Aspen’s don’t-miss list: Mountains, music, more |

Aspen’s don’t-miss list: Mountains, music, more

Janet Urquhart
The dancing fountain in downtown Aspen is an irresistable attraction for the young and the young at heart. Aspen Times photo.

A trip to Aspen isn’t complete without trying certain all-time favorite activities.

If you’ve only got a day or two to explore Aspen, there are some definite must-sees/must-dos while you are here. So, start at the top and work your way down the following list:

It’s often referred to as one of the most photographed spots in the United States. For all we know, that’s actually true. At any rate, take your camera. The Bells refers to a pair of majestic fourteeners – North and South Maroon peaks ” that rise above Maroon Lake in breathtaking fashion. Also flanking the lake is Pyramid Peak, which tops out at more than 14,000 feet, as well.

Daytime access to the Bells is limited to bus travel ” no vehicles from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The bus service begins June 12 and runs through Labor Day weekend, and then on weekends through September. Catch a free bus to Aspen Highlands from Aspen’s downtown bus station, Rubey Park, and transfer to the Maroon Bells bus, which costs $5.50 per adult, $3.50 for kids and seniors. Call RFTA at 925-8484 for more information. You can also park free at Highlands and grab the bus from there.

The famed ski runs look like ribbons of green in the summertime, but there are actually wildflowers up there, if you’ve got the stamina to explore Aspen’s flagship mountain on foot. Or, skip the I-think-I’m-going-to-hurl hike and ride the Silver Queen Gondola, which will whisk you 3,267 feet (2.5 miles) to the 11,212-foot summit in about 14 minutes.

From the top, you can hike out along Richmond Ridge, play a free game of Frisbee golf or stretch out on one of the inviting deck chairs at the Sundeck, or just soak up the views of the Elk Mountains. The Sundeck sells lunch, or bring your own.

The gondola runs daily, June 11-Sept. 5, and again Sept. 10-11, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (last ride down is at 4:30 p.m.). Tickets are $18 daily ($20 on weekends) or $35 for a weekly pass for adults. Youth (13-17 years), children (4-12 years) and senior (70 and older) ticket prices vary. Children age 3 and younger ride for free.

You could easily spend one day on Independence Pass alone. East of Aspen, Highway 82 winds up and over the 12,095-foot pass.

There are several campgrounds and trailheads along the route to the top, along with one of Aspen’s most popular rock-climbing opportunities. A parking lot at the top gives you a place to stop and take a short hike above timberline, where the air on the thin side, but refreshingly cool on a hot day. Near the summit, the ghost town of Independence ” a few rundown buildings left over from the silver boom more than a century ago ” await your exploration.

On your way up the pass, check out the Grottos, about nine miles from town ” the pullout is on the right, between Weller Campground and Lincoln Creek Road. There you’ll find an ice cave that typically holds its frozen block of water throughout the summer and, on a hot afternoon, an inviting series of pools where the Roaring Fork River has smoothed and rounded the rocks.

A quick walk back down the highway from the Grottos parking area is the famed Devil’s Punchbowl, where many a youth and the occasional adult is prodded into making the leap from a rocky cliff to the gasp-inducing water (it’s cold) below. Staff estimates put the plunge at anywhere from 15 to 25 feet. (It really looks like a long way down when you’re peering over the top, trying to muster your courage.)

In case you didnit get to this immediately upon your arrival, downtown Aspen offers a shopping experience that ranges from the likes of Prada and Gucci to consignment stores like Susie’s, Gracy’s and The Thrift Shop, along with a plethora of art galleries and jewelry stores.

You can keep your bank account safely intact by simply window-shopping, or limiting your purchases to the obligatory T-shirt or two. While you’re shopping, another of downtown Aspen’s attributes will become apparent: the dining scene. Resistance is futile. Partake of the varied and tempting cuisine; youill need the sustenance for further shopping.

While you’re wandering about downtown Aspen, you can’t help but notice the dancing fountain on the mall at the corner of Mill Street and Hyman Avenue. If you’ve got kids, you may never leave. The jets of water are irresistable to the young and young at heart.

The hills are alive with the sound of music during Aspen’s summers.

The Aspen Music Festival and School runs from June 22-Aug. 21 and offers concerts of various types every day of the week at any of several venues. You may also find Aspen Music Festival and School students performing on downtown street corners and the malls on any given evening when the weather is fine.

The festival’s student orchestras ” the Aspen Concert Orchestra and Symphonia ” alternate Wednesdays at 6 p.m. at the Benedict Music Tent; the Aspen Chamber Symphony plays most Fridays at 6 p.m. The Aspen Festival Orchestra rehearses at 9:30 a.m. Sundays in the tent, and then returns for the formal performance at 4 p.m. on Sundays. It’s free to sit on the David Karetsky Memorial Lawn and listen. You can bring blankets, babies, chairs, coolers and dogs (if they’re quiet). No smoking, though. Even if you don’t know your Bach from your Beethoven or your Schubert from your Shostakovich, an evening outside the tent is an Aspen happening.

Free Thursday night concerts on Fanny Hill at Snowmass are also not to be missed. The bands brought to Aspen/Snowmass by Jazz Aspen Snowmass run the gamut of musical genres. The shows start at 6 p.m. Bring a blanket and a cooler.

Summer weekends atop Aspen Mountain feature classical music by music fest students on Saturdays at 1 p.m. (July 2-Aug.20), and bluegrass up-and-comers on Sundays at noon.

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