I never expected to see snow on our summer road trip but here we were surprised and surrounded by it. At 12,095 feet you will find the jaw dropping beauty that is Independence Pass just East of Aspen. When the weather permits and you can withstand the hairpin turns on state road 82, do not miss out on this amazing stop! We were lucky to come when we did since this winding route into Aspen was closed just a few days prior to our arrival. The incredible views were something I will never forget and a sign of great things to come in Aspen.
Our adventure into this remarkable place really began on I-70 out of Denver. The scenery was already stunning from the start as we drove through what looked like a legitimate Coors Light commercial. Somewhere between steep jagged roads, chasms and crazy drop offs Manu took the wheel so that I could dry my palms, relax and enjoy the views a bit more. After braving the never-ending switchbacks of Independence Pass we were finally in town ready to explore.
Aspen is quaint, walkable and like something out of a movie set. There are cute boutique shops, delectable eateries and natural beauty is found everywhere you look. We arrived at the Sky Hotel just in time for wine hour. It was crazy to think that just minutes before we were playing in the snow and now we were relaxing poolside with cocktails. I loved Aspen already!
We got to town just a week shy of their crazy tourist season so the vibe was quiet and laid back (just the way we like). The locals seemed to be relishing their last week before the big rush and we enjoyed chatting with many of them to find out how they ended up in such a gorgeous place. Some were born and raised in town, some worked there seasonally while others arrived a long time ago for ski season and never ever left! Manu and I contemplated finding his next work assignment here as we wandered around this picturesque town at sunset marveling at the sky’s colors.
Eat/ Drink/Be Merry
When it comes to food Aspen has a range of delicious choices from the affordable cheap eats to uber pricey restaurants. They also have numerous places to grab a brew and chill with some live music.
Our first night we popped into Hops Culture for a drink. They have an abundant selection of craft beers and reasonable happy hour specials every day. For cheap eats try The Big Wrap. This low-key no frills eatery is the perfect place to grab a quick and tasty bite. Just make sure you have some cash on hand (they don’t take cards), a big appetite or someone to share your meal with (they don’t call it BIG for nothing)! Another inexpensive place worth a peek further outside of town is Hickory House Ribs. While the service is lacking they’re barbeque is delicious, cheap and perfect for a speedy lunch.
Since the Ziggy Marley concert at Belly Up Aspen was sold out Manu and I decided to check out The Red Onion for some live music. This neighborhood favorite features local bands on some nights and offers a good drink menu. Because we were on our backpackers budget we did not indulge in the super pricey restaurants but did enjoy a fantastic meal at Justice Snow’s on our last night in town. The restaurant is housed in a lovely historic building and their food is as excellent as their ambiance.
Aspen is known as a year round attraction for outdoor adventure. Whether it’s skiing, hiking, mountain climbing, rafting, horseback riding or whatever it is you’re into you can find it here and enjoy the magnificent views along the way.
Manu and I huffed and puffed and steadily made our way up multiple switchbacks a mile uphill on the Ute Trail. With every step I remembered the wine guy back at the hotel telling us “it’s totally easy, I hike up there in 45 minutes on my lunch break”. Well this trail was no small feat but what was to follow was spectacular and worth every sweat bead. The vistas from the top of the rock outcropping are far out and hard to beat. From here you get a 360-degree view with the town below and snowy peaks as far out as the eye could see. Don’t miss this hike when in Aspen!
Two other breathtaking hikes you can’t skip are Hunter Creek Trail and Smuggler’s Cove. Enjoy lush landscapes, rushing rivers and picture perfect views as you meander through the trails and breathe in pure mountain air.
For a different kind of rush try whitewater rafting in the nearby rivers. We went with Aspen Whitewater Rafting a great company in town. We chose to do the Slaughterhouse Falls ($94 with all the equipment) in the afternoon and during our trip the water was high and exhilarating. The staff was excellent and after our trip they even provided us with snacks and beer to replenish our energy.
On the way out
Ashcroft Ghost Town
If you’re heading west on SR 82 out of town and take the Castle Creek Rd exit at the roundabout you’ll end up at Ashcroft Ghost Town. This once booming silver mining town from the 1800’s has been preserved as a remarkable historic site.
During low season you could drive from the same roundabout taking Maroon Creek Rd to arrive at Maroon Bells. From mid June to October this area can only be accessed by bus service from 8 am to 5 pm. The beauty of this place will literally take your breath away! Manu and I enjoyed a challenging yet pleasant hike to Crater Lake with spectacular scenery along our route. I’ll let the pictures do the talking…