12 Best Hotels in Aspen, United States - Jan 2019
Your Travel Guide to Aspen
During the gold and silver rush in the mid-1800s, many mining towns were established in Colorado, Aspen being one of them. However, this quickly fizzled out, when it no longer became profitable to mine silver. In 1946, the businessman Walter Paepcke came up with the idea of converting former mining towns into ski resorts--and this led to a renewal in Aspen’s popularity. Aspen is now famous for its ski areas, both during the winter and spring. In the summer, there is a wealth of idyllic hiking trails and other activities in which to indulge.
What are the Must-Do-s and See-s in Aspen?
A Note about Skiing Difficulty
Since you would like ski trails that match your skill level, we should explain the skiing difficulty ratings at the various trails. A trail will be designated by a symbol that indicate trail difficulty. The grading system presented here applies to snowboarding as well.
- Green circle: This indicates that the trail is for beginners.
- Blue square: This indicates that the trail is for intermediate skiers.
- Black diamond: This indicates an advanced trail.
- Double diamond: There can also be double diamond trails, for experts, or with an “E” or “X” to indicate an “extreme” trail.
Aspen Ski Areas
At 11,212 feet, Aspen Mountain is not really that high--there are mountains in Colorado that are at least 3000 feet higher. Nonetheless, it has developed a reputation because it was the first developed as a ski area by Walter Paepcke, in 1946. It was already being used for skiing competitions in 1941, but only became popular with the public when ski lifts were installed.
The Aspen/Snowmass complex consists of four ski areas: Aspen Mountain (the closest to downtown Aspen), Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk, and Snowmass (the largest of the 4, at over 3000 acres). They differ in terrain, as well as in skiing difficulty. There are gondolas and chair lifts the year round, to get you back to the top. You can buy all-day or even season passes to use the ski lifts, which can be used at any of the ski areas.
Aspen Mountain presently has 8 lifts: gondolas, quad and double chairs, and secondary lifts. There are even opportunities for skiing in the early spring! Over the summer, the ski lifts are used for hikers and sightseers to capture a scenic photograph of the area. It is considered a ski area for intermediate to expert skiers--not for beginners. The hotels closest to the base of the mountain are the Little Nell, the Hyatt Residence Club, and The Aspen Square Hotel.
Buttermilk is considered the best of the ski areas for beginners. There are ski instructors that will assist you in learning how to understand ski terrain and improve your skiing. Buttermilk is also used for the Winter X Games, as well as terrain park challenges, such as the Crazy T'rain Park.
Aspen Highlands is famous for the Highland Bowl, with a vertical descent of over 4000 feet. It became more accessible with the installation of the Deep Temerity Lift in 2005--but that doesn’t make the trails any easier! More than half the trails are advanced or for expert skiers. The difficulty of the trails gives Aspen Highlands an advantage, in that it is less crowded than the other areas.
Snowmass is the largest of the 4 ski areas in Aspen, at 3332 acres and 150 trails--half of them intermediate level, and the rest for advanced skiers. It is used as a bike park during the summer months. It is popular for downhill mountain bike riding, and has a snowboarding school in the winter. It features the greatest vertical descent of any ski resort in the United States!
Rio Grande Park and John Denver Sanctuary
The Rio Grande Park is the largest park in Aspen, with a rugby field, basketball court, skating park, and the Theater Aspen--Hurst Theater, an open-air theater. The theater hosts performances over the course of the summer months. Annabelle Inn and the Aspen Mountain Lodge are two good hotels quite close to the park.
The John Denver Sanctuary is a nature sanctuary in memory of the country and folk singer, John Denver. John Denver lived for 25 years in Aspen, and drew inspiration for his songs from Aspen and the Rocky Mountains. The sanctuary has a perennial flower garden, and numerous stones engraved with the lyrics of John Denver’s most famous songs. The sanctuary has the Theater Aspen during the summer, and a fishing area near the Roaring Fork River, which runs through the park. Hotel Aspen, Hotel Jerome, and Bluegreen Vacations Innsbruck Aspen are located near the Sanctuary.
Maroon Bells and T-Lazy-7 Ranch
Maroon Bells is a scenic mountain range and wilderness area, accessible from the Aspen Highlands ski resort. There is a charge for bringing an automobile there--so it is recommended to get there by some non-motorized fashion, such as biking or hiking. If you are interested in hiking it, be prepared for a 7-hour hike round-trip. There is also a tour bus from downtown Aspen that also offers explanation and background about the area. The area has a picnic site, amphitheater, and idyllic lake and creek, Maroon Lake.
Another attraction at Aspen and the Maroon Creek is the T-Lazy-7 Ranch, founded by Harry Deane, the grandson of Judge Josiah Deane, who was the first county judge of Aspen. The Deane family continues to run the ranch, but now the activities have expanded to fly-fishing and horseback riding in the summer, and snowmobile tours in the winter. The ranch also can be used to host weddings and other social events.
Wheeler Opera House
The Wheeler Opera House was constructed in 1889, during the silver mining boon that brought thousands to settle in Aspen. There was a long period of decline and dormancy, when silver mining was no longer profitable. But the building was renovated by Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke, as they made Aspen popular as a ski resort town. The building was restored to its Victorian architecture and opulence, making it quite a landmark. It has had performances by such musicians as James Levine, Lynn Harrell, and John Denver, and comedians such as Bill Maher and Lily Tomlin.
Aspen Music Festival
Walter Paepcke didn’t just popularize Aspen for skiing--he was also responsible for founding cultural institutions there as well. He started the Aspen Music Festival and School in 1949--and until this day, for 8 weeks of the summer, there are 400 classical music performances. The Wheeler Opera House is used for performances, as well as the Joan and Irving Harris Concert Hall and the outdoors Benedict Music Tent. If you’re in Aspen in the summer, it’s recommended to check it out! (The Aspen Music School has a winter season program, with indoor concerts, featuring some of the best student musicians in the United States.)
Aspen Art Museum
The Aspen Art Museum was founded in 1976, and has exhibitions of international contemporary art. It has featured art and photographs from some well-known names in the genre, such as Robert Mapplethorpe, Andy Warhol, Richard Avedon, and more.
Getting To and Around Aspen
Aspen-Pitkin County Airport
The Aspen-Pitkin County Airport is only three miles away from Aspen, and there are direct flights to the airport from Denver, Chicago, San Francisco, and other major American cities.
Another alternative is to fly to Denver, Colorado, and then do a 3.5-hour drive via I-70 West, or via 285 S (Independence Pass) for 4.5 hours. But this has the drawback that the road conditions may be dangerous during winter, when most people go to Aspen for ski season. And the Independence Pass route is open only during the summer months.
There is also an airport shuttle from Denver International Airport to Aspen called the Colorado Mountain Express. It’s a shuttle bus that operates 4 times a day, and makes a 5-hour drive to Aspen.