Aspen’s fresh air, breathtaking views and world-class food scene make it an appealing destination throughout the year. And while most flock to the beautiful Colorado town during ski season, the fall deserves consideration, too. The leaves transform into living art, a view that stuns from every angle.
So grab a cowboy hat — preferably from Kemo Sabe, one of Aspen’s most popular shops, it fits each custom-designed piece to your head — and start your autumn mountain adventure.
Whether you want to peep leaves from the ground or air (or both), Aspen boasts some of the best vistas — and without obstructions.
See the sea of orange and yellow while soaring from above with Aspen Paragliding (which runs until October 1). Or take a vehicle deep into the forest for a private, two-hour off-roading adventure curated by the team at Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star The Little Nell.
If you prefer a more slow and steady speed, a private hike guided by a naturalist from the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies not only will get you among the leaves, but you will learn about the surrounding areas. Add on a ride up 11,200 feet into the air on the Silver Queen Gondola on the weekends, which gives you the chance to look out for miles, all in your own bubble. Take it to the top of the mountain, walk around, snap some photos and then enjoy the panoramas on the way back down.
The Aspen Art Museum remains open year round, displaying an ever-changing array of local and world-renowned contemporary artists. The latest exhibition includes “Gaetano Pesce: My Dear Mountains,” which starts with a facade over the entrance to the museum (it ends October 16).
Designed by Shigeru Ban, the museum building is also a work of art worth perusing. Start at the bottom and make your way to the rooftop café for a glass of wine and slice of avocado toast. Here you’ll also find “Precious Okoyomon: Every Earthly Morning the Sky’s Light touches Ur Life is Unprecedented in its Beauty,” an exhibit featuring living plants that will last as long as the greenery does.
Another place to visit is the newly opened Bayer Center at the Aspen Institute‘s Aspen Meadows Campus. Find a display of Austrian-American contemporary artist Herbert Bayer’s works, ranging from his graphic design to photography to paintings.
The city offers some of the best food in the world, which is why it hosts the annual Aspen Food & Wine Festival. But you don’t need a special occasion to enjoy a succulent wagyu flat iron or Colorado rack of lamb from Steak House No. 316. Add Maine lobster, a pile of king crab legs and some truffle butter to find out what makes the restaurant a favorite.
A visit to Matsuhisa also is necessary. While in an unassuming, 120-year-old Victorian house on Main Street, it’s owned by famed Japanese culinary master Nobu Matsuhisa. The chef delivers sashimi, cod with miso, toban yaki and other dishes with perfect technique and plating.
Wine and dine at Element 47 in The Little Nell, and/or book a special experience in the hotel’s wine cellar. The Little Nell has graduated 13 of North America’s Master Sommeliers, the most of any establishment on the continent, and it shows in the wine offerings. The cellar stores more than 20,000 bottles, and you can reserve a personal wine tasting or enjoy a chef-paired wine dinner.
Don’t forget lunch, too. On a chilly fall day, tuck into a bowl of French onion soup followed by gnocchi laced with truffles at the cozy French Alpine Bistro. The setting is rustic alpine chic, with enough tasty bites and well-crafted cocktails to entertain you all afternoon.
With proximity to many of the aforementioned experiences and impeccable service, The Little Nell makes for one of the best hotels in Aspen. It’s a culinary destination all its own. The Little Nell hosts Element 47 in the hotel and Ajax Tavern right above on the slope leading to the gondola. And watch for special events: recently the luxury hotel hosted three celebrated chefs from all over the country for its second Culinary Festival, something to look forward to again next year as the summer ends.
But aside from the food and drink, it provides perks big and small, including a fully stocked, complimentary mini-bar with snacks and non-alcoholic beverages in the accommodations; spacious suites overlooking either the mountains or town; a heated outdoor pool and hot tub surrounded by a beautiful garden; and complimentary transportation services.
The team at The Little Nell can easily curate your Aspen adventure. Of course, simply taking a plunge in the warm waters of the pool and watching the fall colors as you serenely float might be enough reason to visit this impressive mountain town this season.