Need an excuse to call-in sick and road trip through Colorado this summer? OK, here are a few: purple peaks fringed with wildflowers, waterfalls flush with new snowmelt, limitless blue skies and warm sun … need we go on?
No matter what your “Point A” is, your “Point B” through the Rockies this summer ought to be Snowmass Village and Aspen. After a long scenic drive of dizzying beauty, few places can match the possibilities for outdoor fun than these towns (not to mention their incredible roster of restaurants, events, and access to on-mountain thrills on Snowmass and Aspen Mountain).
With Memorial Day fast approaching — and the opening of Independence Pass this weekend — we thought we’d take a moment and offer a road-tripper’s guide to getting here.
Estimate time: 3 hours, 30 minutes
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
Estimated Time: 3 hours
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.
Both routes follow I-70 for the first 78 miles outside of Denver to Copper Mountain. Along the way, you can enjoy these highlights and diversions.
Idaho Springs & Georgetown
Conveniently located just off I-70, Idaho Springs is a great spot to grab lunch or take a yoga class at Two Brother's Deli, knock back a local brew at 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, home to the Georgetown Loop Railroad. 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. The Georgetown Loop is only $3 round-trip and takes about 30 minutes. Another "must stop" is the time-warp inducing Dusty Rose Tea Room.
For an extended — but well worth it — drive, take Loveland Pass at Exit 216 and drive over the Continental Divide, passing Arapahoe Basin and Keystone ski areas before descending to Silverthorn, where you can meet back up with I-70. If you are skipping Independence Pass, this is your chance for top-of-the-world views.
Frisco and Lily Pad Lake
Frisco 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.
Shortly after Frisco, you arrive at Copper Mountain and the junction with Highway 91. Here, you are presented with two routes to get to Aspen.
Vail Pass & Shrine Pass Road
The 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.
The Bookworm in Edwards (located 15 minutes past Vail) is a great stop for many reasons. The bookstore/coffeeshop is filled with compelling books and gifts galore and has incredible espresso from Novo Coffee — a Denver-based roaster.
Glenwood Canyon & Hanging Lake
Arguably 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 a precursor to the Grand Canyon several hundred miles downstream.
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.
At 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 new Iron Mountain Hot Springs have you covered.
Carbondale & the Roaring Fork Valley
You are so very close to Aspen at this point, but Carbondale is a worthwhile stop. SILO is great for coffee and lunch, and if you need to move your body after hours in the car, True Nature Healing Arts is great for stretching your legs, taking a yoga class, or getting a massage. If you’re not into yoga, 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.
Perhaps you’d like a quieter (and quicker) route to Aspen? Take Exit 195 at Copper Mountain, and discover a more rural side of the Colorado Rockies.
After traveling a lonely but scenic stretch of highway over Fremont Pass, this route passes the headwaters of the 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 Peaks
As 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.
Reminiscent 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.
Arrival at Aspen Snowmass
Arrival at Aspen Snowmass
Visit Maroon Bells
Colorado’s most iconic mountains are basically our backyard. In summer, shuttles deliver hikers and nature enthusiasts to scenic Maroon Lake where postcard views, wilderness trails and wildflower meadows await.