10 Reasons Why Aspen Is an Amazing Summertime Destination

When you think of popular summertime destinations, chances are Aspen isn’t the first place that comes to mind. But with fewer crowds and a plethora of hiking trails, fishing holes and whitewater rapids to explore, summer is actually a great time to experience this Colorado town. Here are a few reasons why summertime in Aspen gives winter a run for its money.

By: Michelle Gross

Photo By: Blazing Adventure

Photo By: Snowmass Rodeo – Hal Williams

Photo By: Michelle Gross

Photo By: The St. Regis Aspen

Photo By: Jeremy Swanson

Photo By: The St. Regis Aspen

Photo By: Jeremy Swanson

Photo By: Paul D deBerjeois

Photo By: Seth Beckton

Photo By: Jeremy Swanson

1: Whitewater Rafting

Once the ice thaws and the snow melts down into the valley basin, whitewater rafting along the Colorado, Arkansas and Roaring Fork River is one of the most adrenaline-packed experiences in town. While there are several outfitters to choose from in Aspen-Snowmass, Blazing Adventures located in the heart of Aspen and Snowmass Village specializes in family-friendly float trips down some of Aspen’s most beautiful runs. For a more introductory ride check out upper Roaring River Fork, which is classified as a type III rapid and is a great place for beginners and people of all ages. Slaughterhouse Falls, a class IV rapid and Numbers, also a class IV, are recommended for more adventurous thrill seekers. While all your gear including wet suits, splash guards and booties are included, prepare to get wet.

2: Head to a Rodeo

Now in its 45th season, Snowmass Rodeo is touted as the longest-running rodeo in Colorado. This weekly Western hoedown takes place every Wednesday at sundown, but be sure to get there early to enjoy a full BBQ dinner and classic country-western cocktails along with roping demos from some real-life modern-day cowboys. When the sun goes down and the bulls come out to play, enjoy bull riding, team roping, barrel racing and bronco riding. You can stick around after the show for marshmallows and singalongs by the campfire to round out the true rodeo experience. And if you want to go full Buffalo Bill, make sure you stop at Kemo Sabe in Aspen for authentic belt buckles, cowboy hats and boots. As an alternative option, every Thursday, the Carbondale Wild West Rodeo, located around 40 minutes outside of Aspen, is a favorite amongst locals for its authentic rodeo competitions and family-friendly atmosphere.

3: Take a Hike

Every Aspen-Snowmass local has their favorite trail for one reason or another, but from the Rio Grande Trail and John Denver Sanctuary to Maroon Bells Scenic Loop Trail, there’s no shortage of hiking options to choose from. Touted as North America’s most photographed peaks, Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak are easily one of the most tranquil if not popular hiking destinations in the world. Word to the wise, parking fills up quickly so you might want to catch a bus or shuttle service to and from the visitor’s center. For some of the most spectacular views, set your sites on Crater Lake, a scenic 3.8-mile round-trip hike that’s good for all skill sets and offers views over the Maroon Bells. Another local favorite, Cathedral Lake, is classified a bit more difficult. Just over seven miles round trip, the hike located off of Castle Creek Road is a roughly 2,500-foot climb uphill through Aspen forests and ending at majestic Alpine Lake. For a little après-hike pick me up, head back to town where Spring Café has a variety of freshly pressed juices, greens and power bowls as well as gluten-free and vegan menu offerings. Whatever you do, don’t miss Blanca’s famous meatloaf, which comes slathered in tomato sauce and mushroom gravy for the win. You’ll relish every last bite.

4: Gondola to the Top

Rising 11,212 feet to the peak, grab the Silver Queen Gondola to the top of Aspen Mountain, where activities ranging from mountaintop yoga and disc golf to hiking trails, bluegrass and classical concerts to lawn games are in full effect all summer long. Set directly at the top of the mountain, Sundeck lodge serves up some of the best made-to-order stir fry, soups and salads mountain-wide. For something a little extra special or maybe a little more romantic, located at the base of the mountain, The St. Regis Aspen’s Executive Chef Laurent Pillard offers guests a classic picnic spread that comes with a variety of breakfast or lunch items to choose from, along with a meat and cheese spread and drinks. If you’re looking to enjoy a little local flavor, be sure to check out Aspen Brewing Company for some delicious seasonal brews including the super-hoppy Independence Pass Ale and This Season’s Blonde.

5: Festivals, Farmers Markets & Free Concerts

Like the trails and endless mountaintop views that abound around Aspen, there’s no shortage of festivals, farmers markets and free concerts come summertime. Arts and culture is really the beating heart of the Aspen-Snowmass community, and no matter when you go there’s sure to be something good on the lineup. Be sure to check out Aspen’s Saturday Market for Colorado-made, grown and produced handicrafts, food and beer or the Aspen Music Festival, which runs all summer long. For a little nighttime entertainment, head to the Belly Up in the heart of Aspen to mix with the locals and enjoy some live music. Snowmass Village is also home to a free outdoor concert series, jazz festival as well as daily cultural tours and activities.

6: S’mores, Stars & Singalongs

There’s truly nothing more relaxing than sitting fireside on a cool Colorado summer night with glittering stars poking through pitch black sky and the scent of fresh mountain air around you. Whether you’re camping, glamping or enjoying one of Aspen’s five-star resorts, for an experience you’ll never forget check out a Sunset Dinner, which begins with a four-wheel drive along some of Aspen-Snowmass’s beautiful high-country backroads followed by a three-course BBQ dinner, s’mores and singalongs by the campfire. Starting this summer, guests of The St. Regis Aspen can sign up for Camp Astor to enjoy a range of activities from farm-to-table dinners to stargazing adventures. Also located in downtown Aspen, The Little Nell offers stargazing tours, which come with an astronomy expert who will guide you on a journey through the stars.

7: Fly Fishing

There’s truly nothing more satisfying than spending a day wading in one of Colorado’s renowned watering holes, fishing pole in one hand, can of beer in the other. That is until you have a fish on your line and then all bets are off. One of the best spots according to locals, the Fryingpan River, is a tributary of the Roaring Fork River and is considered gold-medal-status fishing for trout. According to legend, the river got its name after a frying pan was left in a tree to mark the spot of a fallen comrade in a fight with the Ute Indians, the tribe indigenous to the area. There are a number of fly-fishing outfitters to choose from including Aspen Outfitting Company, which offers half-day and full-day fly-fishing experiences on Roaring Fork River as well as Aspen Flyfishing, which offers trips to Roaring Fork and Fryingpan.

8: Get Some Air

While Aspen at its base rises to an elevation of 8,000 feet above sea level, for those who want to get above it all and experience some next-level views, from paragliding off a mountain to soaring above the Elk Mountain Range at dawn in a hot air balloon, this is easily one of the most beautiful places in the world to do it. There are a number of outdoor outfitters to choose from including Aspen Paragliding, which sets off each morning with daily tandem rides from the top of Aspen Mountain. No experience is necessary as you’re provided with a certified tandem pilot along with all of the appropriate flight gear. For hot air ballooning, Above It All Balloon Company in Aspen sets off every morning before dawn to capture the most picturesque views and concludes with a full champagne brunch including fresh fruit, sausage, strawberries and mimosas upon landing.

9: Hit the Bike Trails

Aspen’s bike culture has exploded over recent years and biking is easily the preferred mode of transportation by locals and visitors alike. With hundreds of trails and backcountry roads to choose from, locals love the 16-mile round-trip ride along the Rio Grande Trail. For a little extra incentive along your ride, stop by the famous Woody Creek Tavern—said to be a former favorite of Hunter S. Thompson—for lunch and easily the best margarita in town. For a heart-pumping adrenaline rush, take the 11-mile uphill climb to the Maroon Bells then coast back down another 11 miles as you make your way back to Aspen. For a full day ride, take Castle Creek Road out for a beautiful 24-mile ride and stop for lunch at Pine Creek Cookhouse, a favorite amongst locals and visitors for their freshly sourced trout, buffalo tenderloin and Rocky Mountain bratwurst.

10: Explore The Lost Forest

Tucked away on Snowmass Mountain, The Lost Forest is the latest adventure park to hit Aspen-Snowmass. Located directly on the mountain, take the Elk Camp gondola up where you’ll find a 5,700-foot alpine coaster, a full-blown canopy zip line and ropes course as well as miles of biking and hiking trails, fishing ponds and disc golf. The Lost Forest, which officially opens for the season on June 22 and runs daily until September 3, will also include a rock climbing wall scheduled to open later this summer.

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