Somewhere in the digital age, we lost touch with our ability to connect with locals. My vacation to Aspen reminded me why it’s important to share a smile and maybe even a beer. Local Aspenites were eager to welcome me to their town, and happy to let me in on some secrets—perhaps the biggest being the “secret season”.
Whoa, when is this “secret season”?
Aspen snow is almost as famous as some of the celebrities who frequent the area. Summers teem with wildflowers, but also flocks of people. As you can imagine, autumn in Aspen is spectacular when the namesake trees dance with golden leaves. Spring though, is completely underrated. High peaks glow under a blanket of snow that is slowly melting away, exposing contours on the rugged mountains. So many activities are readily available from skiing (the 2019 season extended into June!) to hiking and paddling on the river. Arts remain vibrant throughout the town, and best of all: no crowds.
The can’t miss outdoor experience from downtown Aspen
Well, I can’t pick one, so I’ll share two. Anytime you can jet into the outdoors sans car, do it!
Hike the Hunter Creek Trail
Begin at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies and learn a bit about local plant and wildlife species. Follow Hunter Creek into the hills, and witness the change in flora as you gain altitude. At the very least, remain on the trail until you reach the historic mining cabins. Coupled with history are epic views of the Elk Mountains.
Bike the Rio Grande Trail to Woody Creek
Hands down, one of my favorite activities in the area was renting a bike from downtown and cruising the mellow eight miles down-valley to Woody Creek. For a little extra oomph, rent a pedal-powered, electric bicycle and forget about sweating. Once you get to Woody Creek, belly up for a meal and a margarita at the famous Woody Creek Tavern, complete with funky décor and a million Polaroids plastered to the walls. Oh, and leave the plastic behind—this place is cash only.
Do this in Aspen, for free!
It’s no secret that Aspen is teeming with amazing art. Thanks to Elizabeth and Walter Paepcke’s progressive, art-forward attitude in the 1940’s, Aspen remains a cultural utopia. Beyond the downtown galleries and performing art spaces, the town boasts two completely free-to-visit art centers.
The Aspen Institute
Year-round art and cultural exhibits offer the perfect harmony between art and the outdoors—a wonderful representation of the real Aspen. Purposefully built grass mounds and open spaces encourage visitors to reflect on their surrounding environment. A “permanent” exhibit, Stone River (Andy Goldsworthy), snakes through one of the campus buildings leading to the Roaring Fork River. The Aspen Institute is closed to the public only a handful of days in the year and is the perfect way to enjoy both art and the encompassing scenery.
Aspen Art Museum
Right downtown, you can’t miss the woven facade of the Aspen Art Museum. Galleries of this caliber typically welcome dollars from eager art enthusiasts, though this museum remains a non-collecting institution. Rotating contemporary works decorate the three floors of this museum, and the views from the roof are some of the best in town.
It all started with a walking tour…
Wandering the streets of Aspen with Dean, a local in the area since 1999, I felt that I was just being shown around by an old friend. There was history here, culture there, and mountain vistas behind everything. Suddenly on our walk, we were surrounded by rock boulders with John Denver lyrics scrolled on them. It felt like we had accidentally stumbled into a lush, peaceful garden where no one else was. Had I never met Dean, I may have completely missed this local wonder, the John Denver Sanctuary. People like Dean and places like this offered me a wonderful perspective on this charming mountain town and the community that thrives there.