Aspen: America’s Most Luxurious Mountain Town
Aspen, America’s most luxurious mountain town, is a standout destination in the Centennial State, and has an identity all its own. It is a one-of-a-kind destination where winter and summer sports, small-town life, food, art and music all intersect with Hollywood-style glitz and well heeled visitors and locals, This year-round playground draws an endless tide of visitors looking to ski the slopes, hike the mountain trails and marvel at the scenic landscapes that surround this small but brimming town. Aspen is a quintessential winter and summer destination for outdoor adventure chasers yet the culture of Aspen is what makes this unique town a one-of-a-kind destination.
With a collection of activities braided into Aspen’s city limits, depending on one’s mood and personality, the menu of options is overflowing. Still, regardless of one’s specific interests everyone will fall in love with Maroon Bells for the ridiculous beauty that leaves most visitors breathless. The two towering peaks of Elk Mountains act as frame hovering above the reflective lake, heightening the foothills in the distance. Noted as one of the most photographed mountains in the world, come equipped to snap away as the colors of this landmark transform with the seasons. If you hope to drive to the viewing spot on your own, you must go before 8 a.m. or after 5 p.m. during the summer (mid-June to early October) but be prepared to pay a $10 lake access fee. If you elect to visit during business hours, bus tickets can be purchased 1.5 miles up the road at the base of Aspen Highlands at Four Mountain Resort. For those wanting more than just a picture, trek up one of the various Crater Lake Trails to take in the scenic beauty and picture-worthy terrain.
The Silver Queen Gondola is a 14-mile journey that sweeps riders into the heart of downtown Aspen. Enjoy the panoramic views of the city streets and surrounding peaks and valleys as the cart climbs the peaceful 11,000 foot Ajax Mountain, seemingly leading up the stairway to heaven. At the top, your options are nearly unlimited. Swallow the vista from the sundeck while enjoying a glass of wine, opt to flick frisbees on the tallest disc golf course in the country, join the yoga crowd for various poses or hop on one of the many hiking and biking trails weaving through Aspen Mountain. During the summer, the gondola is open seven days a week; however, during May and October it only operates on weekends. Perhaps one of the most underrated activities that makes Aspen so special is stargazing. On a clear night the Little Nell offers stargazing tours year-around or if you are feeling adventurous, take a joyride on the impossibly stunning road, Independence Pass, for a nighttime treat of glitter-splashed skies. Although a notable exploration during nightfall, Independence Pass is arguably even more noteworthy during the daytime hours. The road weaves between Leadville and Aspen, emphasizes the striking Sawach Mountains accompanied by the active Fork River, easily making it one of the most spectacular drives in the country.
Colorado’s sunlight inspires residents and tourists to get outside and enjoy the rays from dawn to dusk. One of the most enjoyable outings in the area is hiking the many trails lacing the mountains surrounding Aspen. These serve all ages and fitness levels and many are just steps from downtown. Ute and Sunnyside Trail offer a more challenging feat while Smugglers Trail and Hunter Creek accommodate a stroll-like experience. Rio Grande is used as both a hiking and biking trail and begins behind the post office on Puppy Smith Road. While dotting this popular path with your transportation of choice, stop off at John Denver Sanctuary on the banks of the roaring Fork River. During the summer months the park offers live music and weekend events on the shorelines of the raging river. Blazing Adventures feeds the thrill-seeker’s soul with whitewater rafting expeditions, jeep tours, horseback riding, hot air balloon rides and fly-fishing.
In the winter months, Aspen exercises it’s right to be perfectly inviting to both snow bunny first-timers and rock star powder-shredders. The winter wonderland offers lessons, tours and passes to enjoy snow climbing, snow shoeing, skiing, snowboarding, tubing and more. With happenings overflowing the calendar beginning with the first snowfall of the season, Aspen keeps its inhabitants entertained. Christmas time in Aspen is an enchanting time of the year as the annual 12 Days of Aspen celebration gives life to the holidays and offers free ice skating and caroling in the charmingly decorated downtown. Following the new year, Aspen brings the Wintersköl- Aspen Winter Festival and the Winter X Games January.
The culture of Aspen can be enjoyed all year. Their farmer’s market each Saturday calls the locals while first-time market roamers can sample pastries, peach slices or shop the local artist’s creations in the stalls set up throughout downtown. The Silverpeak Apothecary is the premiere recreational marijuana establishment in town, inviting connoisseurs to dabble in their selection of flower, edibles, and more. Located in the old Hunter Creek Power Plant built in 1888, Aspen Art Museum is a must-stop for modern art lovers as the museum doesn’t collect art but rather links artists with the community and admission is free.
Although recognized as a playground where most use their muscles to zig and zag the steep plains of snow, the town is also known to induce relaxation while promoting the rest and loosening of those hard-at-work muscles coating the body. The Remède Spa at St. Regis, is a prime destination for easing the daily stresses of life while pandering in the world-class mountain destination. For an optimal massage experience request massage therapists, Christopher, Rob or Danny; however, if it’s a facial you desire, Marta is your best option. In the newest health craze to hit Aspen, Vitamin Bars are making a splash. Rescue Lounge offers Vitamin IV’s for visitors looking for a simple way to enhance their nutritional intake during their stay.
The streets of downtown offer a shopping scene comparable to a micro version of Rodeo Drive, with celebrated designers such as Gucci, Fendi, Louis Vuitton, James Perce and Lululemon all staking a claim in the fashion-forward scene of Aspen, alongside local boutique favorites like Pitken County Dry Goods.
The theatre scene in Aspen, although small in venue size, is big in talent. The Wheeler Opera House provides drama and music lovers an array of productions year round. The century-long history of the opera house has brought such names as Lyle Lovett, John Denver and Dave Chappelle to the stage. For live music and concert, Belly-Up has flawlessly represented Aspen as the best hall to dance and sing along to artists of various genres. With the same owners as the popular Belly-Up in Solano Beach, CA the venue lives up to its reputation showcasing some of music’s biggest and best. Jas Aspen puts on an must-go production during Labor Day weekend each year. With a goal of keeping jazz and other related forms of song alive in an authentic sense, the festival has featureed the best in jazz alongside names like Stevie Wonder, the Killers, Duran Duran and more.
The culinary scene in Aspen is laden with class, community and savory dishes. Browse EatAspen.com for tips, reservations and culinary events suitable for all palettes. Familiar names such as Nobu Matsuhisa and Hillstone Group’s White House Tavern to member’s only Carribou Club and late night magnet, Grey Lady Aspen might grab diner’s attention but those seeking an extraordinary and memorable dining quest should plan to dine at one of the following top restaurants in Aspen.
Chef’s Club by Food and Wine is our “Editor’s Choice” and offers an array of memorable choices. Named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 best restaurants in the country, Chef’s Club is located in the posh St. Regis, where the menu gets its inspiration from some of the nation’s top up-and-coming chefs. Try the Mole Maria by Chef Carlos Salgado or the King Salmon by Chefs Greg and Gabi Denton, accompanied with notable and detailed pairings from their extensive wine list.
One of the newer additions to Aspen’s culinary culture is the intimate dining room of Bosq. Aspen native Chef C. Barclay Dodge has transferred his experience traveling the globe to create a menu that is unique and delectable. Tempura Shitake with Creamy Soy and Halibut Ceviche are two of the most notable delights that comprise the menu.
Located in the Little Nell, Element 47 is a sophisticated and sought after experience within the mountain town. Before finding your table, track down the establishment’s concierge to inquire about a tour of their extraordinary wine cellar. Although the five-star restaurant has earned its name on a list of fine dining destinations in the area, the restaurant still maintains an “Aspen casual” attire inviting guests to drop in regardless of the occasion or time of day. Their E47 bar plays nicely into the casual feel while executing a remarkable bar menu and well-crafted cocktails.
When in Aspen, it is customary to start your drinking in the daylight hours, most notably following an epic ski run. Apres, or better known in the Unisted States as happy hour, is a way of life in this small town but do not fret, in Aspen the drinks flows from the afternoon well into the night.
Our favorite cocktail spot, Hooch, is set under the neighborhood hangout, Meat and Cheese. This craft cocktail retreat resembles a hip drinking den one might find in the heart of NYC’s Lower East Side. The colorful cocktails made with top shelf liquors and carefully sourced ingredients, are only part of the reason to join the party at Hooch. An impressive wine list, craft brews, cheese boards and a relaxing vibe all add to the delectability of this drinking haunt.
Justice Snow’s Parisian inspired atmosphere invites true cocktail connoisseurs to experiment in their endless creations concocted by the skilled barmen. The mixologists put great care into their craft so be prepared to spend some time waiting for your cocktail. It’s well worth the wait.
Settled in the historic Hotel Jerome, J Bar and The Living Room give revelers new and old reasons to lounge in the distinct bars. Living room is a perfect addition to the established hotel and complements the classic J Bar which has made its name as a social gathering for cowboys and socialites, alike. Living room provides a comfortable place to lounge and sip on perfectly created cocktails with an open invitation to get cozy with chums in the many seat offerings situated throughout the ‘living room.’ J Bar, short for Jerome Bar, gives a smidge of old west while still providing the class that oozes from Hotel Jerome.
Being Aspen’s only five-star and five-diamond property, The Little Nell doesn’t disappoint when it comes to classic extravagance in America’s most luxurious mountain town. The modern luxury rooms and suites styled by Chicago designer, Holly Hunt, give guests comfort while demanding the use of all five senses. During wintertime the fireplace in each room increases the appealing ambiance of the simple yet elegant décor, while the fully-stocked refreshment bar and complimentary non-alcoholic drinks and snacks are loaded for one’s enjoyment. The heated marble floors and walls complement the oversized shower and separate soaking tub in each bathroom, encouraging relaxation after a day on the slopes. The hotel provides a complimentary transportation service to and from the airport as well as around town for Nell guests. Additionally, an Audi Q7 loaner is provided for one session up to two hours of use, while those looking to use their legs to explore Aspen, can peddle a cruiser or fat bike courtesy of the five-star hotel. For those nibblers at all hours of the day, an exceptional 24-hour room service is offered to guests; however, if you are looking to dabble in locally renowned cuisine at normal dining hours, Element 47 is stacked with impressive eats and a brilliant wine list. For your convenience, the morning newspapers are delivered to your door, while packing and unpacking services are provided upon request.
The St. Regis is most easily recognized by their award-winning spa services and signature restaurant, Chef’s Club; however, in addition to selective indulgence, the resort provides a picturesque mansion serving as the baseboard of the stunning Aspen Mountain. With a goal to ‘surpass all expectations,’ Remède Spa’s aim to provide luxury spoiling through their haven of relaxation-induced therapies. Soak up the complimentary offerings to spa guests by lazing in the steam cave, hot tubs, cold plunges or the oxygen lounge. When all that relaxation has sparked hunger pains, continue to pamper yourself among some of the best chefs in America. Chef’s Club upholds its reputation year after year by providing diners with an impeccable experience blanketed in stellar service, innovative dishes and an unforgettable ambiance.
More of a community than a hotel, the Limelight Hotel gifts their ‘members’ with involvement in the happenings of Aspen, including free lift tickets and loaner bicycles to explore local events and adventures. A sister property to The Little Nell, guests can expect similar car service offerings and transportation to those staying at the hotel. However, the list of incentives does not stop there. Complimentary breakfast is served from 7 to 10 AM, while guests who stay three or more nights receive an Aspen Snowmass lift ticket courtesy of the hotel; and perhaps even more enticing, Limelight provides free stand-up paddle boarding for guests on Wednesdays and Fridays in the summertime. Bask in the warm summer sun with a dip in the pool or relax in the hot tub on-board the scenic rooftop terrace. Limelight Lounge offers a mix of both small bites and scrumptious cocktails. Monday thru Thursday during the summer months, live music and sangria flights are a highly sought after treat with the drinking crowd. Although there is no room service offered, the hotel can arrange for Lounge eats to be delivered to guest’s rooms from 3 to 10 PM. During your stay, dip into Limelight’s Bike and Beer Series on Sunday afternoons (twice monthly) from June 7 to Oct. 4.