A guide to Aspen’s most incredible scenery, from mountain peaks to valley views.
Aspen is renowned for its stunning landscape, and whether you visit during peak ski season or the height of summer, there is a myriad of ways to enjoy this city’s mesmerizing scenery. Whether you’re an avid skier, a practiced hiker, or an urban explorer, here are the top 12 ways to enjoy Aspen’s impressive natural beauty.
Explore Maroon Bells
One of Aspen’s most iconic visuals is the mountain expanse at Maroon Bells and Maroon Lake. The most photographed mountain range in the country, you’ll instantly recognize these chiseled peaks. Whether you’re looking for an easy hike with stunning views or a more difficult trail with a scenic payoff, the Maroon Bells have a multitude of hiking trails to suit your hiking style and experience level. If you’re tired of the city lights, camping around Maroon Bells provides some of Aspen’s best starry skies. There are plenty of campsites available, whether you’re pitching a tent or parking an RV.
Dine at Plato’s Restaurant
Luxurious Plato’s Restaurant has more than delicious entrées on the menu. This glamorous eatery also serves scenic views galore. Floor-to-ceiling windows provide plenty of sunlight all-year-round, and their expansive second-story deck is perfect for dining al fresco during the summer months. With a seasonally-changing menu, Plato’s Restaurant is constantly evolving to craft incredible meals with fresh, vibrant ingredients—whatever the weather! Their emphasis on fine dining ensures that each dish is created with precision and attention to detail. If you’re only stopping by for a quick bite or a morning pick-me-up, Plato’s Restaurant also offers a grab-and-go breakfast menu filled with familiar favorites to fuel up before a day of adventure. Raise a toast to good times and great views with a wine from their expansive wine list and cheer to lifelong memories in the Roaring Fork River Valley.
Explore the Red Butte Trail
Hikers of most skill levels will be able to enjoy remarkable valley views while hiking the Red Butte Trail. This gravel trail spans 0.6 miles, but because of its fluctuation in elevation, it’s considered moderately difficult. The trail also features a few small scrambles, so be prepared for a quick climb. Enjoy hiking between the sagebrush and the towering Douglas fir trees toward the trail’s summit, where you’ll enjoy panoramic views of the valley. If you’ve got a canine friend who wants to tag along on this quick jaunt uphill, make sure you keep them on a leash!
Hike to Buckskin Pass
A nearly 10-mile long round trip, the Buckskin Pass Trail is one of Aspen’s most strenuous—but also most rewarding—hikes. Despite its difficulty, the Buckskin Pass Trail is a popular choice for passionate hikers, so you’ll likely see other groups traveling along its route. This trail begins at Maroon Lake and heads past its crystalline waters toward Crater Lake and West Maroon Junction. From there, it’s onward and upward to the Willow Pass Junction. Another mile takes you to Buckskin Pass for a total elevation gain of nearly 3,000 feet.
Take the Silver Queen Gondola Up Aspen Mountain
You don’t have to be an avid hiker to enjoy the best of Aspen’s views. The Silver Queen Gondola is a local favorite for families hoping to experience Aspen’s pristine scenery without the hassle of hiking for hours. This gondola operates year-round, with slightly different operating hours during the summer months, and you won’t want to miss this incredible sightseeing experience. Relax at the Sundeck Restaurant, a charming slopeside eatery with a multitude of windows and plenty of outdoor seating to enjoy the views. With an upscale twist on cafeteria-style dining, Sundeck Restaurant is perfect for both families and lunch for two. If you need a java pick-me-up, head to Sundeck Lavazza for a quick shot of espresso at an altitude of 11,212 feet. For adventurous travelers, there are several summer trails accessible from this gondola through fields of wildflowers or choose from 75 available skiing trails during the winter.
Wade in Aspen’s Clear Waters While Fly Fishing
Amateur and experienced anglers alike will enjoy The Little Nell’s customized, guided fly fishing tour. This one-of-a-kind experience is perfect for soaking in Aspen’s immaculate fall foliage and is an excellent way to spend the day in the sun on the banks of clear, blue lakes. Guides will assess your skill level and provide in-the-know tips and tricks to make your fishing trip a success. As Aspen’s only five-star hotel, The Little Nell is dedicated to cultivating remarkable adventures that will be cherished for years to come. The concierge at their Adventure Center is your first stop on the way to an incredible Aspen afternoon, whether you’re here for a weekend or are a seasoned local.
Meditate at the John Denver Sanctuary
Adjacent to the Rio Grande Park is the John Denver Sanctuary. This peaceful sanctuary is nestled near the Roaring Fork River, and its beautiful scenery makes it an ideal place to connect with nature through meditation. Picnicking here is also a beloved pastime because of its shade trees and grassy knolls. If you’d like to pay tribute to John Denver, there is a shrine dedicated to him that was erected after his passing in 1997. Travelers looking for the best views in Aspen might look to the summits, but the John Denver Sanctuary is also home to one of the nation’s largest publicly accessible perennial gardens, which is a lovely sight in its own right.
Journey Through Smuggler Mountain Trail
This three-mile trail is moderately difficult but relatively short compared to some of Aspen’s more strenuous endeavors. At the top, you’ll find a quaint, wooden observation deck that looks out toward both Aspen and Aspen Mountain in the distance. Reach this picturesque scene at the top of a dirt path—you’ll gain approximately 800 feet in elevation by the time you get there, but you’ll have the perfect backdrop for a picture-perfect afternoon.
Bike Independence Pass
As the state’s highest elevated pass, Independence Pass is a favorite route for cyclists craving a breath of fresh air. At a sweeping 12,095 feet elevation, biking Independence Pass is one of Aspen’s most sought-after summer pastimes for its breathtaking views and incredible landscapes. The journey from Aspen to the summit is approximately 20 miles, but cyclists can turn around at any point during the journey to create a route suitable for their stamina levels. Travelers will pass the ghost town of Independence—once a booming mining town that is now a collection of forgotten cabins sixteen miles from the heart of Aspen. If you’re not interested in biking, consider rock climbing since there are several different approaches along Independence Pass that cater to both sport and trad/mixed climbers.
Take a Drive Down the Million Dollar Highway
If you prefer to experience the beauty of Aspen from behind the driver’s seat, consider taking a day trip through the trees. Explore U.S. Route 550 as it travels through Glenwood Canyon, a stretch between Silverton and Ouray that is frequently called the Million Dollar Highway for its teetering price point—it cost nearly a million dollars to construct this patch of highway—and picturesque landscapes. These priceless views are postcard-perfect! From the valley to the gorge, you’ll love taking the long way home when you travel through Aspen’s staggering scenery.
Paddle Board at North Star Aspen
Late summer is the ideal time for water lovers in Aspen. The Roaring Fork River flows through the North Star Nature Preserve, and one of the best ways to experience the incredible views found in this protected land is on a stand-up paddleboard, canoe, or kayak. Since the river isn’t swiftly moving, exploring the preserve is easy enough for the whole family. You’ll likely see plenty of wandering wildlife during your journey, including beavers, birds, and moose.
Traverse Snowmass on Horseback
With the help of Snowmass Creek Outfitters, it’s easy to explore the Roaring Fork River Valley on horseback. Team up with educated and experienced equestrians to traverse Colorado the old-fashioned way. For a laid-back afternoon, join their private ranch ride, which offers breathtaking views of Sopris and Snowmass Mountains. More daring riders might prefer a two-hour, half-day ride through the White River National Forest.
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