There are many reasons to visit Aspen, Colorado — most notably, for skiing in the winter. But it’s also a great destination any time of year, for hiking and other outdoor activities. It’s especially nice in the fall, when the city’s namesake trees turn golden. On this page, I’ll give you a look at some of the sights around town, which I saw on a self-guided bicycle tour.
Aspen is a resort town, and it’s not cheap to stay here or even to grab a decent meal. But if you want to visit the Maroon Bells Wilderness, or explore any of the other scenic areas in this region, it’s a necessity to stay here. I was lucky enough to find a reasonably-priced room (by Aspen standards) at the Molly Gibson Lodge, located at the center of town. The Molly Gibson offers free bicycle rentals to its guests…
… and so, after my day hiking around the Maroon Bells, I decided to go for a quick spin around town.
There are plenty of businesses lined up on Route 82, and as such, it’s known as Main Street. But, you could argue that Aspen’s real “downtown” is a few blocks to the south. There are several blocks where vehicles are prohibited (including bicycles), and are open to pedestrians only.
Parts of Hyman and Cooper Avenues, and Mill and Galena Streets are closed to traffic, and Aspen’s high-end stores can be found here. This sculpture is at the corner of Hyman and Galena. Behind it, the Aspen Block building was built in 1886, and is currently home to the elegant Residence Hotel.
You can drop some cash at Burberry, which currently occupies retail space in the Cowenhaven building, built in 1900.
And just across the street, the Elks Building is one of Aspen’s most noticeable, thanks to the cupola and flag at the top. The Elks Club occupies the top floor, and the club’s bar is said to have the best view in Aspen.
Of course, this is a ski town, and in the winter, you can hop on the lifts, right from downtown. The Silver Queen Gondola and LIttle Nell ski lift end here, at the south end of Hunter Street, just a few blocks from all the stores.
Three blocks north and one block west, you’ll find a huge bell outside the Aspen Fire Museum. Inside, you can learn about the volunteer team that was first assembled in 1881.
The Isis Theater dates back to 1915, and it’s still showing first-run movies.
I ended my bicycle tour of Aspen at Paepcke Park, across the street from the Molly Gibson Lodge. The park has a historic gazebo in the middle, and is frequently used for special events.
In one corner of the park, you’ll find a bust of Albert Schweitzer, in honor of his visit to Aspen in 1949.
I saw a lot more of Aspen, during my 2012 visit to the city, as I desperately searched for a reasonably-priced place to eat. Spoiler alert: I ended up eating at McDonald’s — which as far as I can tell, is the only fast-food-chain restaurant in Aspen.
The Bottom Line
If you want to save some money, you may be tempted to avoid staying in Aspen. But, if your goal is to spend a couple of days seeing the sights around the city, you really should spend the extra money and stay here. It’s a long drive from anywhere else. If you’re budget-conscious, consider packing plenty of food, so you can avoid the local restaurants and grocery store.
Aspen, Colorado is located along Colorado Highway 82, south of Interestate 70. Denver is about 4 hours away, whether you choose the scenic route or the less-direct, easier route.
From Denver, take Interstate 70 west. For the shorter, more scenic route (closed in winter), take US 24 south from the interstate, through Leadville, then turn west on Highway 82 and go over Independence Pass.
For the longer, but easier route, continue west on Interstate 70 to Glenwood Springs, then take Route 82 south. This route stays open all year, and consists mostly of 4-lane or wide 2-lane roads.
Check out this time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive from the Maroon Bells into Aspen: