Our (Great) Guide to Things to Do in Aspen
From skiing to hot springs, here's our list of all the things we love to see and do in Aspen.
Surrounded by the Elk Mountain range in the Rockies and originally built as a silver-mining town, Aspen became a ski destination in the 1940s. These days it’s world famous for its glitziness, as a resort town for the wealthy. So you can book a trip knowing Aspen's cultural institutions and restaurants (including a Nobu outpost) will meet your high standards. Add that to natural mountain town beauty and you have yourself a winning combination.
Our travel experts have curated a winning list of things to do in Aspen, while our Plum Guide professionals vet some of the best holiday rentals to ensure only the top 3% of them make it into our listings. So you know you’re in for a great night at a Plum Guide home.
Ski on world-famous slopes
Let's get one of the most obvious things to do in Aspen out of the way first. There are four separate skiing areas, each with its own USP. There’s Buttermilk for beginners (sounds utterly charming, doesn’t it?) and the unimaginatively named but largest and most popular area, Snowmass. Aspen Mountain first put this area on the map in the 1940s and has a variety of runs from blue to double black diamond that better suit more experienced skiers. Finally, Aspen Highlands, with quieter but more advanced runs with deeper snow, is where you’ll find the locals.
Glenwood Hot Springs
Soak those aching muscles at Glenwood Springs, where you’ll find the world's largest mineral hot springs pool, just north of Aspen. Famous names such as President Theodore Roosevelt, Titanic survivor Molly Brown and gangster Al Capone, have all taken a dip here (though not all at the same time). Enjoy the soothing powers of the mineral-rich water while watching the sky change colour at sunset and definitely treat yourself to a treatment in the spa (it'd be rude not to). Alternatively, you can always book a home with a hot tub such as the homely White Antlers – professionally vetted by Plum Guide's fastidious Home Critics, of course.
Aspen Art Museum
One of the more cultural things to do in Aspen is to visit the town's namesake art museum. Housed in an uniquely impressive box-like building with a woven façade by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, Aspen Art Museum is a non-collecting gallery with regularly changing international contemporary art exhibitions. Pieces range from paintings to sculpture and works that evoke natural landscapes. Recent shows include Rose Wylie’s whimsically cartoon-like large-scale compositions in where i am and was and Lisa Yuskavage’s colourful, otherworldly eroticism in Wilderness.
Silver Queen Gondola
At any time of year, even if you're not skiing, a gondola ride is in order for a good view. The Silver Queen Gondola really helped to boost the area's profile when it was built in the 1980s, making it one of the best things to do in Aspen. The gondola takes you 11,200 feet up Aspen Mountain to the Sundeck at the top – where you can do hour-long Hatha yoga sessions and meditation against the jagged, mountainous backdrop. There are also hiking trails, which fill with wild flowers by the summer, and keep an eye out for classical and bluegrass open-air concerts.
This is one of the most photographed sites in in North America for good reason. Sweeping mountain slopes with twin 14,000-foot peaks frame the skies, and it’s all reflected back up from Maroon Lake, a habitat for beavers (you’d be hard-pushed to get more quintessentially Rocky Mountains than this). There are plenty of trails on which to find the perfect shot. But we know you didn’t come here for likes on social media: breathe in the crisp mountain air and enjoy the view. But be warned, this beauty spot does get crowded, so getting there early is recommended.
Drive the Independence Pass
Hire a set of wheels to navigate this 20-mile scenic drive for twists and turns through lush forests and along towering cliffs. The Independence Pass, part of Highway 82, is one of the highest roads in North America at a not insignificant 12,095 feet above sea level. Park up and explore hiking paths to sightseeing spots that offer epic views of the Continental Divide, and ensure you bring a hamper for one of the most picturesque picnics of your life.
Eat at Matsuhisa
Hopefully you made reservations well before arriving in Aspen for Matsuhisa, the upscale sushi restaurant with gentle Peruvian-influence from world-famous chef Nobu Matsuhisa (yes, that Nobu). Make no mistake: despite its charming setting in a converted powder-blue Victorian-era house, Matsuhisa is homely but just as haute as the other Nobu outposts – as the menu's top-quality wagyu, yellowtail sashimi, scallop tiradito and fine wines will attest.
Wheeler Opera House
This red-brick corner building was built by entrepreneur and Macy’s president Jerome Wheeler – one of the first billionaires – who played a large part in developing Aspen. When it opened in 1889 the Wheeler Opera House was one of the venues on the “Silver Circuit” of gold and silver mining towns toured by international performers. These days, it offers a glimpse into Aspen's past, while hosting big-name comedians such as Whitney Cummings and The Daily Show host Trevor Noah at its Aspen Laugh Festival. Aspen Mountain Film Festival is also worth your time.
Wheeler loved Aspen so much, he had a red-brick Queen Anne-style home built in a lush, leafy setting to try and entice his wife to move out there – she wasn't having it though, having always hated mining towns. Still, this place makes a pretty fine museum for visitors, with one floor that looks like it would have in the late 1800s, and another offering rotating exhibitions that provide visitors with deep-dives into different aspects of Aspen’s history.
If you're less fussy about mining towns than Wheeler's wife, book a stay in one of Plum Guide's spacious rental homes in Aspen. We're particularly fond of The Downy Woodpecker, a mountainside apartment smack bang in the middle of the action.
Looking for a Rocky Mountain Town that's a little less glitz and glam? Cast your eye over our guide to Breckenridge. This historical little town at the base of the Tenmile Range might be more your cup of tea. Or for somewhere even quieter, we've rounded up the best things to do in Vail, a Bavarian-inspired town known for its winter sports.