We went on a long weekend trip to Aspen, and, for the first time, I had nothing planned except for maybe hiking Maroon Bells and doing some night photography when the kids went to bed.
The stars didn’t quite align on that second part but I did get my first full night of sleep since 2016. 🙂
Altitude in Aspen
One thing you need to keep in mind when visiting Aspen is that this mountain town sits at close to 8000′ and is one of the most elevated cities in the US. Even for someone who lives in Colorado and came here from 5000′ elevation, I had a tough time doing some of the hikes here since the air is so thin. If you’re easily affected by altitude sickness, make sure to leave a few days at the beginning of your trip to adjust before doing any strenuous activities!
Maroon Bells Lake Trail
Maroon Bells Lake trail is an easy 10 minute stroll along the lake that you can even bring a stroller to. I would classify this as more of a viewpoint than anything else. It’s gorgeous in every direction you look, but of course, everyone comes here to see the Bells light up.
At sunrise- Not sunset.
Due to the aforementioned lack of research, we drove back here after hiking it earlier in the day to see the sunset… only to come to a disappointing shadow-covered mountain. So, we wound up coming back a THIRD time – at sunrise – because there was no way I was going to miss this view! Thank goodness the kids have no say yet in how many times we return to a place for a photo…
This shot was taken at 6:45am, alongside another 30492034958 photographers looking to capture the moment (albeit with no kids). This view is pretty much right near the parking lot so you don’t have to go very far once you’ve parked.
Tip #1: It’s best to get here right at sunrise so that you have time to set up and find a parking spot. But you do have about 30-45 minutes after the sun has peeked through the mountains to enjoy all of its light painting on the Bells.
Tip #2: Make sure to bring a tripod and use HDR – there will be some really harsh contrast between the lit-up mountain and the shady foreground so you’ll want to stack several different exposures.
Crater Lake Hike
Contrary to (my) popular belief, this hike is NOT 2 miles round trip. It is, in fact, 2 miles ONE WAY. Which is normally totally fine, if you bring the carrier, snacks, an appropriate mindset…
So 1.5 hours into the hike with Danny carrying our oldest on his shoulders, we had to break the news to the kids; there were limited snacks, and we were maybe only halfway ðŸ˜³
Though it’s labeled as ‘easy’, the hike is far from it and runs uphill the entire way. The starting altitude is 9500′, and there’s a 500′ elevation gain. We’re used to doing 3-4 hour hikes with 1000′ gain, but at this elevation and with kids on us this was quite the workout!
Tip #1: There are signs everywhere that say you must use the shuttle between 8am-5pm. This is true, unless you have kids in carseats. Apparently that’s your golden ticket to ignoring the signs and powering straight through to the (limited) parking lot. We got there around 9am and were still able to secure a spot!
Tip #2: Even though this is not a National Park, they accept “America the Beautiful” park passes. Score! No pass? You’ll have to pony up $10.
Tip #3: Dogs are allowed pretty much everywhere in Aspen. On shuttles, in the parks, on gondolas, you name it. Even AirBnbs were mostly pet-friendly, which is why we brought our pup in the first place.
Tip #4: Do NOT let your dog drink the water at Crater Lake, or any other lake in Colorado for that matter. You will wake up the next morning to lots and lots and lots of ðŸ’© everywhere. 0/10 would not recommend.
We had a pretty lazy second day as everyone was still recovering from Crater Lake. I heard that there were some cool things to do at the top of Aspen Mountain and that you could either hike (LOL) or take the gondola to the 11,000′ peak. Our toddler absolutely LOVES gondolas so we opted for that option. Otherwise we would’ve totally hiked. For sure.
Just like any Colorado peak, the views at the top were spectacular, but my favourite part of Aspen Mountain was actually the kids area. There was a sand pit with lots of trucks, diggers and excavators, a giant chess set, a bocci ball area, and also these really cool human-sized nests that
adults kids could climb.
We spent the rest of the afternoon climbing in and out of the branches and enjoying the views from the top.
The Grottos are incredible. They’re a short 1.1 mile hike that packs in caves, waterfalls, a winding river and a gorgeous forest. Itâ€™s right on the way to Independence Pass, so if you have an extra hour to spare I would bundle that in the same outing.
I did extra research this time around to make sure we came here at the right hour. Here, sunset is when things really shine.
Halfway along the hike you’ll find the ice caves that you can venture into, though at certain times of the year (apparently sometimes as late as July) it’s iced over. This one I didn’t dare climb in with our little ones, so Danny and I took turns exploring.
There is also a beautiful cascading waterfall. Looking down from the top you may even catch the sun peeking through the trees.
We didnâ€™t spend too much time downtown, but we were still able to find some gems.
Pretty kickass playground. We spent some time here waiting for the gondola to open at 10am. Us and all the other playground patrons, as it turned out. There’s a large field right next to it where kids can run around, as well as a ropes course, climbing wall, monkey bars, etc.
Restaurants in Aspen
Hands down the best burritos weâ€™ve ever had. Even our picky toddler loved it! Itâ€™s a pretty hole-in-the-wall place, but definitely worth a visit if you’re not looking to spend a lot of time at a sit-down place. Our 10mo kept asking for more and more of mine that I started getting worried that Iâ€™d need to order a second one!
This was a no brainer, since itâ€™s one of the top things to do in Aspen on all the blogs ever. Can confirm. Mucho bueno.
Prices in Aspen are steep year round. We opted to stay in Snowmass and were able to find a really nice Airbnb that was about half the price of Airbnbs in Aspen, and double the size. Snowmass is only 10-15 minutes away from Aspen and much quieter. There’s no real ‘downtown core’, but there are hikes, playgrounds and a handful of restaurants.
That’s all folks!
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