Wedged in a valley between the Elk Mountain palisades to the southwest and the high-altitude massifs of the Sawatch Range in the east, the Roaring Fork Valley is a Rocky Mountain Shangri-la. The charm and beauty of this isolation makes reaching Aspen a scenic journey, but also one that can be frustrating.
The only land-based way in or out of Aspen is Highway 82—heading either across the Roaring Fork Valley or (in summer) over Independence Pass across the eastern side of the mountains (the pass begins at the junction of U.S. 24 and Highway 82). Aspen's explosive growth hasn't come without some headaches. Despite expanded lanes, Highway 82 quickly clogs with skiers and day commuters.
Aspen. Head here for a dose of the high life in an almost too-pretty town. The aspen-draped Maroon Bells peaks are one of the state's iconic images.
The Roaring Fork Valley. Snowmass is a year-round family resort destination rather than a true town. The historic towns of Glenwood Springs, Carbondale, Redstone, and Basalt offer a pleasant—and less expensive—alternative experience, and have great fly-fishing and rafting in summer.