Mountain Paradise: 48 Hours in Aspen


Hiking trails range from gentle walks in the woods (remember Aspen is home to the beautiful Aspen tree) to strenuous hikes above 14,000 feet. There are even trails up the ski mountain that leave right from downtown and have the added benefit of an easy ride down in the resort's gondola.

If you want to really get close to the mountains, consider rock climbing.

Aspen's Independence Pass is minutes from downtown and offers rock climbers hundreds of routes, from the classic Edge of Time to the challenging Cryogenics. Dick Jackson, an internationally certified mountain guide and owner of Aspen Expeditions, offers private and group lessons and courses in mountaineering and rock climbing. His company provides all the equipment, and guides can walk even the most novice climber through the ropes.

It is not until you are hanging onto a rock wall with the wind whipping through your hair that you really appreciate how big and powerful the surrounding mountains are. Climbers in the pass will surely experience a shortness of breath but probably won't be able to tell if it is the altitude -- about 10,000 feet above sea level -- or the fear.

It would be an understatement at this point to say that you've worked up an appetite. Back in town, check out Explore Booksellers, which offers veggie-centric food. Consider it the perfect stop for a fresh, sustainable and organic lunch. Craving meat? Then skip the bookstore and head straight to the 520 Grill (520 East Cooper). Chicken, pulled pork and steak quesadillas fill the menu. But the real stars here are the burgers, especially the bacon burger, where the bacon is actually ground into the burger meat.

Aspen's Shopping

For those who have had enough outdoor adventure, it's time to roam Aspen's stores. Sure there are big-name designers here, but instead drop into Gorsuch, a family owned and operated store that features high-end goods ranging from upscale skiwear to rustic Italian ceramics.

For something a bit more down-to-earth, pop into Pitkin County Dry Goods, the modern equivalent of a dry goods store with plenty of clothing, leathers, belts and jewelry. Check out The Ute Mountaineer for outdoor adventure clothing and supplies, where a knowledgeable staff can help you find the right gear. For high-end artwork, or just a dab of culture, pop into the Baldwin Gallery.

Finally, don't miss The Thrift Shop (312 East Hyman Ave.), the city's oldest second-hand store with an extensive collection of clothing, furniture and other items donated by Aspen residents. Sales benefiting local non-profit organizations. Remember: what might be used junk to the rich and famous could be a real find for you.

Biking in the Rocky Mountains

Now that you've hit up the stores, remember why you came here: the amazing mountains. Grab a bike and explore.

Lance Armstrong trains in Aspen, and that's no accident. The road conditions are amazing, and most drivers are acutely aware of cyclists on the few occasions when they are forced to share the road.

Some rides, such as the road to the Maroon Bells, are void of vehicles during certain hours and perfect for roadies looking for high-altitude training. (The Maroon Bells are the most photographed peaks in North America and are worth a visit regardless of whether you bike, hike or drive.)

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