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With 4 mountains for winter sports, a roster of annual festivals, and the very real possibility of a celebrity sighting, the resort town of Aspen is an elegant mountain retreat unlike any other. While the city is famous for its snow-based activities, Aspen’s hiking trails, high-end hotels, exclusive shopping, and world-class restaurants make it a favorite Rocky Mountain destination any time of year. If you’re willing to forgo the legendary après-ski scene in the winter, Aspen may offer even more outdoor recreation in the warmer months. No matter when you visit, there’s a playground of adventure, culture, and luxury just waiting to be discovered.
While Aspen draws hundreds of thousands of powder hounds in the winter, the town offers plenty in the way of snow-free activities. Whether you’re coming to hit the slopes, attend a summertime festival, or shop like the A-list, these are the places you need to know.
Nestled at the foot of Aspen Mountain, tree-lined Downtown is brimming with 5-star hotels, acclaimed eateries, and chic galleries housed in antique brick buildings. When the weather is nice, stroll Galena Street for shopping at designer boutiques such as Prada, Gucci, and Dior. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, treat yourself to a mouthwatering meal at any number of fine-dining establishments or casual, rustic restaurants.
To the west and south of the city lie 4four mountains that are accessible for recreational activities—Aspen, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk, and Snowmass.
A favorite of winter sports-lovers, Aspen Mountain, also known as Ajax, offers 675 acres (273 ha) of challenging terrain. Sail down the same runs that hosted the World Cup races or chase after the Oasis Champagne Bar, a roving snowcat-towed cart serving light bites and Veuve Clicquot. In the summer, the Silver Queen Gondola delivers guests from Downtown to the Sundeck at a height of 11,200 feet (3,414 m), where hiking trails, outdoor music, and yoga classes await.
Known as the “locals’ mountain,” Aspen Highlands draws fewer tourists than the others and is designed for expert skiers and snowboarders who want to tackle difficult yet uncrowded slopes. From the top of Loge Peak, hike to the Highland Bowl, which many believe provides some of the most intense skiing in the entire state.
Best known as the long-time home of the Winter X Games, Buttermilk Mountain has become an icon for freestyle riders who hit up Buttermilk Park to show off their skills. However, the mountain also has an easy-going side to its personality, with plenty of open trails that are ideal for beginners and families. At the Hideout at the base of the mountain, an innovative learning center offers skiing lessons for kids as young as 2-and-a-half.
Aspen’s largest and most popular recreational area boasts 3,332 acres (1,348 ha) of skiable terrain, one of the best snowboarding schools in the country, and a charming village full of restaurants and shops. There are countless runs designed to appeal to a wide array of experience levels, so you can spend the whole day without covering the same ground twice. In the summer, the Elk Camp Gondola brings riders to hiking trails, biking parks, a climbing wall, a paintball course, and the locally sourced cuisine at Elk Camp Restaurant.
If the majestic views from the tops of Aspen’s mountains aren’t enough, grab your camera for a visit to nearby Maroon Bells, two snow-stripped peaks flanking a reflective lake. Autumn is an especially breathtaking time to visit, when the Maroon Bells lie against a backdrop of crystalline blue sky and an abundance of golden aspen trees—the reason the city got its name. Whether you arrive by car, bike, or on a guided bus tour, it won’t take long to see why the Maroon Bells are some of the most photographed peaks in all of North America.
If visiting Aspen in the winter, you’d be remiss not to take advantage of the spectacular mountains at your disposal. With a ski or snowboard rental package, you can blast down the wintry slopes with a variety of models to suit your style and skill level, from freeride to high-performance and versions designed for kids and teens. After a hard day of play, immerse yourself in Aspen’s storied après-ski scene. Grab a drink at a chic lounge or enjoy cocktails poolside as you watch the snow fall around you.
In the summer, there’s just as much, if not more, to do in this resort destination. Both Aspen and Snowmass mountains offer unparalleled hiking and biking trails, opportunities for rock climbing and horseback riding, and laid-back games such as frisbee golf. For even more adventure, head out of a town for an adrenaline-fueled whitewater rafting excursion in beautiful Glenwood Canyon, or pair a morning on the water with an afternoon of coasting over 44 acres (15 ha) of forest on a zipline.
Aspen boasts plenty of ways and places to satisfy your inner foodie, from the streets of Downtown to the tops of the mountains. With more than 100 restaurants to choose from, you can sate any craving with a range of options from juicy barbecue to farm-to-table eating to sushi so stylish it looks like stained glass. Of course, there’s also much to be enjoyed in the way of drinks. Sip a sudsy ale over mountainside views at the Aspen Brewing Company, or linger over a flight at Element 47, named one of the Best Wine Restaurants in America by Wine Enthusiast magazine.
For the ultimate dining experience, visit Aspen during the Food & Wine Classic, when world-famous chefs and wine experts from across the globe gather for a weekend of nonstop indulgence. Tickets may be not be cheap or easy to come by, but if you can snatch them, it’s the kind of festival that culinary dreams are made of.
Though it’s known as a quaint mountain destination, Aspen has an events calendar that can rival that of any major city. After a day of skiing, top off the night with a show at Belly Up, the city’s esteemed live music venue featuring big-name acts and sensational special events. In the summer, the Aspen Music Festival hosts more than 400 classical events during its 8-week season, while Jazz Aspen Snowmass draws internationally acclaimed jazz artists as well as renowned pop, country, blues, and hip hop groups.
There’s more to be found on the stage, as well. Take in an opera, concert, musical, or dance performance at the historic Wheeler Opera House, or get whisked away to another world with a breathtaking ballet by the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet company. In the summer, Theatre Aspen’s repertory brings out Broadway alums for 8 weeks of inspiring and intimate theater in the park.