Aspen & Snowmass Vacation
On The Road Again
On the way home from a fun family vacation visiting Mrs Texas Outside's sister in Minnesota, we took a side trip on the way home to stop and play in Aspen and Snowmass Colorado for 3 and a half days before the 20 hour drive back to Dallas. We could dedicate a couple pages to our 3600 mile trip in the motor home packed to the gills with 3 grand kids (ages 1, 3, and 4), 4 adults, enough toys (both kids and adults) to keep us busy for 13 days, multiple cases beer, 4 bikes, 2 trikes, 2 kid bike trailers, snacks, 3 car seats, and multiple bags full of clothes. We had a blast in Minnesota hiking, boating, swimming, fishing, playing games, flying in a small two seater sea plane, riding ATV's, and visiting relatives. Rather than ramble on about the good times in Minnesota, this page is dedicated to our short but very fun side trip to Aspen and Snowmass. If you are an outdoor enthusiast, a biker, climber, rafter, kayaker, or snow skier/boarder, then you need to add Aspen to your
"Bucket List" of places you must visit. Before I start, I will mention a few firsts for this trip:
- we drove 3600 miles in 3 24 hour shifts - my bottom is still sore from all that sitting and my fingers seem like they are permanently formed in a perfect steering wheel death grip
- listened to the youngest grandson, who just happened to be sitting next to me in the passenger sit, mumble, scream, and cry for what seemed like 15 out the 24 hours - I thought kids that young just slept all the time - but I can't blame him for a few tears, after all he sat in a car seat for 72 hours with nothing to do, while his brother, cousin and the other passengers ate, slept, played computer games, and watched videos the whole way
- ate so much fast food that we all took a vow to never eat a McDonalds burger again
- cringed every time we had to stop for gas and feed the credit card back into the machine for its 2nd or 3rd $75 limit
- passed two cars going up the peaks of Colorado slower than we were but coming back down all 28,000 pounds of us were flying
- set a new record on the number of videos watched in 72 hours - I lost count after 24
- played enough travel scrabble, hand held games, and word games to last us a lifetime
- drove through 10 states in three days and even though all but Colorado were perfectly flat, we only averaged 8 miles per gallon
- consumed over 2 gallons of coffee and 22 bottles of water - thank God we had a restroom in the motor home or we would still be on the road
- was amazed that the motor home made it all the way with no problems and that the 7 of us are still good friends
Shortly before we left for Minnesota, my brother-in-law Doug called and said, "Mike, I'm in love with a fantastic lady and planning to marry her next year. We're currently staying in her house in Snowmass and would love you guys to come out and meet her before we head back to California." Even though Snowmass is way out of our way of our normal route home, Doug didn't have to ask twice or even try to convince us to stop by, we immediately said we'll be there and started making plans for fun things to do while we were there.
After driving 20 hours over the flatlands of Minnesota, Nebraska, eastern Colorado, North and South Dakota, the old motor home wasn't in any kind of shape to conquer the highway up the Rocky Mountains to the 11,000 summit. She huffed and puffed and panted but got to the top and then took off down the mountain to the Aspen valley - it was hard trying to keep the motor home under a 100 mph back down from the summit - my palms were sweaty and I couldn't talk the whole way and I missed most of the beautiful scenery. I was happy to hear that Doug found us a place to park it at the base of Snowmass Village. He claims that I wouldn't have been able to make it up the windy road to his fiance's (Reine) home and once there we wouldn't find room to park it. I think the real truth is that a 39' motor home would not be welcome in with Mercedes, BMWs, and Jaguars parked in the driveway of the huge beautiful multi-million dollar homes that dot the hillsides around the Snowmass ski slope. Reine's home is one of those - valued at over $5 million and with stunning panoramic views of the Colorado mountains, the Snowmass ski slope and village. We couldn't have been happier about abandoning the motor home and staying with our gracious host in multiple bedrooms. We felt a little guilty about burdening her and overtaking her beautiful home with 3 kids under 4, 4 adults, and the two car loads of gear from the motor home. What a gracious host and fantastic lady she turned out to be!
Aspen & Snowmass
Aspen, population around 6000, struck it rich as the worlds leading silver producer in the 1890s. Aspen thrived until the economic collapse came with the Panic of 1893 - within weeks, many of the Aspen mines were closed and thousands of miners were put out of work. By 1930 the population of Aspen had dwindled to 700. In 1945, Aspen Skiing Corporation was founded and the town quickly became a well-known resort area and hosted the FIS World Championships in 1950. Aspen sits at the upper end of the Roaring Fork Valley with a superb trout stream and rafting/kayaking river, the Roaring Fork, running through town. The area around Aspen is home to three vast mountain ranges and more 14,000 peaks than any other wilderness area in the lower 48 states and much of the area around Aspen is public land within the White River National Forest. In addition to abundant cultural activities, fun nightlife, great restaurants, a variety of accommodations, and lots of shopping, pleasant climate and beautiful natural scenery. Aspen is paradise for outdoor enthusiasts and offers a multitude of opportunities for road biking, mountain biking, skiing or boarding, climbing, rafting, hiking, and more.
Snowmass is about 5 minutes from Aspen and is at the base and along the ski runs at Snowmass Mountain which is the largest ski mountain in Colorado offering nearly 150 miles of trails. The small village is transforming itself into an eclectic mix of ski-in/ski-out residences, shops, restaurants, a variety of lodging, and entertainment venues. More importantly, it is a mecca for golfers, bikers, hikers, climbers, snow boarders, and skiers. Snowmass Mountain offers excellent skiing with over 4,400 foot vertical rise and 9 lifts to get skiers up the mountain to enjoy over 3000 acres of skiable terrain and 146 miles of trails. The trails are perfect for hiking or biking during the summer and one of the lifts runs year round to take hikers and bikes up the mountain.
Soaring With The Eagles
We were up bright and early Saturday morning and excited about our first Aspen adventure - parasailing off the top of Aspen mountain with Aspen Paragliding! I couldn't talk any of the other members of our group into jumping off the 10,000 mountain with me but they all promised to be at the landing and take lots of pictures. Their refusing to go and then continually asking me if I was nervous, made me even more nervous.
After checking in, our pilots, a couple single paragliders, and 6 rather nervous first time paragliders headed up the mountain in a 4 wheel drive truck. A short walk took us to our departure spot - a cliff with magnificent views of the valley, the town of Aspen, and surrounding mountains and our landing spot 3000 feet below us. With dry mouth, tongue in throat, and the jitters I watched as the chutes were spread out and prepared. Then listened very closely to my pilot (Alex, the owner with 20 years of flying experience - thank God) as he explained and strapped me into the harness and then tell me what we needed to do! "Piece of cake" I bravely stuttered! I was paralyzed as I watched the experienced single flyers run and launch themselves off the cliff and gracefully fly through the air. "Wow, that's easy," I muttered as my pilot said, "yeah, but he is flying single and this is his 60th jump" - at least he made it through 59 I thought!
Since Alex is the owner of Aspen Paragliding, he always takes off last, which gave me time to watch all the other fools launch themselves successfully off the cliff, soar through the air, and nail the landing zone. Although I couldn't tell how hard they landed and if anything got broken - but the good news was I didn't see any ambulances heading to the landing zone. I heard Alex say "are you ready" and somehow "sure" escaped from my mouth and we started running toward the edge of the cliff. I know - the suspense is killing you, but to learn more about this thrilling, want-to-do-it-again adventure, you need to click on this link to .
After a smooth landing, it was off to a great breakfast where everyone kept telling me to shut up as I rambled on about what a fantastic adventure, why they needed to try it, and how I couldn't wait to experience that thrill again. That was clearly the highlight of the trip and what follows is some of the other fun things we did during this mini vacation.
Hiking The Rim Trail
A hearty breakfast was all we needed to get us ready to hike the Rim Trail in Snowmass. We laced up the hiking boots, adjusted the backpack for the youngest grand kid, grabbed some water and our hiking sticks and set out on the Rim Trail. This is a seven mile single track up and down a trail along a tall ridge in Snowmass. The views are unbelievable - panoramic vistas of Old Snowmass Valley, a lake on one side of the rim and Snowmass Village on the other, the majestic Snowmass mountain and the ski runs, and the Snowmass Golf Course. As this pudgy out of shape used to flatlands Texan huffed and puffed along the trail which is over 9,000 feet with a 700 foot vertical climb, I was shocked when three mountain biker and two joggers blew past me on the narrow twisting trail with sheer drop offs on one side of the trail. Fun and enjoyable hike. If you are a mountain biker, this is an excellent single track ride - the trail can lead you past Michael Douglas's driveway and other beautiful mansions in Snowmass.
After a few hours of hiking, we were all ready for an appetizer, cold beer, a couple margaritas, and a massage. We got everything but the massage on one of the Snowmass Village restaurant's outdoor patio. What a way to end the day. From where we sat, we could watch hikers and bikers ascending and descending some of the ski run trails. Snowmass Mountain has 17 easy to expert tails (ascents of up to 2,500') ranging from a half a mile to over 24 miles for hiking or biking. If you don't feel liking hiking uphill, then pay $10 and ride the Burlington chair lift up and hike any of the trails down. At the base of the chair lift you can rent bikes and take them up the chair lift for a fun ride down. We immediately added that to our list of things to due on Monday or Tuesday.
To The Top Of Aspen Mountain
On Sunday, we rode the Silver Queen Gondola 2.5 miles and over 3000 vertical feet to the top of the 11,212 foot summit of Aspen Mountain for some fun, food, and live bluegrass music. On the 20 minute ride straight up the mountain, near the top, I was able to point out the approximate spot where I leapt off the mountain with Alex and a parasail on my back. We also saw several hikers, dogs, motorcycles, mountain bikers, and four wheel drives headed to the top - no question, I would rather ride than hike up any of the trails. As we drank our cold beer, we watched hikers of all ages arrive huffing and puffing and sweaty.
Once you get to the top, there are lots of fun things to do. On weekends there is live music, the Sundeck offers a variety of good food, and there are plenty of things for kids and adults to do. But it's hard not to just sit in a comfy chair, soak up the sun, listen to the good music, sip a cold drink, and enjoy the unbelievable panoramic views of the Elk Mountain range. There are plenty of activities to keep you or the kids busy once you're at the top, some of which include:
- play 9 holes of disc golf - catch a thermal on one of the downhill holes and you may never see your frisbee again as it sails 3000 feet to the base of the mountain
- take one of the Guided Nature or Yoga Hikes
- try your skills and balance at the obstacle course
- build and fly a kite
- enjoy the classical music on Saturday
- make it to the top of the climbing wall
- see how high you can go on the Eurobungy Trampoline
The lodge offers several options for good food ranging from fantastic burgers to stir fry, pizza, salads, sandwiches, stews, and more. The bar serves drinks and the views from the lodge are unbelievable. From the lodge, there are several hiking trails and guided interpretive hikes. Two of our party decided to forgo the Silver Saddle Gondola ride down the mountain and hiked down - I preferred the Gondola ride down and the cold drinks and appetizers in the bar as we waited for them. Two hours later they arrived and claimed it was a fun and beautiful hike down.
Biking The Rio Grande Trail
Next up was a bike ride on the Rio Grande Trail. We rented bikes from Aspen Velo to ride the Rio Grande Trail. Aspen Velo is the place to rent bikes in Aspen - they are a half block from the Rio Grande Trail, have a great supply of excellent bikes (with soft seats!), and can give you lots of ideas on where to ride. All of the bikes seemed new and were in perfect condition. They offer bike trailers for kids, small kids bikes, cruisers, road bikes, and mountain bikes - all at very reasonable rates. Because we got there late afternoon, Aspen Velo let us return the bikes after the shop had closed for the evening. We were also impressed with their service and how quickly they got us fitted for bikes and on our way! A tribute to Michael Wampler the owner.
The Rio Grande Trail is a 40 mile tail that goes from Aspen to Glenwood Springs. We took a short but very pretty 8 mile ride along the Roaring Fork River down to the infamous Woody's Tavern for drinks and appetizers. Along the way there are several places to stop and enjoy the Roaring Fork River and the scenery is fantastic. Part of the trail is paved and other parts are dirt. Better yet, the ride to Woody's is downhill and outside of a couple uphill jaunts, you can coast most of the way and enjoy the scenery. An outstanding ride.
Woody's is one of those laid-back funky joints with good food, cold drinks, plenty of local characters, and occasional celebrities. After several drinks and a full day of fun, we weren't ready to peddle back uphill to Aspen, so we had the waitress send over Buddy who lives next door and offers bikers like us a ride back to Aspen in his big Suburban with dual bike racks and a roof rack for the bike trailers. He took the back roads into Aspen and pointed out some of the huge homes ($30 million plus) and ranches owned by some famous people and told us tall tails about Aspen. Fun ride to and from Woody's.
If you are a mountain or road biker, Aspen has to be "Biker Heaven" offering a wide choice of off road trails and scenic road rides. Here is a link to some Aspen Bike maps and descriptions. Snowmass Mountain alone has 17 easy to expert trails ranging from a half mile to over 24 miles for mountain biking.
Golf at Snowmass Village
On the way to and from Renie's Snowmass house to our various adventures, we kept passing some beautiful holes of Snowmass Club's golf course - and I couldn't wait to try and par a couple of them. Having seen what we were in for, I was excited when we teed off for what turned out to be a very fun and challenging round of golf. Snowmass is what golf is all about and what keeps golfers playing this frustrating and expensive game. Snowmass Club offers beautiful scenery, a fantastic layout, fun yet challenging holes, excellent conditions, and plenty of variety. Of course, none of that made me play any better, but it sure was fun trying. It doesn't get much better - why can't we find a course like this is Texas? To learn more about this fantastic course, read the Review of Snowmass Club.
After golf, we rounded up the the kids and headed to the base of the Snowmass ski run. We planned to ride up the Burlington chair lift up the mountain with our bikes ($10) and ride bike back down the mountain on a variety of different ski run trails. The kids would take the chair up, play around at the top, and then ride back down. We had talked to a couple people who had biked down some of the ski runs earlier in the week and they said it was a great experience - fast, challenging, scenic, and thrilling. One of them was limping from doing an end-do - head over wheels! - and rolling down a section of the slope. We were excited and ready to go only to find out that the chair lift is closed on Monday and Tuesday! Guess we'll just have to save that adventure for the next time we visit Snowmass. If you want to try this and didn't bring bikes, that's not an excuse, you can rent helmets and mountain bikes with disc brakes at the base of the chair lift in Snowmass Village.
Biking And Shopping In Aspen
We had so much fun biking on the Roaring Fork Trail we decided to spend the afternoon biking in and around Aspen - plus, the ladies needed to do some shopping for mementos of this fantastic trip. Aspen is the most bike friendly city we have visited - bike paths run throughout the city and near the square a number of side streets are closed to thru traffic and for bikes, joggers, and walking only. Aspen is loaded with beautiful homes - none of which are cookie cutter and most have unique character and interesting architecture. The square is blocked off for biking and pedestrian traffic only and it is loaded with unique shops, art galleries, restaurants with fantastic outdoor patios, and fun bars. Wagner Park, with a great playground, is a perfect place for the kids to have fun while the adults shop.
When we first arrived at Reine's house, she immediately briefed us about the bears and the need to keep the ground floor windows closed at night. Due to the scarcity of berries and fruits and other food sources, the bears have been much bolder and wandering into town and around homes in search of the food they need prior to hibernation. On our bike ride in downtown Aspen, we stopped to find out why the street was blocked off, a crowd was gathering, and the local well armed cops were patrolling the street - our initial thought was it was a standoff in one of the apartment complexes that was cordoned off. Turns out a mommy black bear was near the top of one tree and her two cubs were up another tree - they had meandered into town in search of food. For the cops and animal control, it was a waiting game in hopes the bears would come back down and head out of town. We left shortly after the two cubs descended their tree to head up the tall tree where mommy was spread out on a branch sleeping! Not sure what eventually happened.
Hiking To Maroon Bells
On the day we had to leave, we loaded the motor home early that morning and got it ready for the 19 hour trip back to Dallas. Then piled in the cars for a very scenic drive to Aspen Highlands Village to hike some of the trails at Maroon Bells. Cars have restricted access during prime time, so the only way to get to Maroon Bells is to hike, bike, or take a $6 bus ride, which was great because the driver gives you lots of good information about the mountains, terrain, avalanches, and more on the 15 minute ride. Maroon Bells is said to be the most photographed peaks in all of North America. The awesome jagged symmetry of the 14,000' peaks are surrounded by fields of wildflowers and tall majestic aspens in the glacier valley leading to Maroon Lake. Mirrored in Maroon Lake, the Maroon Bells tower like massive sentinels over the valley.
From where the bus drops you off, it's a short hike down and around the beautiful Maroon Lake. There are several other trails in the area, the two most popular are the Crater Lake Trail which is a very scenic 1.8 mile moderate hike to Crater Lake. Or the Maroon Lake Scenic 3 mile trail that meanders through the forest and along the creek providing some breathtaking panoramic views. If you are so inspired and an expert climber, you can hike and climb the treacherous Maroon Bells.
All too soon, it was time to get back down the trail and hit the road for the Big D. We were all disappointed to have to leave but excited about the opportunity to come back next year. There is so much to see and do in and around Aspen and in four days, we only scratched the surface. Here are some of the things that we would have liked to see and do:
- explore Glenwood Springs and bask in the world's largest natural hot springs pool, explore the shops, or visit some of the caves including the Yampah Spa Vapor Caves
- enjoy the beautiful scenery and majestic mountains during a hot air balloon ride
- take the grand kids to Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park for cave tours, a scenic tram ride, and other thrill rides or the Aspen Recreation Center which also has water slides, a lazy river, pools, ice rink, and more
- come back in the winter to ski Aspen Mountain, Buttermilk, Snowmass, or Aspen Highlands - all within 20 minutes of each other
- play golf at Aspen Golf Club or any of the several other beautiful courses in the area
- go horseback riding or take an off-road jeep tour
- enjoy more of the fantastic restaurants and fun Aspen nightlife at places like Belly Up, The Red Onion, J Bar at Hotel Jerome, or Lava Lounge,
- ride the rapids on any one of the raft or kayak adventures - there are lots of choices from easy kayaking to some Class IV and V rapids on the Arkansas, Colorado, or Roaring Fork river - Blazing Adventures offers a variety of rafting and other adventure trips
- play disc golf at the top of Aspen mountain or on one of the two Snowmass Mountain courses
- take the scenic 44 mile drive up highway 82 to the top of 12,095' Independence Pass and the Continental Divide - the scenery and views are supposed to be unbelievable
- see if we can avoid getting killed playing a wild game of paint ball on Snowmass Mountain at the top of the Burlington lift
- try to catch dinner during a guided fly fishing trip
- enjoy any of the many special events and live music festivals held throughout the year in Snowmass and Aspen ranging from film and art festivals to X Games