Situated in the heart of the White River National Forest and surrounded by the peaks of the Elk Mountains, Aspen is most famous as a year-round skiing destination. But the town has plenty more to offer than world class pistes, including an impressive selection of high-end restaurants and boutiques, plus a liberal smattering of cultural landmarks and institutions.
Set against a stunning mountainous backdrop, Aspen is quite simply a sight to behold, with beautiful vistas every which way you turn. Whatever you reason for visiting this picture-perfect Colorado town, there’ll be something to keep you entertained for days, if not weeks. And for those keen to get a taste of Aspen’s lesser known delights, the list below has been curated just for you.
Catch a show at a 19th-century Opera House
Named after the renowned developer Jerome B. Wheeler, the imposing Wheeler Opera House dates back to the 1890s and is Aspen’s only example of Romanesque Revival and Italianate-style architecture, as well as being the city’s first building to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. But the venue’s appeal extends far beyond its impressive façade, with the upstairs auditorium playing host to a number of distinguished performances every year, ranging from national music and comedy acts to parts of the Aspen Music Festival to productions by local community groups.
LOCATION 320 East Hyman Avenue HOURS Mon-Fri 12pm-5pm Closed Sat-Sun
Visit a psychedelic-inspired home
Hallucinogenics are well known for getting the creative juices flowing, but rarely could they have helped inspire the design of an entire home. Back in the 1970s, when the original psychedelic revolution was still in full swing, a local Aspen architect dropped some LSD and set about creating a wonderfully unique living space. Featuring myriad natural curves and constantly moving light, it soon became known as the Magic Mushroom House and even played host to notable celebrities including Andy Warhol and Hugh Hefner.
Explore a true-life ghost town
A quick drive south of Aspen lies Ashcroft, once one of Colorado’s most thriving towns thanks to a booming mining industry, but today virtually deserted save for the odd curious interloper. After the golden era of the 1880s, the town went through various peaks and troughs before it was virtually abandoned in the mid-to-late 20th century. In the 1970s the Aspen Historical Society decided to preserve the town’s heritage and it was soon added to the National Register of Historic Places, welcoming infrequent visitors to explore this historic ghost town.
Pay respects to a literary legend
One of Aspen’s most famous former residents was the late cult journalist Hunter S. Thompson, who lived in the town at various points during his colourful life. In 2006, a year after his death, a group of admirers created a Thompson shrine in the Snowmass ski area, near his former home in Woody Creek. Spread over a specially-made bench and several trees, the area has been decorated with a mishmash of photos and articles, plus various Thompson-esque items such as bullet shells, mannequin arms and beer bottles hung from tree branches.
Check out Aspen’s only microbrewery
The latest in Aspen Brewing Company’s evolution is Aspen Tap – Aspen’s Craft Brewery & Gastropub. Located in the heart of downtown Aspen, the venue features more than a dozen of Aspen Brewing Company’s award- winning beers alongside hand selected wines, delicious craft cocktails and a great pub food menu. Suggested food & beer pairings such as the Croque Monsieur & Tomato Soup paired with Cloud 9 Belgian Saison or Truffle Mac & Cheese paired with Ajax Pilsner make it a destination for Aspen locals and tourists alike. Easily Aspen’s best patio for a cold beverage on a sunny afternoon, summer or winter, Aspen Tap is a must on your visit to Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley.
LOCATION 121 South Galena Street HOURS Mon-Sun 12pm-12am
Enjoy an evening in a historic log cabin
This magical adventure invites you into the cosy environs of a historic western log cabin. Run by a local company called Blazing Adventures, the Burlingame Sunset Dinner Tour starts with a late afternoon jeep drive into the high country, traversing Snowmass Mountain before arriving at the secluded Burlingame log cabin. Here the fun begins, with a range of group and individual activities on offer. Later, a full course mountain style dinner is served, before your intimate group gather around a glowing campfire and listen to live music performed by local musicians, all set against the glittering lights of the town below. The return journey is at 10pm.
Visit an acclaimed Aspen dining destination
Aspen has a rich and diverse culinary scene and among its most acclaimed dining establishments is Jimmy’s, which has attracted patrons with its casual atmosphere and mouth-watering American cuisine specializing in steaks and seafood for more than two decades. A classic neighbourhood restaurant and bar and winner of multiple awards down the years, the stylish but cosy venue features a 120-seat dining room, a covered and heated patio area and a lively bar, the latter being nationally recognised as one of the best in the country, thanks in large part to its selection of agave-based spirits.
LOCATION 205 South Mill Street HOURS 5.30pm-10.30pm
Navigate Aspen on a segway
If you like the idea of exploring Aspen in a fun, active and original way, why not join a Segway tour? Segway Aspen host two types of tours – one for beginners and one for more advanced segway users – 7 days a week from morning until late afternoon. The West End Beginner Tour ($75) takes around an hour and will see you traverse the outskirts of Aspen on quiet neighbourhood roads, inviting you to explore parts of the town that most visitors normally miss. The Red Mountain Advanced Tour ($95) lasts about an hour-and-a-half and takes you up the steep hills of Red Mountain, offering incredible views of Aspen below. Both tours begin with a training session next to Gondola Plaza.
Soak up the solitude at a singer’s sanctuary
Another memorial to a famous Aspen resident of yesteryear – the singer John Denver – can be found along a small river in the Rio Grande Park. Here at the John Denver Sanctuary, a dedicated Song Garden features the lyrics of the singer’s most popular songs etched into granite rocks including: “Annie’s Song”, “Rocky Mountain High”, “Sunshine on My Shoulders” and many more. Smaller rocks on the hill are said to be arranged in a way that represents musical notes from other Denver songs. The memorial can be accessed through a trail beside Theater Aspen and is free to enter.
LOCATION 470 Rio Grande Place HOURS 6am-9pm
Test your nerves with some mid-air adventure sports
Adventurous visitors to Aspen can enjoy the ultimate thrill thanks to Aspen Paragliding, one of the region’s best regarded paragliding schools. Both exhilarating and tranquil in equal measure, taking to the sky in an airfoil glider is truly a memorable experience, made even more special here thanks to the stunning Colorado scenery down below. Flights are taken in tandem with your pilot, with each of you seated in separate harnesses but attached together. Flight paths vary depending on the conditions, with favourable weather allowing your pilot to guide you several thousand feet above the dramatic Aspen Mountain, offering jaw-dropping vistas that will stay with you forever.
Jump aboard a thrilling snowmobile
T-Lazy-7 Snowmobiles, Aspen’s premier snowmobile tour operator, is family-owned and has been operating for over 50 years. Nestled in Aspen’s Maroon Creek Valley, under the watchful gaze of the 14,000 ft. Pyramid Peak, T-Lazy- 7 Snowmobiles’ tours are in high-demand, attracting Aspen’s elite clientele. These guided tours take guests through the exquisite White River National forest and up to North-America’s most photographed peaks, the Maroon Bells, another of Colorado’s “14ers.” Once at Maroon Lake, guests can take photos and enjoy a cup of hot chocolate as guides tell stories about the fascinating history of the area.
Dine at 10,000 feet
For an indulgent dining experience with a difference, this cosy cabin high in the Rocky Mountains will leave you with memories to last a lifetime. Starting with a fun snowcat ride, you’ll be transported up to an atmospheric European-style cabin known as Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro. As well as dazzling you with its awe-inspiring views, you can also tuck into an array of lavish dishes including fondue, raclette, steak tartare and caviar, not to mention an impressive wine and champagne menu. What’s more, a south-facing deck plays host to buzzing evening dance parties.
LOCATION 76 Boomerang Road, Top of the Cloud Nine Lift HOURS Fri-Tues 11.30am-3.30pm; Weds-Thurs 11.30am-3.30pm / 6pm-10pm