Things To Do in Aspen, Colorado
When most people hear “Aspen, Colorado”, they think “Oh, that place where the one percent go skiing.” You certainly would not look out of place were you to show up in Aspen in February by private plane, wearing a couture ski outfit and fur coat.
However, this Rocky Mountain town is actually a reasonable destination for the rest of us also. There are things to do in Aspen that do not involve strapping boards to one’s feet and hurtling down a mountain.
My visit to Aspen was as a trailing spouse during the first week of June when
Mr. Dr. Excitement attended a pulmonary medicine conference conducted yearly by the University of Colorado School of Medicine — nary a ski bunny in sight.
We had never been to Colorado, so we decided to fly into Denver, rent a car and take the scenic route through the high altitude town of Breckinridge, and over Independence Pass to Aspen.
It is possible to fly to Aspen from several U.S. cities, but in planning your itinerary, you may want to take into account that the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport is regularly ranked by pilots as one of the most challenging in the United States. If you prefer your pilots without white knuckles, it’s a nice drive.
We reserved a 4 cylinder sub-compact car, but upon hearing our itinerary, the car rental agent suggested that an SUV would be more appropriate. Denver being “The Mile High City”, our road trip started at an altitude of 5,280 feet. It topped out at 12,095 feet at Independence Pass. (That’s 3,687 meters for you metric types).
Although it was early June, the road was still cut through deep snow at Independence Pass. In fact, the road is not passable at all during the winter. Think the Donner Party. (In case you were not schooled in American history, the Donner Party was most definitely NOT a fun party).
Although it’s only about a four hour drive from the Denver Airport to Aspen, I booked us a Bed and Breakfast in Breckenridge, another Colorado town best known as a ski resort. We enjoyed a nice Italian dinner complete with a bottle of red wine.
Life Lesson: It is most definitely NOT a good idea to wake up at sea level, take an airplane ride of 1,579 miles, drive to a town nestled in the Rocky Mountains at an altitude of over 9,600 feet, and consume a bottle of wine with dinner. We both woke up with intense headaches in the middle of the night.
Although Aspen is lower than Breckenridge at a mere 7,908 feet of altitude, Mr. and Mrs. Excitement swore off alcohol for the rest of the trip.
While Dr. Excitement conferred with his lung doctor peeps, I set about looking for things to do in Aspen.
9 Things to do in Aspen, Colorado (8 of Which Do Not Involve Skiing):
- If you ski or would like to learn to ski, by all means, ski! There are four ski areas around Aspen. It is generally possible to do downhill skiing from the end of November through mid-April. (Disclosure: Even though I attended Williams College in the Berkshire Mountains of northwestern Massachusetts, a popular skiing venue, I have never skied in my life and now that my Baby Boomer bone density is consistent with osteoporosis, I’m thinking that now is probably not a good time for me to start.)
- Hike. Enjoy beautiful mountainous scenery. There are at least 95 hiking trails in and around Aspen, at various degrees of difficulty. As a break from pulmonary medicine, we were treated to a barbecue at the Maroon Bells scenic area which is within the White River National Forest. With good reason, multiple sources agree that this is the most photographed mountain area in Colorado.
- Mountain biking. We drove up to Maroon Bells from downtown Aspen. Some of the Coloradans rode their bikes up there. This might explain why Colorado is the least obese state in the nation. These folks are committed to fitness and they like to be fit outdoors. There are at least 43 mountain biking trails in the area.
- Attend concerts. Study music. During the summer, from late June until mid-August, the Aspen Summer Music Festival and School is in session, bringing together 600 music students from multiple states and countries to study with some 130 faculty members from the finest orchestras, ensembles and companies. Several hundred concerts are scheduled at various venues in the area.
- Eat, drink and be merry, especially in mid-June by attending the annual Aspen Food and Wine Classic .
- Watch independent films by attending the annual Aspen Fall Film Festival in the fall.
- Do high end shopping — or, like me, high end window shopping, in the attractive, very walkable central area of Aspen. (Maybe you’ll even see a famous person and pretend not to notice — because gawking would be sooo uncool.)
- Take an historic walking tour or two sponsored by the Aspen Historical Society.
- Write a legal brief in the lovely Aspen public library — or get all your work done before you leave home so you won’t have to!