Planning a trip to the famous Aspen and looking for the perfect 3 day guide to get absolutely everything you can out of your time? You’re in the right place! Aspen is one of those spots you hear about in movie and music references, in magazines, and of course all over instagram. But here’s a secret for you: it truly does live up to the hype. At least, the sheer beauty of the mountains do. I mean, there’s a reason that Maroon Bells is said to be the most photographed mountainous area in the United States. This 3 day guide to Aspen is for a warm-weather trip. It’s important to note that this itinerary will only make sense late May – October when the trails are clear, the colors are vibrant, and the ice has melted. This itinerary also will NOT include time needed to travel to/from Aspen.
Travel notes: If you plan to fly into Denver International Airport and rent a car, the drive to Aspen is about 3 hours and 45 minutes without traffic. You may want to plan for some mountain traffic if you’re driving to/from Aspen over a weekend. Another option is to fly into the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport. It’s a small airport that will likely be more expensive but will save you on gas/time.
The first part of your 3 day guide to Aspen will be perhaps the most iconic – visiting the famous Maroon Bells. Know that parking requires a reservation (and they are tough to acquire), so riding the shuttle is likely your best bet. The shuttle runs from May 26th – October 22nd between the hours of 7 AM – 5 PM.You will need to pay to park your car at the shuttle center, and it’s recommend to book your shuttle ticket in advance ($16 for adults and $10 for children) to ensure you can ride the shuttle and secure the standard rate.
If you do plan it out in advance, you can look into parking reservations here. This allows you to experience sunrise at Maroon Bells, which is an experience to be remembered. If you decide to do something a bit more adventurous, such as backpacking in the Maroon Bells Wilderness (Four Pass Loop is extremely popular and starts/ends at Maroon Bells), then you can look into overnight parking permits here.
Take one of the first shuttles possible to arrive at Maroon Bells before the hustle and bustle begins. The stillness of the water, the wildlife, and the trails will be more enjoyable at earlier hours as well! Start by taking a mandatory photo of Maroon Bells and basking in the absolute beauty. Then you can choose your adventure based on the difficulty level you are looking for!
Option 1: Maroon Bells Scenic Loop
This 2 mile loop around is fairly flat with only 160 feet of vertical gain, making it an easy option for beginners, families with young kids, or anyone with limited capacity to complete hikes on tougher terrain. The good news? There isn’t a bad view in this area, even on easier hikes!
Option 2: Crater Lake Hike
This 3.5 mile out + back is a great option for beginners, out-of-towners who aren’t accustomed to the altitude, and families with older kids. For reference, I was able to do this hike easily carrying my baby on my front just a few months postpartum. You will gain roughly 700 feet of elevation, and navigate some rocky terrain in certain spots, making this trail fairly moderate in difficulty. But the views of Crater Lake are well worth it! Bring an easy to pack down blanket and a snack to enjoy at the lake!
Option 3: Buckskin Pass
This 8.2 mile out + back trail includes almost 3,000 feet of vertical gain. The combination of the elevation gain and the mileage make it difficult. This is a good option for more experienced hikers, individuals who have spent at least a few days getting accustomed to the elevation, or very fit individuals.
Dogs are allowed on all trails but must be leashed.
No matter which hike you embark on, you will want to check weather reports and come prepared. Weather changes quickly in the mountains, especially in spring/early summer and fall months. I recommend bringing a rain jacket no matter what time of year! Depending on the length of your trail, you will also want to bring sufficient water, sun coverage, and snacks. I would plan to spend a good majority of your morning/afternoon here (dependent upon hike choice and hiking speed) to enjoy the area. The final shuttle departs at 5 PM, so be sure to stay aware of the time. Pro tip: On your shuttle rides, look out for Moose! It may be your lucky day to spot one grazing in a mountain meadow on route to/from Maroon Bells.
Once you are back to your car, it’s a quick drive to the gorgeous town of Aspen. This is a great opportunity to stroll through the streets of Aspen, doing some window or souvenir shopping. If you’re ready for dinner, there is no shortage of great food to enjoy in Aspen. While you will need to expect high prices when dining out in Aspen, I would plan for at least one dinner in town to get the experience! The best options for a dinner out in the famous mountain town of Aspen are The Wild Fig, Betula Aspen, Clarks Aspen, White House Tavern, or The Aspen Hickory House. Want to grab a post-dinner cocktail, the Hooch Craft Cocktail Bar is a fun, speakeasy vibe for a night cap!
Lace up your hiking boots again for another day of exploring the trails in beautiful Aspen! Once again, you can “choose your own adventure” based on the type of hiking experience you’re looking for!
Option 1: Cathedral Lake Trail
This 5.5 mile out + back trail is relatively difficult to due its 2,000 foot elevation gain. It is known for it’s alpine lake and waterfall views. This is a great option during the summer if you’re up for a bit of a challenge and don’t have little ones with you.
Option 2: The Grottos Trail
This short 0.6 mile loop is the perfect easy hike with a kid-friendly waterfall to play in and enjoy on a warm day! If you want to experience one of the best water features in White River National Forest without a tough hike, this is the one for you. I recommend packing a picnic and a bathing suit to enjoy everything this area has to offer.
Option 3: Conundrum Hot Springs (backpacking trip)
This 18 mile out + back trek is one of my favorite hikes in Colorado! Before I go any further, it’s important to note that this trail is HARD, must be done in two days (one night), and requires a permit to enter the area/camp. You will also be required to bring your own waste disposal kit and bear bin. This hike will take you to the ultimate destination: a natural hot spring at the top of a mountain overlooking Aspen. While the ascent is tough (almost 3,000 feet), the views and experience are well worth it. Before attempting this overnight trek, be sure to educate yourself on weather, wildlife, fire bans, the terrain and more. If you do add this to your Aspen trip itinerary, plan on this taking up two full days!
If you choose options one or two, you can spend the afternoon taking a gondola ride up Snowmass Elk Gondola or the Aspen Mountain Silver Queen Gondola! This sight-seeing ride is $35 for an adult, and free for kids six and under. And if you STILL want some more excitement, finish the your jam-packed day of epicness with a sunset stroll on Aspen Mountain Nature Trail. This trail provides the best sunset views over Aspen and is only 0.8 miles in length.
Next, choose your adventure! Today we have options for a scenic bike ride through the mountains, white water rafting or another hike if you just can’t get enough.
Option 1: Take a scenic bike ride along the Rio Grande Trail, which stretches as far as Glenwood Springs! You can rent bikes locally at Aspen Bikes.
Option 2: Enjoy a day of whitewater rafting on the Roaring Fork River! This local outfitters will hook you up with anything water sports: from rafting to paddleboarding or canoeing.
Option 3: Take one final breathtaking hike through the Maroon Bells Wilderness. Check out the Maroon Creek Trail. Rated as moderate, this 6.3 mile out + back trail gains about 1000 feet of elevation while providing stunning lake, mountain, forest and river views. This trail really has it all and is a great final send-off before your journey home!
After your day of adventuring, finish off your final day in Aspen dining in town, and grabbing a drink at Silver City Aspen!
BONUS: Before you go, prep for your hiking adventures by training intentionally for endurance and strength on the trails! You can check out a free week of my Fit for Hiking workouts HERE.
I hope this 3 day guide to Aspen helps you plan the adventure of a lifetime to Colorful Colorado!