when in aspen: a few thing to eat, see, and do in the summertime
When the Man suggested visiting Colorado this summer, I was skeptical. I've spent my adult years secretly hoping someone will take me skiing (fuzzy hats! brisk air! hot chocolate! australian instructors!), none of which would be available at the end of July. But stories of fields of flowers and time to read and drink wine quickly sold me and off we went.
What I did not understand, however, is how incredibly beautiful the area is in the summertime. Flowers on flowers on flowers, from aspen trees to huge pine forests, babbling brooks, lakes, mountains, sunsets, you name it. And in the midst of all that there was the excitement of seeing a real live bear (stay out of the street, little fella!), shooting stars, kitschy restaurants, and a live rodeo.
It was the best time ever, so you should go, too. And when you go, you should do all these things and more.
Ski lift to the top of Aspen Mountain: On your first day, head downtown and take the ski lift up to the top of Aspen Mountain.
You'll get killer views, a sense of how the area comes together, and a nice way to get oriented while still adjusting to the altitude. On a clear day, it would be great to take a picnic and take a brief walk among the peaks.
Ashcroft: After a day or so of acclimating, start with a baby walk through a western ghost town. Peak into log cabins carefully labeled with their respective uses (“postal office” “blue mirror saloon”) and frown disapprovingly at the family carving their names into the wood (why, people?).
Follow the meandering path through a brief stretch of forest running along a creek (babbling brooks: a real thing, and just as delightful as they sound) and out into fields. Just as you realize the altitude is indeed having an effect, you'll find yourself across the road from Pine Creek Cookhouse. Order up a trout roll or pork sandwich, a beer if you feel so bold, and take a breather while admiring the views.
Woody Creek Tavern: The food isn't really the point. You go to this Hunter S. Thompson-tchotchke filled dive for the cozy no-nonsense hospitality, the heavy drink pours, and the chance to observe an incredible cross-section of Aspen (on one side: elegance herself primly seated across from polo in a vest, no salt and half a baked potato thank you; on the other, trucker hat and platinum caress each other's faces across a platter of nachos.)
Cathedral lake: Aspen in the summer is hiking time (or I suppose, biking, but I strongly prefer to keep my feet on the quickly ascending ground, thank you.) While everyone has their favorite trail, the Man and I decided on Cathedral Lake as our primary long hike this trip.
And it was totally worth it. Roughly 7 miles roundtrip, you rise 2,000 feet higher than where you started, along the way passing an aspen forest, then pines, then shrubs, then alpine meadows and on to sheer rock until finally you arrive at the top of the mountain and criss-cross over to a lake, nestled between peaks. In the immortal words of an online reviewer, bring more water than you think you'll need. Also, dang it's pretty.
Snowmass rodeo: The rodeo might legitimately have been the best thing that's happened to me, ever. Occurring every Wednesday evening, it's everything you dream a smalltown rodeo can be, and more. We arrived during the children's section, when dozens of kids were lined up on a field with instructions to stampede over to a handful of little calves and try to pull off the little tags on their tails. Unsurprisingly the Kentucky contingent won, no amateurs those.
From there, there was barrel racing and lassoing and bull riding, during which unfortunately none of the fine men who partook were able to stay on the bull long enough to actually qualify. (This is Aspen, after all.)
Fishing at Lost Man Reservoir: Take a gorgeous drive (SUV or truck recommended) twisting high up into the mountains and then pull over when you hit Lost Man. A short trek through the forest finds you walking along a beautiful stream that opens into a clear reservoir, teaming with trout.
While the fish that day were in a mocking mood — jumping under, over, and basically through our bait — you may have more luck. Rumor has it they're hungry early morning, and hopefully you will be, too. (Pro tip: we got our licenses and gear at the Miners Building downtown, where the world's nicest and most knowledgable gentleman told us where to go. I would suggest picking up salmon eggs though, as our power bait and even dug-up night crawlers didn't do the trick.)
Hot Springs at Glenwood: Envision a Wes Anderson-style old fashioned resort or public pool. Then add a brilliant cross-section of America all happily buoyant, bobbing along at the top of perfectly heated, if slightly sulfur-smelling, waters. Go at night when the pool is equally packed, but the cold adds a bracing element and the people watching is at its best.
If you have more time:
- Hickory House claims “the best ribs in Colorado!” which the Man informs me should be rewritten as “the most average ribs in Colorado!”, but that, after all, is part of the charm of this little town. Go, have ribs, have a beer, hang out.
- Maroon Bells is known to be the most beautiful hike in the area, and can be turned into an overnight trip
- Pending season, Aspen is awesome for foraging. We attempted mushrooming, but sadly were a week off and the weather had been too dry to find anything edible.
- Drinks at the Hotel Jerome or Little Nell for incomparable eavesdropping
- Fly fishing! White water rafting! All the good outdoors stuff.