The old mining town of Aspen sits amidst millions of acres of public land, including three wilderness areas, 15 fourteeners within 25 miles, and the twisting Continental Divide. An Aspen weekend offers a healthy dose of wild lands for hiking, mountain biking, fishing, climbing, fishing, and mountaineering, as well as a cultural scene, world-class restaurants, and a laid-back mountain ambience that keeps you coming back. Here’s a guide for a spectacular weekend in Aspen that will fill your appetite for outdoor adventure.

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Day 1—Maroon Bells, Wildflowers, Aspen History, and Nightlife

On your first Aspen morning, grab breakfast at the Aspen Saturday Market, with Colorado-grown products from mid-June to mid-October. Eat fresh fruit and veggies, a sweet roll, and sip coffee at the food court. When you’re ready for a hike, head to Aspen Highlands to grab a shuttle to Maroon Lake.

The Bells, twin 14,000-foot peaks in the Elk Range, form one of Colorado’s most photographed scenes. The rugged, reddish peaks reflect in placid Maroon Lake. Morning is the best time to view the famed peaks, while the best season is anytime. Autumn is gorgeous when golden aspen spill down slopes below the snow-covered Bells.

Maroon Bells
Maroon Bells

Next, head south on Castle Creek Road to Ashcroft, a ghost town of log cabins, the old post office, and a saloon. Ashcroft rivaled Aspen in the 1890s with 2,500 residents, two newspapers, and 20 saloons. The Aspen Historical Society offers summer tours or you can just roam around and enjoy fields of wildflowers. For an early lunch, drive a mile past Ashcroft to Pine Creek Cookhouse for food and views.

Head back to Aspen for lunch. Recommendations include the patio at White House Tavern; a burger at The Red Onion, Aspen’s oldest bar; vegan and vegetarian options at Pyramid Bistro; or a tasty sandwich at the Grateful Deli.

Spend the afternoon checking out cool sites around town. Make Aspen’s silver-mining history come alive with a visit to the Smuggler Mine, where a one-ton silver nugget was found in 1894. You put on a hard hat with a miner’s lamp and ride an ore cart into the Smuggler for an underground exploration. For more history, visit the Wheeler/Stallard Museum in an elegant 1888 Victorian house built by silver magnate Jerome Wheeler. The first floor looks like a 1890s movie set, while local artifacts on the second floor recall Aspen’s colorful past.

Stroll to the base of Aspen Mountain and ride 2.5 miles up the Silver Queen Gondola to the mountain’s airy 11,212-foot summit. Expect spacious views; an 18-hole disc golf course; a snack and drink on the Sundeck’s patio; hiking trails and guided hikes; and live music on weekends, with classical on Saturdays and bluegrass on Sundays.

Dinner is the first stop for a night out. You’ll find plenty of choices, so pick carefully to fit your budget. The J-Bar at Hotel Jerome offers great food and their signature bourbon milkshake. Other good places are Hickory House, Ajax Tavern, Wild Fig, Element 47, and Casa Tua. All serve vegetarian and vegan options.

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Catch a show at the Wheeler Opera House, an 1889 stone theater that is Aspen’s premier performance venue. The intimate 500-seat theater hosts over 300 shows a year, including comedy acts, films, opera, and concerts from rock to classical. After the show, walk a block to Aspen Brewing Company for local craft beers from blonde and red ales to stouts and pilsners. Grab chairs on the patio for the best views.

Day 2—Independence Pass, Outdoor Fun, and John Denver

Independence Gold Mine - SWKrullImaging - OutThere Colorado
Independence Gold Mine. Photo Credit: SWKrullImaging.

The next morning head east on Highway 82 and drive to the 12,096-foot summit of Independence Pass, the highest paved thru-road in the United States. Expect dramatic scenery in every direction, groves of golden aspens in September, the ghost town of Independence, several campgrounds, and trails that lead into alpine valleys. The top of the pass lies above timberline, with meadows strewn with tiny wildflowers. Hike a paved path at the top to a viewpoint that looks south to La Plata Peak. On the way back to Aspen, take a short hike on the Grottos Trail to ice caves, waterfalls, and picnic sites. Part of the trail is wheelchair accessible.

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After lunch in Aspen, pick a fun activity. Rent a bike and ride west down the Rio Grande Trail to Basalt and take the bus back. It’s mostly downhill with great scenery. Along the way, stop at Woody Creek Tavern, writer Hunter S. Thompson’s old hangout, for lunch or a drink. You can take a furious raft trip down the Roaring Fork River in early summer, or go fly fishing for trout in its deep pools. Standup paddle boarders can discover stunning mountain lakes for board fun, including Lost Man Reservoir, Grizzly Reservoir, Reudi Reservoir, and Stillwater, a calm river section east of Aspen. Golfers can find thrilling high-country challenges at municipally-owned Aspen Golf Club, an 18-hole layout rated as one of America’s best public courses. For backroad adventure, take a jeep tour over lofty Pearl Pass.

Before heading home, make a final stop at the John Denver Sanctuary beside Rio Grande Park. The peaceful haven honors the memory of John Denver, a beloved Aspenite who died in a 1997 plane crash. Stroll along a circular path lined with white stones engraved with lyrics from Denver’s iconic songs, including Rocky Mountain High, a song written about a night on nearby Mount Sopris. Streams, wetlands, a huge flower garden, and a walking meditation bring closure to a perfect Aspen weekend.

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