, wildflower walks, beaver spotting walks, and tree identification sessions. It’s worth dropping by to have a look at what’s on.
The center is located on Puppy Smith Street and sits in the northern region of the town. It is easily visited on foot from Aspen town center and is a great way to spend a few hours.
6. Independence Pass
Visiting Independence Pass allows you to combine multiple attractions in one experience. The pass is a scenic drive located on the Continental Divide of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. You can tick off standing on the Continental Divide, visiting the Rocky Mountains, and exploring one of the most scenic places in Aspen – all in a few hours.
Don’t be fooled though; Independence Pass is also one heck of a drive. The road zig-zags up the mountain, with hairpin turns and sections so narrow that just a single car can squeeze through. Independence Pass is perfect for those who love scenic drives; just be prepared to utilize all your best driving skills. You should be aware that this part of Colorado State Highway 82 is restricted to camper trailers and recreational vehicles over 35ft in length.
Independence Pass is well-combined with a visit to Twin Lake or a climb up Mt Elbert. Otherwise, you could tackle Independence Pass on the drive back to Denver if you fly into Denver International Airport and hire a car. You’ll need nerves of steel, but the experience is worth it.
7. Aspen Theatre
Aspen Theatre is the town’s theater company, and the crew is to thank for outstanding performances throughout the year. If the Opera House seemed a bit too formal, Aspen Theatre will be much more up your alley. The pop-up venue is a large tent located in the John Denver Sanctuary. You can expect action and talent in bucket loads – regardless of which performance you attend.
Past performances have included Gypsy and Jersey Boys. There’s also an annual Solo Flights Festival every September, where you can quite literally watch one-man shows. The festival specializes in hosting single-actor plays, although you can also catch special talks and discussions.
One thing to note is that the tent gets cold (and occasionally too hot). Layers are a must as you are exposed to the temperature and often draughts during the performances. However, we think that this element adds to the dramatic appeal of the shows.
8. Aspen Art Museum
Visiting Aspen Art Museum is one of the most classic things to do in Aspen. Aspen Art Museum is a mecca for contemporary art in the region, hosting exhibitions and displays of international and local artists. You can spot sculptures, paintings, sketches, and even electronic pieces.
Aspen Art Museum is free to enter and even has a rooftop terrace with glorious views over Aspen. In Downtown Aspen, Aspen Art Museum is easily added to an Aspen itinerary. And, in cold and drizzly weather, visitors can relish the warmth of an indoor attraction. The museum is just a five-minute walk from the base of Aspen Mountain Ski Resort, so a perfect place to dash for a taste of the art on a cold day. You’ll easily spot it. In true contemporary style, the building has a massive copper lattice façade.
9. Go paragliding
Have you ever been paragliding? If not, Aspen is the place to try it. Aspen’s scenery is stunning, and there is no better way to take it all in. Paragliding is one of the most adventurous things to do in Aspen, and we think that you’ll love it.
Aspen Paragliding is the most popular company to go paragliding within the area, and you’ll take to the skies with a certified pilot. This means you relax as a passenger and enjoy the ride while your guide handles all the tricky stuff. Aspen Paragliding has been running since 1990 and is one of the most trusted paragliding companies in the US.
The whole experience lasts around two hours – so wrap up warm and prepared for the weather conditions. You’ll gently glide past some of the most stunning scenes in Colorado. In winter, you might even be able to spot the skiers on the slopes below.
Looking to keep the adventures going? Check out the activities that Blazing Adventures has on offer here. Blazing Adventures specializes in outdoor adventures that get your adrenaline pumping. You could even continue your ‘flight theme’ with a hot air balloon ride.
10. Walk the Rio Grande Trail
The Rio Grande Trail is no easy feat. The trail runs for an impressive 42 miles and is typically tackled over two to four days. Fitness enthusiasts and anyone determined enough to take on the challenge can enjoy unrivaled views along the trail. You’ll mainly follow Roaring Fork River, but you’ll have snow-capped mountain views and wildlife galore – so keep your eyes peeled. Don’t just march through either; you should also make time to swim or fish along the Roaring Fork River.
So, where does Aspen come into this? Well, the little ski town happens to be where you’ll find the Rio Grande trailhead. The trail stretches from Aspen to Glenwood Springs, where the Roaring Fork River merges into the Colorado River. If you love multi-day hikes, add a few days to your Aspen holiday to complete the trail. It is also worth allowing a couple of days to stay in Glenwood Springs, as the city is known for its hot springs. Bathing in hot springs at Glenwood Springs might be precisely what you need after hiking 42 miles.
The trail itself cuts through Roaring Fork Valley. Expect to share the track with horseback riders, dog walkers, and cyclists, and note that horses have the right of way. Many people enjoy sections of the trail without tackling the entire length, so you should find it quite busy.
11. Maroon Bells
The Maroon Bells are the most photographed mountains in Aspen. The two peaks are Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak, and the mountains are only split by 0.5 km. The Maroon Bells are located in a glacial valley in the Elk Mountains. They have fast become a sought-after day trip destination amongst visitors to Aspen. Maroon Bells are most famed for the iconic shot of the two mountains with a reflective lake between them, which forms the ultimate alpine postcard image.
Wondering how you reach this beautiful view? The good news is that there are multiple hiking trails to choose from to visit the Maroon Bells. You can hike Maroon Lake Scenic Trail, which is only a mile long. You could also tackle Maroon Creek Trail for a mixture of lakeside views and alpine meadows. The Maroon Creek Trail is a little longer, at 3.2 miles one way.
The longest option is Crater Lake Trail, at 3.6 miles, with a detour to Crater Lake and a beautiful forest. It is worth noting that swimming is prohibited at Crater Lake, so save your swimming costume for a spot along Roaring Fork River and pack plenty of water to keep refreshed. This route is arguably the most popular, if not also the most challenging.
Hiking on unfamiliar trails alone can be daunting, and transportation can be an issue if you don’t hire a car. Blazing Adventures offer guided hikes around the Maroon Bells, so consider a guided walk if you are a little unsure. Lastly, remember a camera – even though pictures never do it justice.
12. Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro
Speaking of the Maroon Bells, Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro has one of the best views of the peaks. The small European-style cabin is perched on top of a mountain in the Aspen Highlands Ski Resort. To access your scenic fine dining experience, you’ll have to ski lift to the top of the mountain and then find the special chair lift to reach the restaurant. Visiting is easily one of the most indulgent, fun things to do in Aspen.
Cloud Nine’s atmosphere is fine dining meets après ski. The restaurant has the menu to attract those looking for a posh, refined experience, yet the character to host some of the most boisterous parties. It is said that Cloud Nine brings the European alpine scene to Aspen, and we agree.
Time your visit with a clear day for the ultimate views, and treat yourself to a glass of champagne (or two). If you want to sit inside, play it safe and make a reservation. However, it is worth bagging a table outside if you forget to make a reservation, just remember to wrap up warm and choose your visiting day wisely. You will be dining on a mountain summit after all.
13. Aspen Brewing Company
You really can find breweries in the most unassuming of places. Aspen Brewing Company is tucked away on Galena Street in Downtown Aspen. Part pizzeria and part pub, the venue serves fifteen craft beers brewed in-house. Just imagine tucking into a sourdough pizza and a tasting flight of craft beer after a full day of skiing – bliss, right?
Aspen Brewing Company was founded in 2008 with the motto ‘make world-class beer, downstream from nobody’. Many awards later, Aspen Brewing Company has become a big name. Technically, the company is split between two locations: the taproom and pizzeria in Downtown Aspen and then the brewery near Aspen Airport. The craft beers are all brewed at the second site, with some being transported to the first for visitors to enjoy.
Aspen Brewing Company names most of its beers after attractions and locations around Aspen. You could sample a Cloud Nine Saison, Independence Pass, or a Brown Bear Ale. Plus, beer tasting doesn’t get much better than being surrounded by museums, galleries, and trendy hospitality venues at the foot of Aspen Mountain.
14. John Denver Sanctuary
John Denver Sanctuary is a beautiful nature reserve and wildlife sanctuary just north of Aspen town center. Paying a visit to John Denver Sanctuary is one of the most peaceful things to do in Aspen, and nature lovers will adore the tranquil atmosphere and natural scenery.
John Denver Sanctuary was set up in memory of the late singer John Denver in hopes that visitors could find peace, meditation, and solace in nature. You can walk the maze of well-maintained trails, spotting engraved rocks that pay tribute to John Denver’s music as you walk. Of course, the snow-capped mountains around Aspen are never out of sight and make a beautiful backdrop while you wander the park.
Lyrics and quotes aren’t the only artistic thing in John Denver Sanctuary. Remember the Aspen Theatre group? Well, the theater tent is set up in the middle of the John Denver Sanctuary and offers a beautiful place to enjoy performing arts. Combining a leisurely stroll around John Denver Sanctuary and an Aspen Theatre performance is one of the best things to do in Aspen.
15. Silver Queen Gondola
Skiers get access to some of the most impressive summits in Aspen, as do hikers in warm months. But what if you don’t ski and don’t feel comfortable hiking long distances? The Silver Queen Gondola is the answer.
The Silver Queen Gondola is fantastic as it makes Aspen Mountain accessible for everyone. Whether you are traveling with children or just don’t trust your fitness levels, the Silver Queen Gondola is a great way to zip up to Aspen Mountain summit – experiencing a thrill and all the best views simultaneously. The ride to the top takes around fifteen minutes. There is plenty of time to snap photos and appreciate the novelty of racing up a mountainside.
At the top, we recommend grabbing a table on the sundeck and treating yourself to food and a hot drink from the restaurant. Dining overlooking the slopes is an experience you’ll remember. And, if you aren’t a skier, you should make the most of being in ski territory.
You can book tickets for the Silver Queen Gondola online or turn up on the day. The gondola service runs from 10 am until 4 pm every day (weather allowing), so it is easy to slot into a busy itinerary. Plus, the gondola station sits just on the outskirts of Downtown Aspen. You could easily pop by for a spontaneous experience.
16. Aspen Golf & Tennis Club
Aspen Golf & Tennis Club is one of the best sporting venues in the town. Between the views and high-quality facilities, visiting is easily one of the best things to do in Aspen – especially if you are a golf or tennis enthusiast.
Visitors can enjoy an 18-hole championship golf course backed by Aspen’s stunning mountain ranges. You’ll get a taste of golfing in alpine surrounds, which is undoubtedly a memorable experience. There are also seven sets of tees, catering to different levels and meaning all golfers can come along to enjoy.
The tennis courts are equally impressive. There are six clay courts, again with stunning mountain views. You can easily book a tennis court online or ring to reserve a slot. If not, it is worth dropping in to see if a court is free without reserving. If you have to wait, just be prepared to treat yourself to a meal at the club’s restaurant, Red Mountain Grill.
Winter usually spells the end of the golf season, especially in snowy destinations like Aspen. However, the Aspen Golf & Tennis Club has a fantastic solution: a Golf Stimulator. Using the top-of-the-range, latest technology, you can play on over fifty different courses and receive feedback on your technique. Who knew you could head on a winter getaway to Aspen and return even better at skiing and golf?
Aspen Common FAQs
Now that we’ve covered the best things to do in Aspen, let’s take a look at some quick FAQs. These are the most important things to know before you visit Aspen.
How to get to Aspen
The best way to get to Aspen is to fly to Aspen-Pitkin County Airport or Denver International Airport. Flying into Denver is the most popular option, as it is cheaper, has more frequent flights, and is best for international travelers. Traveling from Denver is straightforward too, and you just catch a shuttle service or rent a car to drive the four hours to Aspen.
Those flying internationally should consider adding an overnight stay in Denver since there are plenty of things to do in the city.
Getting around Aspen
As a small mountain town, Aspen is hardly difficult to get around. Most places are accessible on foot, especially in Downtown Aspen. A reliable bus service also operates around the town and the wider Aspen area. Don’t worry about renting a car unless you want to take day trips to remote trails and attractions.
When the snow disappears, many people cycle around Aspen. It may be worth seeing if your accommodation rents out bikes or visiting a bike rental store in the town center.
Best time to visit Aspen
Colorado is one of the US’s best winter getaways. If you like winter sports, we recommend visiting Aspen while there’s snowfall. The ski season runs from November to April. However, we recommend visiting Aspen in March for the best skiing experience. The back end of the season is a little cheaper and quieter, and you have more daylight hours for skiing.
Of course, Aspen is a perfect all-year-round destination for an active holiday – full of hiking trails, horseback riding, and rock climbing while the snow melts. If winter sports aren’t your thing, explore Aspen during the spring shoulder season. May is the quietest month, and you should have many of the hiking trails to yourself. Plus, Aspen is cheaper during this time.
Where to stay in Aspen
It’s no secret that accommodation can make or break a trip. Here are our top recommendations on the best places to stay in Aspen.
Budget: St. Moritz Lodge
St. Moritz Lodge may be a self-described ‘simple lodge’, but its high volume of positive reviews speaks volumes. Visitors can enjoy dormitory rooms, private rooms, and condos. For flexible and budget-friendly accommodation, St. Mortiz Lodge is easily the best in Aspen.
You can dip in the heated outdoor pool, relax in the hot tub, and start every morning properly with a complimentary breakfast. St. Moritz Lodge is both comfortable and convenient.
Mid-range: Aspen Square Condominium Hotel
Aspen Square Condominium Hotel is an excellent mid-range accommodation option in Aspen. The property offers condos, which range from studios to three-bedroom units. The condo-only layout means you’ll always have homely amenities like a kitchen and a comfy seating area. You also get access to a gym and business center. However, the winning factor of the Aspen Square Condominium Hotel is its outdoor facilities.
Enjoy the heated outdoor pool all year round, swimming lengths with snow-capped mountain views. Alternatively, take it easy and soak in one of the two outdoor hot tubs while enjoying the views.
Luxury: The Little Nell
The Little Nell is luxury accommodation at its finest. The chic resort offers ski-in/ski-out facilities – perfect for skiing enthusiasts wanting to maximize time on the slopes. The Little Nell sits right next to the Silver Queen Gondola base station and is a convenient five-star base for a luxury ski holiday.
You can bathe in an outdoor spa tub or swim in the heated outdoor pool. All rooms feature marble bathrooms and balconies with city or mountain views. And certain suites include private jacuzzis and steam showers, so you can splash out on extra luxury if you want.
Looking for a VRBO property instead of a classic hotel experience? You may wish to read our guide on the best cabins in Colorado.
There are so many incredible things to do in Aspen. Its location is dreamy for anyone who loves outdoor adventures. You can relax surrounded by the Colorado Rocky Mountains, Roaring Fork River, and White River National Forest. Pick a hiking trail or ski slope of your choice and let the fresh air do the rest. We know that you’ll have a fantastic time in Aspen.