Luxury Travel Advisor just got back from a weekend in Aspen, and we've rounded up our top picks for how to celebrate spring in the mountain town. Over the past two days we checked into the St. Regis Aspen and visited top restaurants and bike trails around town.
Breakfast on day three was a quick trip to Victoria's, an Australian-style cafe that serves coffee, wraps and eggs. Since the weather was too good to waste, we took our breakfast up to the Maroon Bells for an impromptu picnic. This spectacular mountain range above a lake is 15 to 20 minutes from Aspen by car or bus, or a 1 hour bike ride with significant uphill sections. It pays to arrive early: the Bells are closed to cars from 9am to 5pm, and some groups were just starting to arrive as we were leaving, around 10:30.
In addition to hiking and biking trails around the lake, the Bells are also the jumping-off point for two trails that run all the way to Crested Butte: one easier, and one harder. The hike to Crested Butte takes between six and nine hours, depending on the pace, and many groups opt to hike one way and then either carpool or arrange a shuttle back. Closer to the summer, the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES) sponsors free guides in the area to answer traveler questions about the plants and wildlife.
Another offbeat option: the nearby T Lazy 7 Ranch offers horseback rides up to the Bells, as well as weddings on the ranch's property.
Back in Aspen we got a chance to meet with an ACES guide for a nature hike up Hunter Creek. ACES guides, whom advisors can book through the ACES website at www.aspennature.org, offer travelers a chance to learn about the plants and wildlife in the Aspen area, as well as about environmental issues impacting the local community. We hiked up Hunter Creek nearly to the top - around 9,000 feet - and soon the Center will begin offering hikes along the top of the trail, at around 12,000 - 13,000 feet.
We also got a chance to check out the ACES 25 acre Nature Preserve, which advisors can also book for guided walks through the website. The Preserve also doubles as a raptor rescue center, so guests will get the chance to meet up close any birds of prey that may be on site during their visit. We got to meet a golden eagle.
For lunch, we opted for another picnic atop the gondola that runs up Aspen Mountain. At the top is a sundeck and restaurant with an outdoor area that during the spring and summer plays host to free live music on weekends from around 1pm to 4pm - Saturdays are classical music and on Sundays, bluegrass.
The area atop the gondola also has a kids' area with a trampoline, and another deck that looks out to Aspen Highlands that can serve as a dramatic backdrop for a destination wedding. Advisors interested in this venue can book through Aspen Skiing Company. When it isn't serving as a wedding venue, travelers can also take part in free yoga here on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
After lunch we visited the Wheeler / Stallard Museum, which is run by the Aspen Historical Society. Housed in an historic Aspen mansion, guests at the Wheeler / Stallard Museum can learn about Apen's history, from its boom-bust years as a silver mining town to its growth into a thriving mountain community. The Historical Society also offers Electric Vehicle tours of Aspen, walking tours of Aspen's West End (home to many more historic mansions), a tour of the Hotel Jerome and, new this season, a tour of the historic spaces on nearby Smuggler Mountain by Jeep and trail.
The Historical Society is also happy to arrange special activities for groups - advisors should ask for Nina Gabianelli at 970-925-3721.
Dinner that night was at Jimmy's, a lively bar with one of the few second-floor eating spaces in town. In addition to its menu of American fare, Jimmy's is known for its cocktails, which are made with freshly squeezed juice on site.
Breakfast the next morning was at the Spring Cafe, a vegetarian restaurant that is a little over a year old. It is known for its house-made granola and egg dishes.