You don’t have to ski to fall in love with Aspen. With mountains carpeted with wildflowers in the spring and practically glowing gold in the fall, some (including yours) would say the off-season is even better than winter.
Peak season in these Colorado peaks can get dizzying with luxurious crowds and lavish spending. Throughout the colder months, âBillionaire Mountainâ fills up with chic aprÃ¨s-ski parties and celebrity Jeff Bezos level. And summer brings the famous Food & Wine festival and crowds of chefs.
But the low season brings you back to the valley. In the spring and fall, Aspen rediscovers its local small town vibe that reminds us that the noble destination has less than 8,000 residences. Renowned art exhibitions, hot air balloon flights, literary competitions and four main mountains crisscrossed with trails support locals throughout the year.
Either way, whether you want to hang out with fancy hotels and restaurants or get earthy with the arts and hiking, Aspen truly is an outdoor playground that’s open all year round, regardless of the season.
Fly to the top
To get to Aspen, many drive four hours from Denver Airport or take a scenic shuttle or bus over the mountain passes. But you can skip the whole in-between and fly straight to the smaller, more expensive Aspen Airport. You can also do as some locals do and travel privately with a new semi-private airline called Aero, which launched in 2020 and offers direct flights from LA in a sleek, all-black luxury jet.
Downtown Aspen is only a few blocks away, so you can walk pretty much anywhere. Many hotels offer free car services like the St. Regis Aspen Resort, where you can book a BMW X7 for up to four hours to explore the surrounding area. There is also a free Aspen shuttle called RFTA, which takes you to nearby ski resorts like Snowmass and Buttermilk Mountain.
During the peak winter season, hotel cars and carpooling services are limited (and difficult to hook up), so the Downtowner app will be your best friend. The Free App is a service similar to Uber and Lyft that offers free rides around the city; just be sure to tip your driver in cash.
Where to stay in Aspen
For a prime location at the base of the mountain, consider the chic and upscale resort The Little Nell, or try the W Aspen, one of Aspen’s newer hotels. The Jerome, Auberge Resorts Collection is a landmark in the city with a lively aprÃ¨s-ski scene and a famous $ 28 burger.
If you prefer the comforts of home, VRBO also offers well-equipped condos in the heart of downtown Aspen that are within walking distance of the gondola, like this 3-bedroom condo or this 1,200-square-foot apartment. .
Are you traveling with a group? The Aspen Street Lodge is a new ultra-luxurious property that can accommodate up to 32 people and is only available for full redemption.
Dinner with the best chefs
Hailing from New York, Sushi Nakazawa is known for its omakase sushi, where the 20 dishes are decided by the chef rather than the guest. If you go for an a la carte menu, the salmon zuke king oshizushi might be the best piece of nigiri you’ve ever had. Pro tip: Ask for the special, which is a smaller version of the omakase menu for $ 100.
For the ultimate daytime party scene (read: champagne showers), the Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro is the place to be. The Alpine Bistro is located at the top of the mountain, so it is a ski-in ski-out restaurant. For more casual fare, Clark’s is the go-to for seafood with $ 4 oysters and $ 5 happy hour oyster shooters, plus a plate of stellar crudo.
Aspen’s only microbrewery, Aspen Brewing Company, is where you’ll find the best craft beer in town. But if you prefer your alcohol in grape form, The Wine Bar at The Little Nell (formerly Chair 9) has a special Coravin wine tasting menu. A sommelier will guide you through a blind tasting of rare wines accompanied by cheeses and a charcuterie platter almost too pretty to eat.
Summer brings the annual Food & Wine Classic to Aspen with top chefs and food stars like Guy Fieri and Martha Stewart hosting cooking events and seminars all weekend (and lots of booze). It turns out that endless flows of wine make these mountains even more beautiful. In 2022, the festival will return from June 17-19, and hotels are booked months in advance, so plan early. In fact, you should start planning now.
Breathe the refreshing and light alpine air
You can get your bunny hills, greens, blues, and triple diamond runs on Aspen’s four major ski mountains: Aspen Highlands, Snowmass, Buttermilk, and Aspen Mountain (also known as Ajax).
If you’re not into skiing but still want to experience Aspen in the great outdoors in the winter, you can explore the Colorado backcountry with a Krabloonik dog sled tour, where the Racers are pulled by 8-10 Alaskan Husky sled dogs through calmer snow landscapes.
The rest of the year, hiking or mountain biking will take you to the sumptuous peaks that surround the city. Maroon Bells is Aspen’s most popular hiking trail and one of the most photographed mountains in North America. These twin peaks require a parking and shuttle reservation, unless you are cycling. Alternatively, Smugglers Mountain offers an easy hike, while the more advanced Ute Trail traces a steep 6.2-mile path once used by Indigenous people for hunting.
But that only scratches the surface of the amazing trails and things to see near Aspen – check out the comprehensive Aspen area hiking guide.
See art, music or a local festival
The Aspen Art Museum is worth a visit for its architecture alone. The building appears to sit inside a lattice box, resembling a giant woven basket that allows light to seep in. And while you can stare at the outside of the building for a while, getting inside gets even better. As it turns out, all of these celebrity regulars are helping fund major art exhibitions, including an Andy Warhol collection that will debut in December.
Twice a year, Aspen hosts the JAS Aspen Snowmass Festival, once in June and again on Labor Day weekend. What started as a jazz festival now hosts an array of musicians like recent headliners Jimmy Buffett and Sheryl Crow. Meanwhile, the intimate Belly Up is one of the best places to listen to live music in Aspen. It has hosted notable names like Leon Bridges, Kygo, and Fitz and the Tantrums.
Other notable events in town are Aspen Words, a six-day celebration for bookworms and word-makers; the X Games on January 21-23, 2022; and the hot air balloon festival in September, which takes place in the nearby town of Snowmass.
Leila Najafi has just returned from her first Food & Wine Classic and is convinced that Aspen in autumn is much better than Aspen in winter. Follow her adventures on Instagram at @LeilasList.