Colorado's fanciest destination isn't just for snow bunnies! Head to the mountains now for better deals, spectacular views, and outdoor activities galore
Aspen, Colorado is known for its opulence: pristine yet rugged ski conditions and luxe après dining come winter; extraordinary culinary and outdoor events like the Food & Wine classic come summer; and a small airport with private jets dotting a runway sheltered by mountains year-round. (It’s no wonder A-list celebs flock there!)
But you don’t need a Hollywood-style paycheck to swing a visit to Colorado’s premiere destination. Visit now—during the “secret season” from mid-May to mid-June, before spring explodes into summer—and you’ll find nature’s paradise, with a cheaper price tag. Think: rivers and streams at their peak for spring rafters, kayakers, and SUPers; trails and roads fresh from winter, welcoming bikers and hikers; fewer crowds so you can spend more time connecting with Mother Nature; seasonal menus at farm-to-table eateries; and unparalleled, 360-degree views of changing seasons. Plus, many hotels have joined forces to create discount packages during this timeframe—with a $50 coupon toward outdoor activities, to boot!
Spend your money and time the right way this spring with our guide to Aspen's luxury and adventure. (And don't miss our guides to other top U.S. cities like Jackson Hole, WY!)
Check in to the historic Hotel Jerome (pictured above, left) in downtown Aspen and you’ll be greeted with a small glass of liquid chlorophyll water, which is said to help transport oxygen throughout your body (something your body struggles to do in high altitudes). That’s just one of the many ways this posh establishment caters to the outdoor enthusiast. The hotel sets up all sort of adventures for guests, like glamping (glamorous camping—yes, please!) trips and Rocky Mountain hikes paired with gourmet lunches. (The Jerome is just one of many Hotels That Put Fitness First.) And don’t miss the town’s social hot spot, J-Bar, with it's Old West vibes. Try the Aspen Crud—it’s whiskey, vanilla ice cream, and milk—which dates back to the days of Prohibition.
The Limelight Hotel (pictured above, right), the sister property to the famed Little Nell, is a perfect place to park it for a few days this spring too. And it won't break the bank! Just steps from Aspen mountain, the property is also owned by Aspen Skiing Co., which means you've got all of the pros on hand to help you plan every outdoor adventure imaginable from bike rides to SUP. (In the winter, hotel guests can take part in a program called "First Tracks," where you ski the mountain before it opens!) The Limelight is environmentally-, pet-, and kid-friendly, and also hosts fun nightly events like beer and distillery dinners right on site. What's not to love?
Stay in Shape
Beginners and pros alike will find plenty of ways to sweat come springtime in the mountains! Hardcore mountain bikers will love Government Trail (pictured above, far left)—a tough climb up Snowmass ski area, across ski runs, through dense evergreens to the Buttermilk ski area, and roller-coastering through aspen groves. Rio Grande Trail (a 40-mile mostly paved route; above, second from the left) is an easier cruise and has tons of stops along the way for a picnic!
Want to hike instead of bike? Ute Trail (pictured above, second from the right) isn’t for the faint of heart—it’s steady, mile-long uphill hike with switchbacks, 1,000 vertical feet to a rock outcropping. The view is worth the trek though! And easier trails like Hunter Creek (above, far right), which is 6.5 miles one way, will knock out your 10,000 steps, taking you through alpine meadows and abandoned cabins, with altitudes reaching up to 10,400 feet!
Fuel Your Trip
A trip to Aspen isn't complete without a trip to "Restaurant Row." If you're on the go, stop by hometown favorite Meat & Cheese during the day for something off of the counter service lunch menu (think: thai coconut soup, three grain salad, or 13-hour char siu brisket) or pick up goodies like local meats and cheeses sourced from nearby sustainable farms. You can also sit down for dinner service—and if you're lucky, you'll snag a coveted table on the outdoor patio space.
And stricter dieters are covered thanks to Spring Cafe Organic Food and Juice Bar, a breakfast and lunch spot that only serves 100 percent organic foods and ingredients. The eatery is vegetarian (and almost vegan, but they serve locally sourced eggs in the a.m.!) and capitalizes on ingredients like coconut sugar, spelt, almond flour, and organic cold-pressed oil. Inside, the kitchen walks the talk using stainless steel cookware—which doesn't have any aluminum or other harmful metals. And all plastic used is BPA-free. So pick up a cold-pressed juice—bottled daily—sit back outside, and take in the sights of Aspen Mountain while you sip.
Aspen’s Independence Pass, just a stone’s throw from downtown, offers hundreds of rock climbing adventures for every kind of climber (beginner to expert), from the classic Edge of Time to the challenging Cryogenics. Some routes are seasonal—that’s because Independence Pass highway is closed to traffic in the winter, re-opening May 17—but you can hike and bike the pass now (a great time to do so as it’s mostly dry and still closed to traffic!). Year-round climbs include Classy Cliff, Master Headwall, Dragon Rock, the Dump Wall, Outlook Rock, and Monitor Rock.
When Mary and Pat Scanlan and Mark Kleckner founded Woody Creek Distillery, they wanted to—most of all—make good vodka. Today, their spirits are arguably the best in the world. In March, the Woody Creek Colorado 100% Potato Vodka ($30; applejack.com) received the double gold medal and recognition for best vodka at the 15th annual World Spirits Competition in San Francisco. On your way in or out of town, tour the distillery and try the spirits yourself—straight (you’ll be able to sip it, we promise!) or mixed into a signature cocktail. You can feel good about your splurge too: While many vodka makers spike spirits with artificial flavors or distill it to a point that its taste is ripped away, Woody Creek grows and harvests their own potatoes—just eight miles away from the distillery!—and controls every part of the production, making sure that you’re drinking clean. (Get inspired! Super Refreshing Low-Calorie Spritzers for Summer.)
You’d be hard-pressed to find a better spa than Remède Spa at the St. Regis (it was rated the number one spa in the world by Travel + Leisure). Plush, classic Colorado-inspired decor in the oxygen lounge—a cozy room with day beds and a fireplace you can hook up to oxygen machines to help adjust to Aspen’s altitude—creates a serene environment. And services like the oxygen facial and the Rocky Mountain Ritual (an exfoliating treatment and massage) cater to the fit-minded. Whether you’re looking for relaxation or recovery, you’ll find it through a menu of customizable treatments and facilities like steam caves, hot tubs, and cold plunges.