Located in Colorado’s beautiful Rocky Mountains, Aspen has become one of the most popular ski resort towns in the country, and one of my favorite places to visit in the winter. Known for it’s idyllic beauty, outdoor activities, five star hotels, designer shopping and upscale dining, Aspen is the ultimate getaway for anyone who loves the outdoors and appreciates casual luxury.
I have now been visiting Aspen once a year for the last few years. I make it a point to visit during the winter season (December – March is peak), and I have always found that those months are the best in Aspen for winter travelers. Below you will find all my favorite places (mainstays and newer openings!) to stay, drink, eat, shop, and play for the ultimate travel guide to Aspen, Colorado! Be sure to read until the end, where I have thrown in some extra tips that will surely make your trip smoother in the winter.
WHEN TO VISIT
The prime times for Aspen travel, in terms of crowds and prices, are in ski season—mainly from late November to March—and then in the summer during the festival season. The payoff if you visit Aspen in the summer, though, is getting to experience the mountain bliss with temperatures are in the high 70s. For the best deals, travel to Aspen in September, when prices are the lowest, the crowds thin and the fall foliage pops with color. The busiest time of year is obviously winter, where crowds come to enjoy the incredible skiing.
WHERE TO STAY
My favorite hotel in Aspen is by far The Little Nell. The Little Nell is located in the heart of the city, right on Aspen mountain. It’s the only ski-in, ski-out hotel in Aspen. Known as Aspen’s only Five-Star, Five-Diamond hotel, it is definitely the place to see and be seen! They also have a more private property called The Residences at The Little Nell, which you can rent large residences for your family. I have been staying at The Little Nell for years, and every time I visit, I do not want to leave. The service, accommodations, amenities, and overall vibe of the hotel is unlike any property I have visited in the world. From the moment you land at Aspen Pitkin County Airport, where they have a car and driver waiting for you, from the time you check out and the staff bids you farewell by name, you feel so well taken care of from start to finish. You can read all about The Little Nell in my feature blog post here.
WHAT TO DO
- Skiing one of the four mountains: Buttermilk if you’re a beginner, and Highlands, Snowmass or Aspen if you want more of a challenge.
- Shop around the quaint brick-lined streets of Aspen village, filled with things from kitschy Western knick-nacks (don’t miss KemoSabe), antique home goods to designer clothing and beauty products (Moncler, Aether, CosBar).
- Take in some art at the Aspen Art Museum, and do not miss the rooftop cafe.
- Catch a live concert at Belly Up.
- Take a horse drawn carriage around the town and up the mountain.
- Going to one of the town’s great festivals, such as summer’s Aspen Music Festival, Aspen Ideas Festival, or Food + Wine.
- Browsing the Aspen Saturday Market, from June through October.
- Hiking the “Grottoes,” the caves on Independence Pass, along the Roaring Fork River in the spring or summer season.
- Take a 15-minute drive to the beautiful Maroon Bells lake.
- Tour the mountains via snowmobile at TLazy7 Ranch.
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK
- Caribou Club: my favorite place in Aspen to hang out! The Caribou Club opened its doors in 1990 as Aspen’s first members-only club, offering gourmet dining, an extensive wine list, bar and nightclub. You can find yourself here for hours, having pre-dinner drinks, to a wonderful meal, then dancing all night on their dance floor.
- Ajax Tavern: located at the base of Ajax—if you’re coming from up the mountain, you can spot the famous mountainside patio on your ride down—a part of The Little Nell hotel, this is an Aspen classic for lunch. I recommend the cheeseburger and truffle parmesan fries!
- Element 47: located inside The Little Nell, Element 47 is the perfect place to unwind, set in the beautiful dining room of the hotel. This restaurant features a remarkable wine list, gourmet American cuisine, and a cozy upscale atmosphere.
- White House Tavern: this tavern is located in, you guessed it, a cute little white house. Due to its intimate size, there’s often a wait so make sure to arrive early and put your name on the waitlist so you can enjoy one of their delicious sandwiches or salads.
- Matsuhisa: fresh fish is flown in daily to this well-known upscale Japanese eatery by famed Chef Nobu Matsuhisa.
- SO Cafe: located on the top floor of the Aspen Art Museum, this cafe has beautiful views overlooking Aspen Mountain and serves delicious lunch options as well as coffee, wine and beer.
- JUS: stop by this little spot for a juice and healthy salad or smoothie bowl. And don’t forget to grab a Chlorophyll juice if you are feeling some altitude sickness!
- Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro: A huge part of the appeal of skiing is the promise of the aprés ski scene afterwards, and this spot on the top of Highlands, conveniently equipped with bubbling raclette grills, is definitely the place to be at around 2pm where you will see skiiers enjoying their ski break, complete with spraying (and drinking) endless bottles of champagne.
- Casa Tua: serves upscale Northern Italian fare—think burrata with organic tomatoes, tuna tartare, specialty risottos, grilled branzino, biscotti, and gelato. From the outside, Casa Tua resembles a charming ski lodge or mountain home, particularly when it’s lit up at night. The upstairs is reserved for members only, and can turn into quite the fun party scene at night.
- Cache Cache: an old-school steakhouse that’s proven to be a mainstay in Aspen: the restaurant opened in 1987.
- Betula: A super romantic French Pan-American restaurant with the show case of Rotisserie selection and quaint vibe.
- Duemani: An old world meets new elegant yet approachable steak and seafood restaurant.
- Wine Bar: The Little Nell’s former Chair 9 got an upgrade to the Wine Bar, with eight private seating areas lined with plush couches. The bar features selections from the Nell’s renowned 20,000-plus-bottle wine cellar.
- Dante’s at SnowLodge: The ultimate place for aprés. Snow Lodge, a spin-off of Montauk’s trendy Surf Lodge that has set up here for the winter. Located at the base of Aspen Mountain, the bar and restaurant has launched a winter music series, also partnering with Belly Up on some shows. In addition to the Chainsmokers, acts like Cody Simpson, St. Lucia, Wild Belle, and more have performed.
- Hooch: Hooch is located in the basement under Meat & Cheese Restaurant, and is a great place for after-dinner drinks with good music and a fun crowd.
- Bad Harriet: Hotel Jerome’s new underground bar and lounge is packed with pretty people, craft cocktails, and an ice lounge.
- You should purchase your lift tickets online before you get to Aspen. What’s great about Aspen is they make it really easy – you only have to buy one pass and you are good to go on all four mountains. Meaning you can start your day taking it easy on Buttermilk and end your day shredding a black diamond on Aspen Highlands. There are also discounts for multi day lift tickets.
- The altitude in Colorado is no joke and Aspen, sitting at almost 8000 feet, is definitely included in that. There is way less oxygen up there than your body is used to, meaning you need to sit a day out (i.e. probably should not ski the same day you arrive) and take precautions to adjust to the altitude. I personally drink A LOT of water to stay hydrated, take Advil before and after the flight, and avoid alcohol the day I arrive.
- Ask for a humidifier in your hotel room. The air is super dry and the humidifier will not only help your skin stay hydrated, but can also help you sleep.
- A rental car isn’t needed in Aspen since the city is incredibly walkable. You can walk almost anywhere in the town within 15 minutes! Oh, and almost every hotel has a complimentary car service, including The Nell, which is one of my favorite amenities.
- Aspen Pitkin airport is notorious for cancelled and delayed flights in the winter time (this includes commercial flights from American Airlines, Delta, and United) and private charter. Plan ahead and make sure that you do not have to get back home to anything in a hurry, because oftentimes, your flight will be delayed!
- Lastly, have fun!!!!