Originally named Ute City, courtesy of the Ute Indians, Aspen was renamed in 1880 after its abundance of Aspen trees. A lot has happened since then in this beautiful city, nestled in the Elk and Rocky Mountains Sawatch Range. In the mid-20th century, Aspen established itself as a ski resort town and has since grown into a popular tourist destination. While the city has made its mark as a celebrity hotspot and has the highest real estate prices in the United States, there are still many things to do in the area that do not cost a fortune. So gather the children, grab your sweetheart or take a road trip with friends, and enjoy these favorites of both visitors and residents.
1. Maroon Bells
Photographers, hikers and nature enthusiasts will be in heaven when visiting Maroon Bells. Explore glacial valleys and lift your eyes up to these majestic peaks, which rise more than 14,000 feet and offer jaw-dropping scenery. In fact, Maroon Bells is quite famous among photographers, and its peaks are the most photographed in the U.S. Plan a trip to the summit and stop by Maroon Lake, which is chock full of beavers. The lake’s breathtaking views offer inspiration to anyone, even the family pet (who is welcome). A vehicle pass is only $10. Check their website for information on which hours vehicles can enter the park.
2. Glenwood Springs
Just a short drive northwest of Aspen is an area known as Glenwood Springs. Not only does it offer incredible scenery, it is the perfect place to visit for those who want to fly fish, whitewater raft, ski, explore the infamous caverns and trails, or take a dip in the area’s legendary hot springs. Hiking and sightseeing are free, bus tours cost around $7, and day and night passes into the hot springs range from free–$20, depending on age.
3. The John Denver Sanctuary
Whether you are a fan of John Denver’s music or not, you will enjoy and appreciate the scenery at the town’s tribute to its favorite musician, (he sang about the town’s beauty in his song “Aspenglow”). Nestled between a bike path and a river, this memorial bears several large stone slabs with information about Denver and lyrics from his songs. The surrounding area is the perfect place to enjoy a beautiful fall day. The John Denver Sanctuary is free and always open.
4. The Aspen Saturday Market
From June until mid-October, many residents and tourists enjoy spending their Saturday at this free public market stocked full of local produce, arts and crafts, music, and hot food.
5. Independence and Ashcroft Ghost Towns
Between the Independence and Ashcroft Ghost Towns, you and the kids will get an up-close look at two mining towns, once booming with work, saloons, and silver. Come and peek at the stables, general store, empty mines and more. Learn about the rich history of these towns before you visit (by clicking on the two links above) in order to get the full experience. Self-guided tours are free, guided tours are $3. Times of year vary.
6. Aspen Art Museum
Any art or culture buff will love spending a day at the Aspen Art Museum. Famous worldwide for its incredible collection of contemporary art, the museum is filled with exhibits and interactive areas, and regularly hosts lectures and events. Admission is always free, and the museum is open Tuesday through Sunday.
7. Wheeler Opera House
Whether you want to tour the house or catch a show, the Wheeler Opera House is one of Aspen’s legacies. Originally opened in 1889, Wheeler Opera House was part of the “Silver Circuit”—a collection of mining-era hotspots that brought international performers from all across the globe to the mining towns of Colorado. Check their website to learn more about upcoming events, prices and house tours (pricing depends on age).