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While pop culture depicts Aspen, Colo., as an exclusive playground for the uber-rich and famous, the town’s true vibe is as humble as its roots. Once a summer hunting ground for the Ute Indians and then a silver boomtown in the 1880s, this charming mountain hamlet along the Roaring Fork River, or “Fork,” welcomes families and luminaries alike.
Whatever the season, no visit to Aspen is complete without a trip to Maroon Bells. These iconic red-hued peaks, about 12 miles southwest of town, are said to be the most photographed site in Colorado. Kids of all ages can enjoy the short hike along Maroon Lake Scenic Trail, while older kids and teens can make the two-hour roundtrip trek to Crater Lake.
If visiting during summer months, there are plenty of other kid-friendly hikes to enjoy, starting with Ajax Trail. The one-hour-long roundtrip hike traverses the front side of Aspen Mountain, beginning in a grove of aspen trees before continuing across the ski area and then dropping back into Aspen’s east end. Another family favorite is Grottos Trail, which displays rock formations, ice sculptures (depending on the season) and more along the banks of the Fork. For a leisurely, 1-mile roundtrip hike, try the nearby Weller Lake Trail.
If clients don’t feel like hiking, a ride on the Silver Queen Gondola to the 11,212-foot summit of Aspen Mountain lasts just 20 minutes. There, they can have their own picnic or eat at mountaintop Sundeck restaurant, then check out the expansive views of the Elk Mountain Range. For an additional scenic outlook, take a drive to Independence Pass (elevation 12,095 feet) — the highest paved crossing of the Continental Divide in the U.S. — to behold the Roaring Fork Valley and Colorado’s highest peak, Mt. Elbert (elevation 14,433 feet).
Other warm-weather activities along the Roaring Fork River include rafting, kayaking and floating on inflatable kayaks called “duckies.” Families can also walk or bike Rio Grande Trail, the former route of the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad. A mix of concrete and gravel, the trail runs roughly 42 miles from Aspen to Glenwood Springs, attracting inline skaters and horseback riders, as well as cross-country skiers during winter months. An alternative outdoor-adventure haven is the riverside Rio Grande Park. Within the park is the John Denver Sanctuary, where families can picnic or take a dip in the river, and a skateboard park with more than 15,000 square feet of terrain.
Relax in between activities in a luxurious yet unpretentious room at The St. Regis Aspen Resort. Larger families will have plenty of space in a loft suite equipped with two bedrooms, two full bathrooms, two fireplaces and even butler service. Be sure to unwind in the outdoor pool and hot tubs, too, which are tucked conveniently at the base of Aspen Mountain and offer picturesque views. Once everyone is ready to get moving again, grab a bike from the hotel’s branded fleet and take a leisurely bike ride; book a tour through in-house Aspen Outfitting for flyfishing, hunting or clay-target shooting excursions; or schedule a free, 45-minute portrait session with an in-house photographer to capture those family-vacation memories (prints are available for a fee).
When hunger kicks in, St. Regis Aspen’s family-friendly Italian restaurant, Trecento Quindici Decano, tailors dishes by preference, including gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan or vegetarian options. Kids will also love decorating their own cookie pizza: a “crust” topped with goodies such as M&M’s.
Outside the resort, families will find lots to do at Aspen’s downtown pedestrian walking mall, which features popular spots such as Wagner Park, Aspen Dancing Fountain and Wheeler Opera House. Head to Jimmy’s Bodega, set right next to Wagner Park, for a tasty lunch or for the adults to sip low-proof cocktails from the restaurant’s new menu that is devoted to lower alcohol-by-volume drinks.
Brunelleschi’s, which also goes by “Bruno’s,” is another favorite eatery. It serves up a variety of gourmet pizza and pasta that includes a kids’ make-your-own-pizza option — chef hat included. Families will especially love CP Burger, Aspen’s version of fast food set at the base of Aspen Mountain. In addition to its selection of kid-friendly burgers and milkshakes, CP Burger also offers an attached miniature golf park in the summer, which is transformed into an ice rink come winter.
Need a final bedtime treat? Sip a nightcap by the outdoor fire pits at St. Regis Aspen while the kids roast marshmallows for s’mores. Everyone goes to bed happy.
WHEN TO GOThe temperate mountain climate allows for four seasons, making Aspen an ideal year-round destination and a favorite leaf-peeping spot. From legendary slopes to resplendent fall foliage — as well as world-class dining and art scenes — families will find plenty of Rocky Mountain fun in Aspen throughout the year.
GETTING THEREVisitors can fly directly into Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, served by United Airlines, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines. Another option is flying into Denver International Airport and then making the 3½-hour drive to Aspen via Independence Pass or through Glenwood Canyon. To cut the drive time to about two hours, fly into the Eagle County Regional Airport or Grand Junction Regional Airport.
Aspen Dancing Fountainwww.aspendancingfountain.com
Aspen Parks & Recreationwww.aspenrecreation.com
Silver Queen Gondolawww.aspensnowmass.com
The St. Regis Aspen Resortwww.stregisaspen.com
Wheeler Opera Housewww.wheeleroperahouse.com