If there’s paradise in Colorado, it has to be somewhere near Aspen. The old mining town, founded in 1879 as Ute City, thrived on silver until the 1893 silver panic. The town later found gold on the mountainsides above the town in the form of four world class ski areas—Aspen Mountain, Buttermilk, Aspen Highlands, and Snowmass. During that time Aspen became America’s number one ski town, attracting glitz, glamour, and celebrities to the edge of the Roaring Fork River.
Beyond rich history and spectacular skiing, Aspen sits in the midst of Colorado’s most dramatic mountain scenery and best recreational opportunities. White River National Forest surrounding Aspen is filled with 15 Fourteeners within 25 miles, rivers and streams, and glacier-carved valleys. Many trails explore the backcountry, which includes the Maroon Bells-Snowmass, Hunter-Frying Pan, and Collegiate Peaks wilderness areas.
The summer hiking in the Aspen area is exceptional, with hundreds of miles of gorgeous trails exploring valleys and peaks. A popular trail in Aspen is two-mile Rio Grande Trail along the Roaring Fork River. East of town off Colorado 82 are lots of trails, including paths at North Star Nature Preserve, Lost Man Trail, and Independence Pass Trail. The Maroon Lake area offers 1.5-mile Maroon Lake Scenic Trail, Crater Lake Trail, and Buckskin Pass Trail.
The six 14,000-foot peaks in the Elk Range near Aspen—Maroon Peak, North Maroon Peak, Pyramid Peak, Castle Peak, Capitol Peak, and Snowmass Mountain—are both challenging and dangerous. They require sound mountaineering skills and judgment for successful ascents. Capitol, a hunk of glaciated granite, is considered Colorado’s toughest 14er.
If hiking through flower-filled meadows isn’t your thing, you’ll find plenty of other outdoor activities. Both mountain and road biking are popular pursuits. Road bikers head east on highway 82 and climb 4,000 feet in 20 miles to the summit of 12,095-foot Independence Pass or they do the shorter Castle Creek Road or Maroon Lake Road rides. Mountain bikers follow old mining and logging roads for fat-tire adventures or hit the ski slopes trails in summer. Good rides are Rio Grande Trail, Richmond Ridge Trail, Smuggler to Sunnyside Loop, Rim Trail, and the trails at Sky Mountain Park.
There is no better way to spend an Aspen morning than hitting the links. While the greens fees are steep, the golfing is great. The Aspen Golf Club, an 18-hole layout west of town, is called the #1 Best U.S. Municipal Golf Course in Colorado by Golfweek Magazine. Snowmass Club Golf Course at Snowmass Lodge is also open to the public.
The Roaring Fork and Frying Pan rivers are renowned for stellar fishing, with anglers pulling rainbow, brown, brook, and cutthroat trout from the cold water. Two stretches of the Roaring Fork are designated Gold Medal waters, while the Frying Pan below Ruedi Reservoir can yield eight-pound trout. Castle Creek and Maroon Creek also offer easily accessible fishing.
If you’re looking to camp, the surrounding White River National Forest has lots of campgrounds. The ones off Colorado 82 east of town, including Difficult, Weller, Lincoln Gulch, and Lostman, are quiet and accessible. Four campgrounds scatter along the Maroon Lake Road: Silver Bar, Silver Bell, Silver Queen, and Maroon Lake.