"When someone comes to Aspen, I think they first arrive for the glitz and glamour," "Good Morning America" viewer Tessa Lemke, wrote in nominating the western Colorado town as her "Most Beautiful Place in America."
"That subsides when you discover the real reason that people live here: the unmatched beauty of Aspen and the surrounding area," she wrote.
Describing the "gorgeous skies, lakes, rivers, falls, flowers and mountains" that "literally take your breath away," Lemke, of Carbondale, Colo., described Aspen as having a "wow" factor that keeps visitors coming.
"People come for the winters ... but stay for the summers," she wrote.
It's true that Aspen has long been known as the winter playground of Hollywood stars like Mariah Carey and Goldie Hawn, but Lemke is right that this authentic Rocky Mountain town offers far more than just glitz and glam, at anytime of the year.
The biggest problem a visitor to Aspen may encounter is how exactly to do it all. With more than 300 days of sunshine a year, to really take Aspen in, you've got to get active, and get outdoors.
Ready, set, go. Here are the three top ways to see the beauty and grandeur of Aspen.
|On Foot: Hike or Ski|
Aspen's four seasons give being outdoors a whole new meaning, whether it's downhill skiing in untouched snow or hiking through aspen groves and more than 2,000 miles of trails when the snow clears.
Aspen Snowmass offers four mountains in the area, all on the same lift ticket and all offering something a bit different for each type of skier. There's Aspen Mountain for the adventurous skier, Buttermilk for the beginner and Snowmass for families, while Aspen Highlands is a favorite of locals.
With peaks as high as 14,000-feet, the Maroon Bells are considered the most photographed peaks in all of North America. For more adventurous and skilled skiers, ski mountaineering, where you hike up the mountain with skis on your back and then ski back down the mountain, is a popular activity on the Maroon Bells.
In the spring and summer, the Maroon Bells became a postcard-worthy destination for wildflowers and miles of hills and hiking trails to peruse, or conquer.
For a slower pace, miles and miles of public trails have made Aspen known as a Nordic skier's nirvana, and a great way to see the town in the winter. An added bonus: the Aspen Golf Course turns into a cross-country track in the winter!
|So Many Ways to Bike|
Whether it's a mountain bike ride in the backcountry, or road biking down the Rio Grande Trail or up Independence Pass, Aspen is a biking Mecca. If you make it to Aspen in the summer, you can head straight to the Maroon Bells where the road is closed to most vehicular traffic during the day, transforming it into the perfect place to enjoy biking.
The Rio Grande Trail is perfect for bikers looking for a slower-pace and picture-perfect scenery along the Roaring Fork River. One of the most popular rides among locals is the ascent up Smuggler Mountain where you'll be rewarded at the top with a bird's-eye view of Aspen from the lookout platform.
For the adventurous, the famed 10th Mountain Hut Division manages a system of 29 backcountry huts in Colorado, connected by 350 miles of suggested routes, many of which offer amazing mountain bike treks.
Meanwhile, for history buffs, the Aspen Historical Society offers 90-minute bike tours through town, touching on the area's mining past.
You have to stay on two wheels to see the area by land. You can also rest your legs and use the energy of the area's four-legged friends, whether dog-sledding or horseback riding. Seeing the local landscape on horseback, just as the area's first settlers did, is a true treat, and, in true Aspen-style, local outfitters will teach you to ride the right way, complete with wranglers and more.
And, if you're up for a more modern approach to sightseeing, you can hop on a moped to zip around, or see the town standing up, on a guided Segway tour.
|On the Water|
Aspen's epic powder days in winter turn to amazing rafting opportunities come spring and summer. The mountain-fed whitewater provides a thrilling ride for rafters, and there's no shortage of tour companies to guide you down the rivers' sometimes treacherous paths. The waters of the Roaring Fork River, in particular, are perfect for all levels of rafters, offering both Class II and Class III rapids and the scenery of the surrounding red rock cliffs in Snowmass Canyon.
If you're up for more fun on the Roaring Fork River, you should consider trying stand-up paddleboarding.
While the rapids provide adventure, on the opposite end, Aspen's peaceful streams offer some of the best fly fishing in the world. After Aspen's famous powder has melted, popular waters like the Roaring Fork, the Reudi Reservoir and the Frying Pan steal the show with wadeable waters and trophy-worthy trout measured in "pounds" instead of "inches."
The best time to target these waters is in late summer, August and September, or early spring. Accessing the waters through the national forest or hiking up a trailhead will bring you to public water, and the Roaring Fork, Frying Pan and Reudi Reservoir are all easily accessible, too.