In general, people think of Aspen as a winter destination. But this chic little ski town gets even better after its warm-weather makeover. The place has tons of festivals, concerts, free hikes, mountain biking trails and whitewater rafting excursions. Dine alfresco at top-notch eateries, sip craft cocktails with locals and marvel at all the puppies that start popping out once the snow melts.
Below, we give you the inside track on the top reasons you should visit this summer. Just be sure to bring your camera or smartphone — Aspen is one of the most photogenic places in the land, no matter the season.
Explore the mountains, snow-free
As stunning as the mountains are in the winter, the true colors of the White River National Forest really shine in summer. We’re talking 20-plus kinds of blooming trees, vibrant wildflowers, white-tailed birds and an endless blue sky. You can easily hit one of the dozens of trails on your own (look up a map on Aspentrailfinder.com) or join a guided hiking tour.
The Aspen Center for Environmental Studies offers naturalists for hire as well as free daily jaunts starting in mid-June. The center’s calendar is filled with other activities as well: learn about trees with an expert or practice yoga among nature; study the wildflowers of Snowmass on the daily walk; or find out what makes the area one of the prettiest places around by heading to Maroon Bells for a guided tour.
Other outdoor adventures
If summer thrills rank high on your list, Aspen has just about any non-ocean escapade you might crave. Enjoy the Roaring Fork River all season for whitewater rafting, fly-fishing, kayaking and river paddle boarding. Need to get even more hair raised on the back of your neck? Soar through the air with Aspen Paragliding.
Should you need a more subdued outing, Aspen Outfitting Company offers private guides who can show you secluded areas of the river for fishing, teach the art of shooting clay targets and take you bird hunting.
Discover the history of Aspen
To understand how this posh ski town became what it is today, start with an educational tour by the Aspen Historical Society. It offers a number of walking guides who cover the Holden/Marolt Mining and Ranching Museum, Red Butte Cemetery and, with the aid of a special electric vehicle, different historical hot spots downtown.
At the Wheeler/Stallard Museum, check out the exhibit “The Bests, Firsts and Worsts: Aspen in Objects,” a showcase of the area’s quirky superlatives.
If time allows, make a trip over to Ashcroft Ghost Town, a legitimate site from the late 1800s that remains fairly intact and full of spooky mystery.
Music, music everywhere
Most people wouldn’t consider this Colorado town of 6,700 residents as a cultural center for music, but each year it hosts the Aspen Music Festival. Aside from special concerts during this year’s extravaganza (June 30 to August 21) such as R&B legend Smokey Robinson (July 2) and violinist Sarah Chang (July 28), most Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays will feature amazing acts (the July 3 outing with diva Renée Fleming and the August 14 show with pianist Yefim Bronfman are already circled on our calendars).
As a bonus, three times a week talented music students will join professionals from the Aspen Philharmonic Orchestra, Aspen Chamber Symphony and the Aspen Festival Orchestra for early evening concerts.
Exciting summer hotel packages
Another perk to visiting Aspen in the summer is that you can almost always find a room at some of the best properties. Plus, many offer promotions and special events in the slower months. For example, Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Hotel Jerome offers the Bed & Breakfast Getaway, a package that includes a $60 daily breakfast credit to Prospect bistro or room service.
Our pick of the bunch is Four-Star The St. Regis Aspen Resort’s Discover Colorado promotion, which consists of a three-night stay for two adults, a scenic helicopter ride, a massage for two at Four-Star Remède Spa Aspen and hike with Aspen Expeditions.
Anderson Ranch’s 50th anniversary
Think of Anderson Ranch Arts Center as a camp for adults — to be more precise, imaginative grownups who want to learn a new skill or merely be surrounded with other likeminded people. This year, the iconic spot celebrates 50 years, which means it’s the prime time to visit the campus.
From the week of anniversary celebrations (July 17 to 22) to the 36th annual Art Auction and Community Picnic (August 6), it’s a great way to see the creative side of the area. Of course, if you want to be in a beautiful place and learn printmaking, sculpting or woodworking, book one of the multi-day courses.
But to fully immerse yourself in the life of Anderson Ranch, reserve a room at the lodge and share meals with your fellow artisans. Of course, if you don’t want to commit to a full program, simply tour the property and check out the gallery. Either way, it’s worth the trip.