Summer Road Trip To Aspen
Below, we share a quick guide to the highways and byways that lead you to Aspen Snowmass, starting in Denver. Note that, midway through the journey, you have two routes to choose from.
Denver & The FoothillsWith a population of around 3 million, the Denver Metro Area is a booming collection of communities defined by their expansive parks, vital arts and culture institutions, and an emerging dining scene that has earned national recognition.
As you climb into the mountains near Morrison and the famous Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre (pictured) on I-70, you ascend through a series of mountains known as the foothills. The climb is long and steady, so if you are driving a larger or slower vehicle, stay in the right lane so others can pass. At Genesse, a beautiful panorama of the James Peak Wilderness emerges ... you are on your way!
Idaho Springs & GeorgetownConveniently located just off I-70, Idaho Springs is a great spot to fuel up, grab lunch at the local brewery, Tommyknocker, or shop at the many small mom-and-pop stores for gifts, western jewelry, and local handmade products.
Just up the highway is Georgetown Lake and the town of Georgetown. Because of its rugged beauty, this town has been a tourist destination since the late 1880s, and it has maintained its Wild West feel to today. Just beyond the town (and a ways up the hill at Silver Plume) is the Georgetown Loop Railroad. This narrow-gauge railroad is pulled by an authentic steam engine, and passengers ride in open carriages through the forest, past mines, and over the impressive Devil's Gate High Bridge.
Loveland PassFor an extended drive, take Loveland Pass at Exit 216 and drive over the Continental Divide, passing Arapahoe Basin and Keystone ski areas before descending to Silverthorne, where you can meet back up with I-70. If you are skipping Independence Pass, this is your best chance for top-of-the-world views.
Frisco and Lily Pad LakeFrisco anchors the western shore of Lake Dillon, a favorite playground for boaters, stand-up paddleboarders, canoers and kayakers. To stretch your legs, head to the Lily Pad Lake Trailhead on the north side of I-70, and visit the aptly named lake located 1.5 miles into the woods.
Choose a Route
Following I-70 from Denver west to Glenwood Canyon, and then south and east on Hwy. 82 to Aspen // Reason to go: Easy interstate driving and stunning scenery through Glenwood Canyon
Following I-70 west from Denver to Hwy. 91, then south to Leadville and Hwy. 24, then south to Hwy. 82 and west over Independence Pass into Aspen // Reason to go: Faster, more direct route with a jaw-dropping drive over the Continental Divide at Independence Pass.
Via Glenwood Canyon
Vail Pass & Shrine Pass RoadThe climb to the summit of Vail Pass is long, gradual and certainly memorable. Passing through open alpine meadows, reddish cliffs, and stands of lodgepole pine and spruce, I-70 reaches its second-highest point at the summit.
Pull off at the rest area, and — if its July — drive a ways on Shrine Pass Road for some of Colorado’s most vivid wildflower displays.
At the bottom of Vail Pass is the town of Vail and, beyond, the landscape opens up to sage-covered hills with distant mountain views.
Glenwood Canyon & Hanging LakeArguably the most beautiful part of the drive, Glenwood Canyon offers a front-row seat to the mighty power of the Colorado River. In many ways, this rugged canyon — which I-70 passes through for its entire length — is like a precursor of the Colorado River's later work several hundred miles downstream at the Grand Canyon.
For one of the most stunning hikes in Colorado, stop at the Hanging Lake trailhead and head up the mile-long climb along Dead Horse Creek. The views at the lake are breathtaking with turquoise waters and waterfalls flush with snowmelt. Allow 2 to 3 hours for the hike, and be respectful of the no-dogs-allowed policy for the trail.
New this year, a permit system has been put in place for visitors traveling to Hanging Lake. All hikers must reserve a permit in advance. Visit the Glenwood Springs website for more information and to reserve your permit to Hanging Lake.
GLENWOOD SPRINGSAt the mouth of the canyon, I-70 delivers you to Glenwood Springs, where you will need to exit. Fancy a hot dip after your hike? Glenwood Hot Springs (home to arguably the largest hot springs pool in the world) or the more intimate Iron Mountain Hot Springs have you covered. (Check their websites for operation times and policies).
Carbondale & the Roaring Fork ValleyYou are so very close to Aspen at this point, but Carbondale is a worthwhile stop. The downtown consists of an easy-to-stroll Main Street lined with coffeeshops, farm-to-table restaurants and shops. If you’re looking for an outdoor diversion, hiking Red Hill / Mushroom Rock is guaranteed to get your blood pumping and offers up stunning views of Mount Sopris, the 12,966-foot twin-summit that towers over Carbondale. Have your bike with you? Hit up the Prince Creek Loop for a quick mountain bike ride that appeals to all skill levels.
Via Independence Pass
LeadvilleAfter traveling a lonely but scenic stretch of highway over Fremont Pass, this route passes the headwaters of the small but soon-to-be-mighty Arkansas River, and delivers you to the historic silver mining town of Leadville.
Western history buffs will delight in the area’s historic sites, especially the National Mining Hall of Fame, which includes the famous Matchless Mine.
Twin Lakes & Colorado’s Highest PeaksAs you leave Leadville, you are greeted with views of Colorado’s two highest peaks — Mount Elbert (14,439 feet) and Mount Massive (14,429 feet) — as well as 14,360-foot La Plata Peak. The route bends and follows the Arkansas River for a short ways on Hwy. 24 before reaching Hwy. 82 near Twin Lakes. At Twin Lakes, you can fish on the nearby lakes or spend the night and make an attempt on one of the nearby summits of a 14er.
Independence PassReminiscent of the famous hairpin-highways that traverse the Alps in France and Italy, Independence Pass is hands-down the scenic highlight of this route. Prepare to slow down and take advantage of the numerous scenic pullouts: this is not the place to drive distracted!
At the summit you can stand atop the Continental Divide — which separates North America’s watersheds — and go for a short walk through the treeless, alpine tundra. The descent into Aspen is just as thrilling as the climb up, passing numerous cascades, the ghost town of Independence, the narrow cliffs of the Grottos, and eventually, the bucolic willows and meadows on the outskirts of town. Again: stay sharp and go slow, because the highway demands focused driving.
Arrival at Aspen Snowmass
Snowmass is summer central in the Roaring Fork Valley. The Lost Forest, Snowmass Bike Park, Camp Aspen Snowmass, delicious food on the mountain at Elk Camp, and dozens of hiking and biking trails to explore.
The Silver Queen Gondola rises from the heart of Aspen, giving you quick access to hiking trails, disc golf, the Sundeck Restaurant, pristine views and even live music at the summit of Aspen Mountain.