Aspen is best known for its world-class ski resorts and premium après-ski nights in the winter, but there is something magical happening in Aspen in the fall: the foliage is starting to turn from green to gold, the weather is cool and chilly and you can enjoy the vast landscapes before the ski season crowds.
This is also the best time to take advantage of the reduced accommodation rates. The bustling mountain town is a great outdoor playground, so you can hike in the morning, watch the leaves in the afternoon, and top your evening with Aspen’s vibrant food scene.
Aspen welcomes a host of new restaurants this fall, including CATCH Steak, Fort Lauderdale’s Italian restaurant Casa D’Angelo, Harper and Hudson for casual dining, and the famous West Village restaurant Dante, who began a one-year residency at the Chef’s Club at St. Regis Aspen.
Here are a few other things to check out in Aspen during the fall, along with tips on how to get there and where to stay.
Getting to Aspen
Fly to Aspen in luxury aboard Aero – Photo courtesy of Aero
There are a limited number of non-stop flights to and from Aspen / Pitkin County Airport, with United and American Airlines as the primary carriers serving Aspen during the fall season. New semi-private luxury airline Aero, which launched in 2020, is a convenient alternative and costs less than you might think.
Aero offers service between Los Angeles and Aspen, with one-way flights starting at around $ 1,400. The custom-designed jet black planes feature hand-stitched Italian leather seats, state-of-the-art ambient lighting and a custom audio system.
Planes also fly between private terminals for a smoother experience, and every traveler on board has access to dedicated hosts who can help book ground transportation and meet requests for special in-flight amenities.
Where to stay
VRBO in downtown Aspen – Photo courtesy of VRBO
Aspen offers a number of charming luxury hotels in town, but during peak weekends and special events such as FOOD & WINE Classic accommodation can be extremely limited. For longer stays, large groups or if you prefer a little more privacy, check out VRBO, where you can find well-equipped condos and spacious vacation home rentals conveniently located in the downtown area.
Rentals may also include hotel-style amenities such as a hot tub, swimming pool, fitness center, and shuttle service. You might even come across luxury condo listings from St. Regis Residences so that you can enjoy accommodation that feels like home with the full service provided by a luxury hotel.
Discover the 38th edition of the FOOD & WINE Classic in Aspen
FOOD & WINE Classic has been an Aspen tradition for decades – Photo courtesy of Ken Goodman / FOOD & WINE
Every year, the world’s most famous chefs, winemakers and culinary experts come together for the FOOD & WINE Classic in the idyllic setting of the Aspen mountain ranges. This year’s star-studded event will be held September 10-12 with an impressive lineup that includes Martha Stewart, Carla Hall, Guy Fieri and Brooke Williamson, as well as many other acclaimed chefs and rising stars.
The gastronomic extravagance kicks off with cooking demonstrations, wine pairings, tastings and unique offerings at local restaurants during the day, and with exclusive evening events hosted by Bacardi, S.Pellegrino and more. In 2022, the festival will revert to its original June dates.
Hike to the brown bells
Fly fishing on Maroon Lake offers panoramic views of Maroon Bells – Photo courtesy of Zach Maraziti
Revered for its natural beauty, Brown Bells is one of the most photographed places in Colorado, and fall is without a doubt the best time to visit. The twin peaks – which peak at 14,000 feet tall – change color with the seasons and reflect off glistening Maroon Lake, creating a beautiful image that captures the true essence of the Rocky Mountains.
Choose from pet-friendly hiking trails that offer panoramic views of majestic mountains, surrounded by vast fields of wildflowers and aspen trees. Reservations are required to park your car or take the RFTA shuttle (exceptions include cyclists and e-bikes) between mid-May and mid-October.
Try the J Burger at J Bar
J Bar’s J Burger is consistently rated one of Aspen’s best burgers – Photo courtesy of Auberge Resorts Collection
J bar is a casual gastro pub inside the Jerome Hotel, Aspen’s crown jewel and year-round social hub for locals and visitors alike. No trip to Aspen is complete without a stop at the bar for their famous burger, always recognized as one of the best in town.
A thick, juicy beef patty is sandwiched between a homemade brioche bun (with the option of adding bacon and grilled onions) and served with fries. Be sure to wash it all down with one of J Bar’s signature cocktails like Aspen Crud, complete with freshly made vanilla bourbon infused ice cream.
Order a personalized cowboy hat at Kemo Sabe
Customize your own Western-inspired style at Kemo Sabe Aspen – Photo courtesy of Alexis Ahrling
Let out your inner cowgirl or cowboy and find all the western clothes you need to dress the room in Aspen. From belts to cowboy boots and hats, Kémo Sabé is the best place to buy western clothes. You can customize the hats to your liking and choose every detail down to the feather, and you can even have your initials stamped for a more personal touch.
The staff are attentive and provide a personalized shopping experience to ensure you find exactly what you are looking for. Since the pandemic, Kemo Sabe has reduced in-store capacity, so there is almost always a queue outside the store. The best time to visit is right when they open.
You can also book a special event at the intimate upstairs bar, which is usually reserved for guests and private events year-round.
Have sushi in Matsuhisa
Sushi might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a mountain town, but it sure should be: Matsuhisa is one of the hot spots in downtown Aspen. Located in a Victorian-style house, Matsuhisa Aspen was Chief Nobu Matsuhisa’s second outpost before opening Nobu.
You can expect to see iconic dishes like yellow tail sashimi with jalapeño, shrimp tempura with a creamy spicy sauce, and black cod with miso. Reserve a table downstairs where the atmosphere is lively and enjoy people watching.
Cultivate yourself at the Aspen Art Museum
A lattice screen of paper, resin and wood veneer envelops two of the facades of the Aspen Art Museum – Photo courtesy of Aspen Art Museum. © Michael Moran / OTTO
You can’t miss the Aspen Art Museum in the heart of downtown with its eye-catching trellis design by Shigeru Ban. The Contemporary Art Museum features paintings, sculptures, multimedia art, rotating exhibitions, and monthly discussions with artists. Be sure to stop by the rooftop SO Café for casual afternoon snacks and views of Aspen Mountain. Entrance to the museum is free.
Climb the Independence Pass to the caves
The cave trail, dazzling rock formations and majestic waterfalls await you in Aspen – Photo courtesy of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association
The road on highway 82 towards Independence Pass is absolutely breathtaking between summer and early fall. As spectacular as the terrain views are, the route is not for the faint of heart. Hairpin turns require extra care and also cause road closures, typically between early to mid-November and the Thursday before Memorial Day weekend due to inclement weather.
Park in the designated Grottos Trail lot off of Highway 82, which will take you directly to the trailhead. Look for the signs for ‘ice cave’ and follow the path leading to the beautiful rock formations. If you pass a little further from the cave, it will take you to the Cascades: a series of waterfalls that flow into the Roaring Fork River.
Lunch at the Meat & Cheese restaurant
Meat & Cheese is not just a restaurant; it is also a specialized food store – Photo courtesy of Jim Paussa
Meat and cheese restaurant is a specialized marketplace as much as a restaurant. Stock up on picnic essentials like cold meats, cheese, fresh breads, and other condiments for your pantry, then head to the cozy restaurant and bar.
The world-inspired menu showcases local ingredients, as evidenced by eclectic dishes like vegan tom yum, roast chicken plank, and couscous tabbouleh. The menu is determined by what’s in season, and if you see any tacos listed, they’re a must. Reservations are not accepted at Meat & Cheese, so expect a queue during peak hours.
Take a Pilates class at Higher Terrain Fitness
Superior fitness offers both classic Pilates on the Reformer for all levels and the Lagree Method on the Megaformer. The Lagree Method is a 45 minute high intensity, low impact workout that works the whole body and is unlike any Pilates class you might be used to. If you’re looking for a stimulating indoor workout, check out this studio which is also Aspen’s only Lagree fitness studio.