Your guide to Aspen’s Fourth of July

Michael McLaughlin
The Aspen Times
Mountain Flowers owner Wendy Blakeslee creates an eye-catching red, white and blue bouquet in honor of the Fourth of July.
Aubree Dallas/The Aspen Times |

The streets of Aspen once again are filled with tourists as the summer season officially shifts into high gear with the annual Fourth of July celebration.

No matter what your reason is for being in Aspen this weekend, here are a few tips to help survive the crowds while enjoying the local patriotic ambiance.


Count on a feeding frenzy after the parade, as the Aspen restaurants anticipate one of the busiest days of the year.

Aspen has always celebrated the Fourth with gusto, going back to the late 1800s. It’s no different today, as a sea of people will descend upon Main Street for the annual parade. Today’s parade starts at 11 a.m., an hour earlier than usual, so find your spot early. Locals and visitors will line Main Street with portable chairs beginning at the crack of dawn.

Blair Weyer, spokeswoman for the Aspen Police Department, said the lining of the parade route with portable chairs is all good as long people don’t block the streets or cause any other safety issues.

“The bigger concern would be people, especially kids, getting out on the roads during the parade,” Weyer said. “The parade volunteers are good about keeping people safe. The parade participants will come to you with their swag, so sit back and enjoy.”

Remember, it’s a small-town parade with a big attitude of having fun. Expect a lot of floats, and don’t be shocked if you get doused more than once by squirt guns, another Aspen parade tradition. Local veterans also participate, and their presence sparks some strong emotions.

Count on a feeding frenzy after the parade, as Aspen restaurants anticipate one of the busiest days of the year.

Plenty of other activities are on tap. At 10 a.m., the 14th annual America’s Birthday Carnival is happening at Paepcke Park. It’s a kids carnival featuring games, food, a bake sale and a silent auction with proceeds helping the Early Learning Center.

The Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club holds a picnic from noon to 3 p.m. at Koch Park; it’s $10 for adults and $5 for kids 10 and younger. Expect good food, spike a volleyball, and have a beer at the base of Aspen Mountain while supporting the largest youth nonprofit in the valley.

The Aspen Art Museum’s annual post-parade community picnic starts at 1:30 p.m. on the museum property on North Mill Street at no charge. Who says there’s no such thing a free lunch in Aspen?

At 4 p.m., the Aspen Music Festival and School’s free Fourth of July concert takes place at the Benedict Music Tent. There’s no fee to attend, so get there early, as lines will form for the popular event.

From 5 to 8 p.m., there will be clowns, face painters, jugglers and more on the Mill Street mall at no charge.

The band Doctor Robert, a Beatles tribute band, will perform for free at the Mill Street/Cooper Avenue mall beginning at 8 p.m. The band will take a break during the fireworks show.

The Aspen Fireworks Extravaganza begins at 9:15 p.m. as long as the weather doesn’t change drastically. The show is set with Aspen Mountain as the backdrop. It’s a sensational setting for a fireworks show, as the skyrockets light up the mountain and the explosions echo throughout town. If you can see the mountain, you can see the show.

Keep in mind that the fireworks show is very loud and can scare pets, especially dogs. It’s best to keep your pets indoors during the show or at least on a secure leash.


The annual race/walk begins at 8 a.m. in the heart of downtown Aspen and will tie up a good portion of the Rio Grande Trail around Aspen. It’ll also require many street closures during the race.


The bruins are awake and hungry, but their favorite natural foods aren’t quite ready yet. According to John Armstrong, Pitkin County Open Space and Trails ranger, the berries that the local black bears enjoy are still developing and aren’t ripe yet.

“I’m not sure how good a crop of berries we’ll see this year,” Armstrong said. “They’re omnivores and will eat whatever they can get right now.”

With so many people in town who probably aren’t familiar with bear-proofing their trash, don’t be shocked to see a bear if there’s food it can get to. By the way, a bear that learns to eat local garbage is on a one-way street to being either relocated or put down.

Considering that a few bears have made their presence known already this summer, there are some basic rules to keep in mind if you happen upon one in town or on a hike. First, don’t run away. Bears will chase you, and they’re fast. Try to look big and sound big — really big. Don’t harass it, and put your camera away.

There’s a group of moose that have been quite visible near the Maroon Bells in the past few weeks. Simple advice: Stay away from the moose. If you happen upon a bull during mating season, that’s not Bullwinkle out there — it’s a dangerous wild animal. You’re at serious risk of being charged by a 1,500-pound beast that can do some serious damage to people and property.


In case you haven’t noticed, Aspen has a large biking community, and renting a bike is easy in town. Bikes are required to follow the same rules as cars, so stay off the sidewalks and go the speed limit. Keep in mind that a lot of people get nailed by doors when they’re riding next to parked cars.


The best advice for parking in Aspen is to use the Rio Grande Parking plaza, an underground parking garage downtown. This way you avoid the parking meters and the local parking enforcement. The meter maids are nice people, but they possess magic powers of invisibility and an uncanny ability to give a ticket and disappear in seconds. You have been warned.


Use them, but don’t trust that you’re visible. With so many tourists in town, remember that many drivers are looking while they drive and not necessarily for pedestrians. Aspen has many well-marked crosswalks, especially on Main Street, but the morning and evening shadows are deadly and can hide pedestrians before they appear in the crosswalks. Be extra careful, and don’t trust that the drivers see you. Pretend the cars are bears, and look big.


Aspen has an easy-to-use bus system that’s free between Snowmass and Aspen. If you’re staying close to Aspen, use the buses. They’re free, they can get you close to just about anything in Aspen, and you avoid the magic parking enforcement.


Dude, you can score in Aspen and score legally. If you haven’t been in a pot shop, it’s a trip. The Aspen shops all can boast extremely helpful employees, and all have killer smoke and edibles, or at least that’s the rumor. If you’re inexperienced with pot, make sure you talk to the “bud tenders” and take their advice. They know their product and won’t advise anyone to smoke or eat too much. Remember that puffing pot publicly is a big no-no and most hotels are smoke-free, so finding an appropriate spot to get stoned isn’t easy. Edibles are the most discreet way to get high, so choose appropriately. Want to do something you can’t, or shouldn’t, in most towns? Ask a local Aspen police officer where to score some pot. They’ll more than likely smile and direct you to an outlet.


Every Aspen resident looks like a celebrity, so good luck. Really famous residents know how to blend into the local scene, and there’s an unwritten rule that Aspen residents will not bother the rich and famous. If you really want to find someone prominent or well-known, go to a movie or turn on ESPN and watch them while they work. If you still are looking locally, watch for packs of people with cameras that seem excited for no reason, and then go join the group mentality that makes regular people intrude on the private time of these celebrities.


These local law officers defy the common police reputation and seem to actually enjoy dealing with the public. They’re very approachable and helpful. Really. No need to look or sound big, as they’re much nicer than the average bear. Just don’t break the speed limit of 25 mph, and that goes for bikes, too. Aspen is a fun place and will stay that way as long as people eat, drink, smoke and play within the local rules.