The Best Things to Do in Aspen – Winter Activities for Every Traveler
We couldn’t leave Colorado without spending some time at one of the premier ski resort destinations in Colorado, Aspen because there is no shortage of things to do in Aspen! And, like many visitors before us, we were not disappointed by what this Rocky Mountain getaway had to offer. From the obvious winter activities (skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, ice skating) to the views from atop the Silver Queen Gondola, we found the area to be breathtakingly beautiful and the perfect place for a weekend getaway.
Much like our time in Colorado Springs, (discover the Best Things to Do in Colorado Springs) we couldn’t help but share all the delights we found in Aspen, should you want to spend a long winter weekend here. Continue reading because we’re about to cover the best things to do in Aspen for Winter and the best Aspen Winter Activities.
Even if you’re not into winter sports, there’s plenty to keep you busy and always a roaring fire (and hot toddy) to warm your bones in between sightseeing. Just remember, dress warmly because it gets cold! How cold? One morning while photographing it was 3 degrees Fahrenheit! Yes, 3! I’ve never felt such cold before and I layered up with my snowboarding gear because my other clothing was not nearly warm enough!
About Aspen, Colorado
Aspen is located high in the Rocky Mountains (elevation 8,000 feet) in the southwest quadrant of the state. Not surprisingly, it’s surrounded by its namesake tree, the aspen. The town was originally a mining camp during the state’s Silver Boom and was later developed into a ski resort in late 1940s. Its current popularity means that the 7,000 permanent residents get overrun during wintertime, when part-time residents flock here to take advantage of the ski resorts and other activities.
Those part-time residents are often of the superstar and billionaire variety, which has led to Aspen becoming home to some of the priciest digs in America (as of this writing 76 of the 342 homes listed were priced over $10 million). If you’re not one of the few to call Aspen home, make sure to book your hotels early because it does get busy in the wintertime and can sell out!
Traveling to Aspen, Colorado
Aspen has a small county airport (Aspen-Pitkin County Airport aka Sandy Field) and is serviced by United, Delta and American airlines. There are direct flights from some U. S. cities, or you can fly into Denver and catch a quick 30-minute flight to Aspen. From Denver International you can also book the Colorado Mountain Express airport transportation shuttle to Aspen.
Alternately you can drive—from Denver it’s 3.5 hours—or take Amtrak into nearby Glenwood Springs and catch an RFTA bus to Aspen. (Note: Highway 82 is the one road in and out of Aspen, and in the winter months during heavy snowfall only the road from the west is passable.)
Winter temps range from around 10 degrees at night to mid- to high-30s during the day, with the average snowfall running about 23 inches a month. Due to the low temperatures, you will rarely encounter rain during the winter months.
Stay at the Limelight Hotel Aspen
During our stay in Aspen we decided to lay our heads at The Limelight Hotel Aspen. We loved the history behind this modern brick-and wood structure, now owned by the Aspen Skiing Company, as well as its inviting room, pet-friendly policy, and hearty morning breakfast.
The property originally housed the Ski and Spur Bar-Restaurant, a very unassuming property that catered to locals and visiting skiers. In the 1950s it was sold and renamed The Limelight and became a nightclub and dinner theater, owned by folk singer Glenn Yarbrough (of The Limeliters). While many popular singers of the day came through here, fame eventually forced him to sell and and the new owners built a lodge, which was renovated and expanded over time to what it is today.
The rooms are so spacious, with desks for us to work, sitting area and even a coffee maker for early morning java before our hikes. The suites they have are also well appointed, with large living/dining areas, kitchens, and fireplaces to warm you up after a long day in the snow.
The favorite thing about our room was the fireplace, I kept that running while we were in the room to keep it cozy and warm. Like I previously mentioned, it’s cold in Aspen so the fireplace is a very nice touch and amenity.
The hotel provides free shuttles around town or to the lifts, it also has several adventure packages and a large contingent of cruisers and fat bike tires so you can pedal around the mountain trails or around town. One of the most intriguing tours, which we didn’t have time to enjoy, is hopping aboard Little Nell, the snowcat that grooms the mountain each night. Guests can ride shotgun and find out what it takes to make those mountain runs perfect for the next day’s skiers and snowboarders.
Overall, the Limelight Hotel was a great base for us to explore Aspen and all it has to offer, which brings us to our next suggestions: winter activities for your weekend getaway in Aspen.
Top Things To Do in Aspen Colorado – Winter Edition
There is no shortage of winter activities in Aspen, as we soon learned. While we couldn’t take advantage of them all in our short time here, we’ve provided ample suggestions and we’re sure that you’ll find more than enough to keep you busy and entertained.
Skiing and Snowboarding in Aspen
Skiing and snowboarding are the two most common winter activities in Aspen as you would expect. Here you have your choice of 4 resorts: Aspen Mountain, Snowmass, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk.
Aspen Mountain, the first ski resort to open back in 1946, is typically open from mid-November to mid-April from 9 a.m. to 3:30 pm. It has 675 acres of skiable terrain, 76 runs, and 64 miles of trails. But this mountain is not for the faint of heart. In fact, there are no easy rated runs here. Half the runs are dedicated to medium difficulty, and a quarter each to most difficult and expert.
The mountain has been home to the World Cup finals and has some of the best powder available. If you find the runs too difficult, not to worry, you can still partake in snowshoe tours, enjoy the views on the Sundeck, or have a meal at the Ajax Tavern, Bonnies or Element.
Then there’s Snowmass, sister to Aspen Mountain. Here you have over 3,000 acres, 150 miles of trails, 96 runs, and a vertical rise of 4,406 feet. Five percent of the slopes are dedicated for newbies and designated easy. Again, half are for medium difficulty, 17% most difficult and 30% expert.
In addition to skiing and snowboarding, you’ll find the thrilling Alpine Coaster, where you’ll hop on a sled and wind down coaster tracks at up to 28 mph. While Snowmass hours are the same as Aspen Mountain, if you’re here on a Friday night during the winter, you’ve got to hang out at Ullr, a party in honor of the Norse god of the same name. You take the gondola up to Elk Camp for s’mores and hot chocolate, a bonfire, maybe a little snowbiking. There’s music and food and even activities for the kids. All in all, a real treat.
Up at Aspen Highlands, you’ll find over 1,000 acres of skiable terrain, 122 runs, and 84 miles of trails. Like Aspen Mountain, there are no easy runs. This mountain is dedicated to hardcore skiers and snowboarders with a full 65% of the trails rated expert. Consequently it is less crowded than its neighbors and you’ll see less children out and about. If skiing is why you’re in Aspen, then this is the mountain to be on.
Finally, we have Buttermilk, which is typically open from early December to early April, is most well now for being the home of the Winter X Games. The smallest of the 4 ski resorts, it’s comprised of 470 acres, 44 runs, and 21 miles of trails. Beginners and families will have an easier time of it here, with 35% of the runs rated easy; only 26% are rated most difficult or expert. There’s also some great terrain parks and pipes at Buttermilk for snowboarders and there’s The Hideout, a learning center for younger skiers.
If you’re looking for other things to do in Aspen besides ski then continue reading!
Snowshoeing in Aspen
Snowshoeing is a popular winter pastime in Aspen, for locals and visitors alike. There are plenty of trails and it’s an easily learned skill, with rentals available in town, so there’s no need to own or bring a set with you.
Ashcroft, a ghost town just outside Aspen, has 21 miles of groomed trails just perfect for snowshoeing. There’s a small fee to roam this privately owned wilderness and both rentals and guides are available. You can also get your plod on at Richmond Ridge, accessible via the Silver Queen Gondola. Here your view consists of 3 mountain ranges, plenty of forest and the soft powder is perfect for beginner and intermediate snowshoers.
The Maroon Creek Trail is closed during the winter to hikers, but you can snowshoe up via Castle Creek Road to the trailhead and head to Maroon Lake. This vision of the Maroon Bells is breathtaking, and you’ll get a good workout. Another summer trail about 5 miles out of Aspen, Difficult Creek Trail is open to snowshoeing in the winter. The 4-mile trail (8 miles round trip) takes you up and around switchbacks and provides a stellar view of the Collegiate Wilderness. Finally, there is the Tom Blake Trail, a great option for beginners. It’s only 4 miles long and winds through aspen groves.
We found that the Limelight Hotel, where we stayed has complementary snowshoe tours, making it one more reason to camp out there for your weekend getaway to Aspen.
Snowmobiling in Aspen
If you want a rush but less exertion, then snowmobiling just might be the perfect winter activity in Aspen for you. There are several tour companies that lead snowmobiling tours through the wilderness areas and even up to the Maroon Bells.
Snowmass Ski Resort also offers snowmobile tours of their property, and with 3,000 acres, there is plenty to explore. These are family friendly and range from two to four hours in length.
Ice Skating in Aspen
I love watching the Winter Olympics and the grace with which the ice skaters perform. While I am certainly not to that level, I do enjoy lacing up the ice skates and gliding around a frozen pond or rink. So if you’re ready to take a spin, check out one of the following ice-skating venues in Aspen.
Aspen Ice Garden: Part of Aspen Parks & Recreation, this downtown arena has an $11 admission fee a $3 skate fee.
Lewis Ice Arena: Also run by Aspen Parks and Rec, this facility is up on Maroon Creek Road within the main Rec Center. It has an official NHL-size rink with public skating sessions. You might also take in one of their annual figure skating shows featuring local talent.
John Denver Sanctuary
John Denver made his home in Aspen for most of his life and was an active environmentalist. Not long after his death, the City of Aspen collaborated with Denver’s wife Annie to build a memorial sanctuary. This 4.5-acre site is home to groves of native trees, shrubs and wildflowers, thriving wetlands, streams and even waterfalls.
We photographed the John Denver Sanctuary early one morning when it was around 5 degrees and our phones kept dying because of the cold and our hand were red and numb because of the cold, and we were wearing gloves. It’s very gorgeous here and a wonderful place to spend some time taking in nature and surroundings.
Silver Queen Gondola
If you want the perfect photo opportunity and the chance to enjoy some truly unique views, then you’ll want to take the 2.5-mile ride on the Silver Queen Gondola. The gondola takes you high up into the Rocky Mountains to an elevation of over 11,000 feet. The ride itself is fun, and the landscape breathtaking. Once at the top you can hang out at the Sundeck or grab a bite to eat. For the more adventurous, you can explore further by snowshoeing up on Richmond Ridge.
Smuggler Mountain Aspen
Avid hikers will want to take advantage of Smuggler Mountain Trail, if the snow hasn’t completely covered it. It’s 14.5 miles up and back that winds through the mountain, with moderate inclines. While the trail is not paved, it’s not a difficult hike and you can turn back at any time and make a shorter walk of it. If you do reach the top there is an observation deck with fantastic views: snow-capped mountains, forests of trees (often covered in snow), and the hustle and bustle of Aspen far below.
Shopping Downtown Aspen
Downtown Aspen is a shopping mecca, filled with independent boutiques, high-end clothiers, art galleries, and brand name retail stores. There’s a little something for everyone. Whether you are looking for a Gucci carry-on, museum-quality antiques, Italian luxury linens, J. Crew t-shirt, or a new pair of ski boots, you can find it along one of the many downtown streets.
The downtown itself is quaint with old-fashioned lamp posts, historical buildings, and cobblestoned streets. The center of the shopping district is a pedestrian mall, closed to vehicles, making it easy to walk around.
We had so much fun window-shopping and wandering in and out of the little boutiques, you know this is one of my favorite things to do in Aspen! Since it is winter, we also took advantage of the cafes and eateries to warm up periodically whenever we were downtown. (See Good Eats below for some recommendations.)
Winter in Aspen – Things to Consider
While winter is a great time to visit Aspen, there will be some things that cannot be seen due to the weather.
The Maroon Bells Path, which takes you to a reflective lake between two snow-capped mountains, is a lovely hike in the summer, and in the fall you’ll get an eyeful with the changing colors of leaves on the trees. However, during winter Maroon Creek Road is closed to vehicular traffic. If you want to see the majesty of this place, consider a snowmobile tour, snowshoeing or doing some cross-country skiing along the groomed trails.
Independence Pass, part of Highway 82, is a beautiful and scenic drive that summits at over 12,000 feet. It’s not for the faint of heart and it’s not drivable during much of the winter. The Colorado Department of Transportation closes the highway at Winter Gate, just 5 miles outside of Aspen. This year they closed in November 17th, and it won’t open again until March or later next year.
There are also road closures all through Colorado, in and out of Aspen, during the winter months. Before planning a trip, make sure that you check road conditions at cotrip.org for all road closures that might be along your chosen route.
Aspen Travel Tips
When planning your winter weekend getaway to Aspen, there are a few things of note we’d like to pass one. First and foremost is…food.
Good Eats in Aspen
We were blessed with a filling and hearty buffet breakfast every morning at the Limelight Hotel, but that does leave some meals unspoken for. We have two strong recommendations for you, should you want some tasty vittles.
Meat & Cheese Restaurant and Farm Shop
This is a must-do on your list for a meal. This restaurant is top notch, serving seasonal fair, much from local farms and food artisans. They make their own charcuterie, pickle whatever is in season and their cheeses come from the Avalanche Cheese Company (run by the same owner). They’ve got small plates, meat & cheese boards, sandwiches, salads, full plates and some killer desserts. The wine list deserves attention as well.
For lighter fare, you can head downstairs to Hooch Craft Cocktail Bar where mixologists will summon up some unique concoctions. They also serve local craft beers and wines, all of which pair well with the small but tasty menu items.
White House Tavern
Set in a 19th-century miner’s cottage, the White House Tavern is a gastropub with an exhibition kitchen. While their menu is simple, the food is outstanding. You can grab a crafted cocktail or glass of wine with a snack or sit down for a hearty sandwich or salad, all of which are made with care and are more than generous.
Getting Around Aspen
Aspen is very walkable, but during winter when it’s cold, having a ride is nice (especially since parking can be a pain). Enter the Downtowner. The Downtowner is a system of open-air electric vehicles with heaters and ski racks that take you around Aspen (within specific service boundaries) for no charge! That’s right, it’s free door-to-door service from 8 in the morning until 11 at night, you just download the Downtowner app and request a ride (much like Uber or Lyft).
There are also eight free shuttle routes that will take you downtown, to the trails, or to a ski resort. All routes operate from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with some starting as early at 6:30 a.m. and lasting as late as 2 a.m.
For those who want to mountain hop, the RFTA has a winter-only bus service that connects all four ski resorts. The buses run from December through April 15 and typically hit each resort twice per hour.
Aspen Colorado, Winter Wonderland
There you have it, our roundup of the best things to do in Aspen in the winter. We’ve shared winter activities that would be fun for the thrillseekers to the family travelers!
This was our first time visiting Aspen and we have already talked about visiting again. The place is seriously one of the best places in Colorado for a winter vacation and I not only loved the views and but daily activities that you can do if you so choose to.