Through summer and into early autumn in Aspen, the melted snow reveals lush mountains ripe for exploring. There’s plentiful shopping for the jetsetting international crowd, but numerous outdoor activities coupled with art and great food appeal to visitors of all demographics.
Active locals live a healthy lifestyle that incorporates fresh, nutritious food without sacrificing flavor. Wake up with a hearty egg scramble, smoothie, or açai bowl from Spring Café while people-watching on their patio. The “nutritarian” cuisine (with a focus on low-calorie, nutrient-dense foods) at Pyramid Bistro is one of the town’s greatest culinary gems. Tucked away on the second floor of Aspen’s only bookstore, Explore Booksellers, the food at Pyramid Bistro is so colorful and delicious that you’ll forget how good it is for you. Indian spices flavor the red lentil sliders and galangal vegetable and quinoa curry, all washed down with a refreshing coconut water lime spritzer.
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If you’re curious about the beautiful habitat you’re hiking in and want to understand the geology, ecology, and biosphere, there’s no better place to get your bearings than the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies at Hallam Lake. This serene side of Aspen is full of wildlife, and ACES naturalists will take you on early-morning birding hikes, sunset beaver walks, or foraging for wild Colorado mushrooms. There are classes and programs for adults, kids, and families available, and many guided hikes are free. If you’re staying at The Little Nell, they offer private stargazing tours as well.
Three times a week you can take the gondola up Aspen Mountain for a mountaintop yoga class with stunning views. For a day of hiking amid the aspen groves, take the bus from Aspen Highlands to Maroon Bells for a chance to photograph and bask in the glory of the most photographed mountains in the country. Along the way, you might encounter moose drinking from ponds, marmots sunning themselves on the rocks, and shy deer, elk, and pikas. The famous twin peaks here are Fourteeners—a nickname for Colorado’s 58 peaks above 14,000 feet. You can also get out on the water and try stand-up paddleboarding on the river. Northstar Nature Preserve is a great place for beginners to practice and you can take a half-day lesson with Aspen Kayak & SUP.
The mountain landscape and invigorating fresh air inspires both local and visiting artists. Purchase original artwork including jewelry, ceramics, photography, and glasswork during the Aspen Arts Festival in July and watch painters at work during the Red Brick Plein Air Festival in August. All year round you’ll find thought-provoking exhibits at the Aspen Art Museum. Climb the stairs and start exploring the roof deck sculpture garden before working your way downstairs through rooms filled with three-dimensional art made from found objects and a collection of paintings, prints, and photos examining revolution and social protest.
FRESH FINE DINING
As the host of one of the premier food and wine festivals in the country, it’s no surprise that Aspen’s dining scene is the most sophisticated of any ski town. If money is no object, sit at the chef’s counter at Chef’s Club By Food and Wine for the best view of the open-kitchen action. Award-winning chefs from around the country contribute dishes seasonally to this collaborative menu and the wine list is superb. Craveable Hospitality Group’s Aspen Kitchen is the best new restaurant to open in the past year. While Burke’s signature pink Himalayan salt dry-aged steaks are outstanding, it’s executive chef Matthew O’Neill’s carefully sourced produce and the way he coaxes complex flavors from vegetables and delicate seafood that make this restaurant shine. The fire-roasted cauliflower head is a masterpiece of char, vadouvan, artichoke tabbouleh, and black pepper yogurt. Piquillo-crusted oven-baked halibut in pork broth with veggie ragout is another favorite.
Craft brewing has long been a staple of Colorado life, and Aspen Brewing Company, located right downtown, is a local favorite. In the last few years, new nearby distilleries have been winning national accolades too. Bike the Rio Grande trail from Aspen to the Woody Creek Distillers tasting room in Basalt, where you can try potato vodka, gin, and rye whiskey neat or mixed in one of two dozen different cocktails. Pair the drinks with local eats in the parking lot during Food Truck Fridays between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Just a little farther west is Carbondale’s Marble Distilling Co., where vodka, gingercello, and Good Food Award–winning Moonlight Expresso coffee liqueur are the specialties. There are five rooms upstairs at The Distillery Inn where you can crash if you’re feeling too tipsy to head home. Tip: If you’re staying at The Gant, book the Elevated Libations package at no extra cost and receive free tours and discounts at nine breweries and distilleries between Aspen and Vail, including all of the above.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Aspen Guide