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Local's Guide: Summertime in Aspen, Colorado

Just because the ski areas are green doesn't mean that the fun has to stop.

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Early Summer in Snowmass
Early summer in Aspen Snowmass really offers it all.Photo courtesy of AspenSnowmass // Jeremy Swanson

When the snow melts and the town’s namesake trees dress in emerald, Aspen becomes a different kind of mountain playground: the ski areas morph into miles of perfect trails for hiking and mountain biking. Roads to the high country open, allowing easier access to Rocky Mountain vistas and to nearby 14,000-foot peaks. And, perhaps most importantly, the town still maintains its world-class dining, lodging, and nightlife scene all summer long.

It’s unclear if the old mountain town cliché of “we came for the winters but stayed for the summers” originated in Aspen, but it definitely rings true for many locals here. Enthusiastic visitors can go from summer skiing to mountain biking in one day, and night owls can go from sushi to speakeasies with ease. Want to spend more than a day exploring all there is to offer in the upper Roaring Fork Valley? Don’t worry, the incredible hotels are still open, too.

Stay at the Original Modern Mountain Hotel

Dogs at the Limelight Hotel in Aspen
Bring your dogs to the Limelight. They’ll love it, too.Photo courtesy of The Limelight Hotel

There’s one place to sleep in Aspen that is totally worth the price: The Limelight Hotel. The place is so laid back, it feels like it was designed by locals to make visitors feel at home. The rooms, outdoor pool and comfy lounge area are still Aspen-grade, but the vibe is much more welcoming than the slightly up-tight, luxury-brand hotels scattered around town. But don’t take our word for it, the Limelight has been so well received by guests that it has expanded to a second location in Ketchum, Idaho, and there’s another Limelight Hotel now open in Snowmass.

Start Early on Skis…

On Memorial Day weekend (or a bit later if it’s a deep snow year), the switchback-dominated Independence Pass opens to vehicles. With a summit perched at 12,095-feet above sea level, it’s common to see people backcountry skiing every morning until early July. Want to join in the fun? Hire a guide from Aspen Expeditions and expect to start early to ski the classics like Mountain Boy and Independence Peak. For those who are especially fit and experienced, the 13,998-foot Grizzly Peak’s north couloir can hold snow until mid-July, but it’s definitely for advanced climbers and skiers only.

…and Spend the Rest of the Summer on Bikes.

Snowmass Bike Park with Maroon Bells
Full face helmets are optional, but amazing views are mandatory.Photo courtesy of Aspen Snowmass // Dan Bayer

If you spent the morning earning your turns on the pass or hiking one of the many trails that start in town, it’s probably best to treat yourself to some chairlift-assisted bike rides in the afternoon to let gravity do the rest. In late June, the Snowmass Bike Park opens to the public, offering a number of long downhill trails sure to satisfy everyone from beginners to the best mountain bikers in the world. If you want to skip the lift ticket, the Sky Mountain Park trail system offers fantastic ascents, descents, and mountain vistas for every level of rider as well.

Don’t miss: The Power of Four Trail Run (July 13, 2019) and Mountain Bike (August 17, 2019). During each event, spectators can watch some of the best athletes from around North America take on Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk, and Snowmass by bike and/or by foot. We get tired just thinking about it.

Exploring Snowmass' Lost Forest
Exploring the Lost Forest of Snowmass.Photo courtesy of AspenSnowmass // Jeremy Swanson

Not into bikes? Snowmass is still brimming with outdoor summer adventure starting in late June, including their new Breathtaker Alpine Coaster and Lost Forest area with ziplines, a ropes course, and climbing walls. And as there are hundreds of hiking trails between Independence Pass and the Maroon Bells Wilderness, there’s no reason to just stick to Sunnyside.

Aspen’s Summertime Après

The Marble Bar Aspen
The Marble Bar Aspen is worth checking out.Photo courtesy of Aspen Chamber // Petr Wiese

Just next to the Gondola at the base of Aspen Mountain, Shlomo’s is the spot to be after a day exploring the mountains. Offering American deli-style food, great cocktails and outdoor seating with splendid views, you’ll probably end up staying there past après for dinner or one of the many epic parties hosted throughout the summer. 

Then there’s Aspen Tap, Aspen Brewing Company’s new digs with a perfect summer patio, and there might be no better way to celebrate a day on Independence Pass with their deliciously hoppy Independence Pass Ale. Looking for craft cocktails? Featuring libations from the nearby Marble Distilling Co., Marble Bar Aspen has fantastic locally-sourced cocktails and farm-to-table bites.

The Food and Wine Classic
Inside the big tent of the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen.Photo courtesy of Aspen Chamber // Jeremy Swanson

Check it out: The Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, June 14-16, 2019. Some of the world’s best chefs and sommeliers invade Aspen for one epic weekend of amazing food and wine. If you don’t make it into the big tent, there are after-parties all over town that rival the best parties of the winter.

Dinner, After Dark

Despite being thousands of miles from (and thousands of feet above) the ocean, you can get fresh sushi and more from Matsuhisa Aspen all summer long. If you’re not into fancy food in the mountains, grab a burger and a beer at the historic Red Onion. When there is live music, it’s almost always good, it’s just hard to hear when the bar is crowded.

Party like it’s 1919: The Bauhaus Ball, June 6, 2019. From the Aspen Institute to the Aspen Art Museum, cultural venues all over Aspen are celebrating 100 years of the Bauhaus. But the big party is on June 6 at the Wheeler Opera House, with live music, performances, and a costume contest.