One way in, one way out: Whether you enter from the roundabout or wind over Independence Pass, pulling into Aspen in the summer is leaving the real world behind and entering an enclosed refuge from what is reality.
Aspen’s summer is activated and relaxed. You’ll find people sipping rosé outside of Clark’s Oyster Bar, Meat & Cheese or the Hotel Jerome patio before noon. Others have already hiked to the top of Aspen Mountain by that time and are headed to their mid-day work shifts. Then comes the clocked-out, night-owl hours when they’re dancing somewhere beneath Aspen’s streets—Belly Up, Gala, Escobar or Sterling—till 2 a.m. and yonder. But these are the locals, and the locals like to live fast and slow in the summertime.
Wander town’s few blocks on any given Saturday morning farmers market and you’ll be smiling from the baby goats to the fresh veggies (and popcorn). Take a Silver Queen Gondola ride to the top of Aspen Mountain on a Sunday afternoon and enjoy live bluegrass tunes with brews and views from the Sundeck. Or, head up on a weekday morning, when Aspen Shakti offers an hour of open-air Hatha yoga atop the mountain. Floating along the snow fed waters of North Star Nature Preserve is another meditative experience. A suitable float for families and beginners, you can paddleboard, canoe or inner tube through the Preserve (beware and respectful of wildlife, like beavers and moose, living among North Star’s streams and trees).
There’s also the unofficial town bike ride, Tuesday Cruise day—a long-held tradition where cyclists of all ages cruise through town, hitting stops like Aspen Tap and Harper + Hudson for drink deals along the way. Riders will often end their cruise at Mollie Gibson Park (also known as Smuggler Park), which overlooks the town and is the ideal spot to have a picnic and watch the sunset. Another picnic spot is a shorter walk from town to the John Denver Sanctuary. Nestled next to the Rio Grande Park and field along the Roaring Fork River, the Sanctuary is an open area with lush grass and a song garden featuring Denver’s lyrics etched into native river boulders. From this serene spot, following the Rio Grande Trail, a 42-mile paved route running from Aspen to Glenwood Springs—is a staple summer activity. Whether on foot, bike (or e-bike), rollerblades or even horseback, trail users can find picnic tables and benches scattered along the route, as well as fun ventures off the beaten path. Perhaps the most popular place to stop is Woody Creek Tavern, the funky comfort-food joint located right off the trail, 8 miles from Aspen.
Aspen’s rare rhythm can be felt around every block, park, nook and cranny in the summer. Because Aspen breathes better in the summer—its trees talk, rivers flow and winds whisper, altogether among the tall-and green-standing mountains. It's that stillness that whispers to those who came for the winters, "Stay."
Smuggler Mountain Road
This 1.5-mile trek is a moderate climb up a wide dirt road. Accessible from town, it’s a popular one for locals and visitors alike. At the top is a viewing deck that overlooks Aspen and the surrounding mountains. You can turn back here, keep venturing up into the Hunter Creek Valley or descend via the Hunter Creek Trail for new scenery. Reverse this loop by starting up Hunter Creek (less steep, more shade) and head down the Smuggler side.
Dog-friendly and mostly-shaded switchbacks, the .9-mile, steep ascent to Ute Rock is a butt-buster, especially if you’re not acclimated to the altitude. The scenic rock is where most turn around. Or, you can keep going another 3 miles to reach the summit of Aspen Mountain. Within walking distance of downtown, head east on Ute Avenue and up the street until you see the trailhead sign on the right.
Stretching 10 miles between the Hunter Creek Valley and Red Mountain, Sunnyside is a moderate single track through aspen groves and steadily climbs up Red Mountain. You can access the trail from Cemetery Lane, where there’s a small parking area, or start from behind the Hunter Creek condominiums. Head up early in the morning to beat the heat and the crowds. Note: It’s heavily used by mountain bikers.