While Aspen Snowmass has much to offer, there are more adventures just beyond. Within an hour’s drive are activities to suit a variety of interests and energy levels. From bike rides to nearby towns to exploring old ghost towns there is something for everyone.

Drive up to the Continental Divide

The Independence Pass area has a bevy of scenic hiking trails just east of Aspen, Colorado
The Independence Pass area has a bevy of scenic hiking trails just east of Aspen, Colorado

A summer or early fall visit to Aspen wouldn’t be complete without driving east of town to Independence Pass.

The 12,095-foot pass is on the Continental Divide on Highway 82 midway between Aspen and Twin Lakes. The views at the summit — and along the way — are spectacular. Take in 360-degree vistas from the scenic overlook platform.

The weather can change quickly at this elevation so bring some extra layers of clothing.
There is also much to explore on your way to the pass. While there are several hiking trails in the area, Weller Lake Trail is an easy, short one (1.5 miles round trip) that carries hikers to the Roaring Fork River along a cascading stream to a lake surrounded by rocks and forest. The trailhead area is 8.2 miles east of Mill and Main in Aspen. Look for a paved scenic view turnout on the right.

Nine miles east of Aspen is The Grottos, a popular stopping place with cascades, ice caves, swirling water, smooth granite formations, sandy beach, natural wading pools and a picnic area. There are diversions for photographers, families, the active and the less active. Just keep close watch on the kids near the wild water and caverns. At .9 miles past Weller Campground, turn into the day use parking area on the right.

Sixteen miles east of Aspen is the historic ghost town of Independence. Make a quick stop and view the remains of miners’ cabins, the Farewell Stamp Mill, stables and the General Store. It’s hard to imagine that this sometimes very harsh environment was once home to a thriving mining town with an estimated population of 1,500.

Independence Pass is the highest paved pass in the state. Based on snow accumulation, the Colorado Department of Transportation closes the highway at the Winter Gate, five miles east of Aspen. Visit cotrip.org for up-to-date road closure information.

Visit the Ghost Town of Ashcroft

Ashcroft is a ghost town outside Aspen, Colorado
Ashcroft is a ghost town outside Aspen, Colorado

Once a thriving silver mining town with as many as 2000 people in the late 1800’s, the Ashcroft Ghost Town located in the picturesque Castle Creek Valley features the restored remains of several historic buildings. Peek into the Blue Mirror Saloon, the post office, and the View Hotel as you walk along the meandering trail.

Guided tours and self-guided tours with interpretive signage tell the stories of the former boom town surrounded by beautiful alpine meadows with spectacular mountain peaks as a backdrop.
Ashcroft is located 11 miles up Castle Creek Road from the roundabout at the west entrance to Aspen.

Ride Bikes to Basalt for Lunch (and Bus Back to Aspen)

Another popular day trip activity is cycling on the Rio Grande Trail to Basalt, an authentic mountain town with small-town charm located 18.5 miles from Aspen. The Rio Grande Trail is a Rails-to-Trails project managed by the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority. The trail spans 42 miles from Aspen to Glenwood Springs. With Aspen at 8,000 feet in elevation and Basalt at 6,600 feet the ride is (mostly) downhill. If you would rather not tackle the ride back to Aspen, you can load your bike on the front of a RFTA bus that stops by the Basalt Park-n-Ride every 15 minutes and ride in air-conditioned comfort. The cost to ride the bus is $4 (free for those 65 and over), plus $2 per bike. Please note that E-bikes are not allowed to be loaded on the bus because they are too heavy and bulky for the racks.
Bike ride to Basalt
Bike ride to Basalt

A few rules of the trail:
• Be sure to ride at a safe speed, single file.
• Keep your speed under 20 mph.
• Slow down and announce yourself before passing by ringing your bell and informing pedestrians “on your left.”

Visit the RFTA website for more information about bus schedules and the Rio Grande Trail. While in Basalt you can have lunch in one of the charming restaurants along Midland Avenue, Two Rivers Road, or at the Tipsy Trout along the river. There are river parks, art galleries and shops to explore as well.

A Castle & Hot Springs – Tour Redstone

Redstone castle, Colorado
Redstone castle, Colorado

Head to the mountain hamlet of Redstone located in the magnificent Crystal River Valley where the elegant and beautifully preserved Redstone Castle anchors the town. The 47-mile drive from Aspen will take you approximately one hour.

The Redstone Castle, also known as the Cleveholm Manor, was completed in 1902 as the home of Alma and John Osgood. An industrialist and coal baron, Osgood was one of the wealthiest men in the U.S. and hobnobbed with John D. Rockefeller, Teddy Roosevelt, and JP Morgan.
The current owners April and Steve Carver painstakingly renovated the Tudor-style 23,000-square-foot manor with 42 rooms. The restoration is authentic with walls of silk, Spanish leather, and Russian red velvet. Every room dons Tiffany & Co. light fixtures, sconces and chandeliers – some one-of-a-kind. A tour of the Redstone Castle provides a glimpse into the styles and social culture of America’s elite at the turn of the 20th century. Be sure to make a tour reservation in advance as they book quickly.

After the tour, you can bop around Redstone. Eat lunch at the Redstone Inn, explore shops and antique stores, check out the tiny Redstone Historical Museum, and grab an ice cream cone at the General Store. You can also complement your day in the Crystal Valley with a soak at the Avalanche Ranch Hot Springs. The Avalanche Ranch Hot Springs provide a relaxing, cozy soaking experience in three natural hot springs pools designed in a tiered layout around the natural landscape and rock formations. The pools are fed by three hot springs and the water cascades from one pool to the next. You will bask in gorgeous views while you soak. Note: Paid public access is limited and you must have a reservation.

With so much to see and do in the Roaring Fork Valley and the surrounding area, you may want to schedule some of these activities into your next few Aspen Snowmass vacations!

About the Author

Susan Linden IAS
Susan Linden IAS

SUSAN LINDEN

Susan Linden has been wordsmithing as an advertising copywriter, feature writer, and storyteller since her college days. She left the whirlwind corporate world to live in the mountains and spends as much time as she can hiking, biking, and skiing in them. Working, playing, and raising a family in the Roaring Fork Valley for the last 29 years gives Susan a unique insider’s perspective to share.

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