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Top summer activities to do with kids in Aspen Snowmass, Colorado

Top summer activities to do with kids in Aspen Snowmass, Colorado

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10 Things to do around Aspen Snowmass during summer family vacation

I’m gonna shoot you straight. I forever thought family vacations to places like Aspen, Colorado in the Rocky Mountains were meant for very affluent families and movie stars.

But late last summer, from our primitive campsite near Twin Lakes, our family took the hair-raising, breath-taking drive over Independence Pass to Aspen.

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This un-showered fam of six descended on Aspen loaded with curiosity, and desperately in search of ice cream. Having just turned newbie Colorado residents 12 months prior, I still wasn’t aware the famous Maroon Bells were in Aspen’s backyard. So much to learn!

Since that first day trip to Aspen, I’ve been back twice already: once with our family and friends this past July, and back again with girlfriends on our annual Mom’s Mountain Getaway in September.

Without further ado, here are some of our favorite outdoor adventures and things to do with your kids and teens in the Aspen and Snowmass area. Plus, at the end of this post, I highlight inexpensive lodging and sleeping accommodations for thrifty, budget-conscious families like ours.

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Adventures with kids and teens around Aspen Snowmass

  1. Drive Independence Pass

I know a scenic drive isn’t usually at the top of your kids’ list of fun activities, but if you’re coming into Aspen from the east on your summer vacation, chances are your GPS will send you right along Independence Pass to get there.

Between Twin Lakes and Aspen, Independence Pass is Colorado’s third highest mountain pass. With an elevation of 12,095 ft along the Continental Divide, this pass is only open Memorial Day through about the first week of November.

Stop at the top of Independence Pass (parking lot and basic toilets), hike a minute to take in a 360 view, snap some awesome photos, use the loo, then hop back in the vehicle to enjoy even more gorgeous views all the way down to Aspen.

Drivers keep their eyes on the road steering clear bicyclists and sheer drop-offs while passengers soak in the view. Completely discourage your kids from reading or being on their devices, unless they enjoy tossing their “cookies.”

Learn more about Independence Pass here.

2. Biking along the Rio Grande Trail

We brought our bikes along, but there are places to rent bicycles and more in Aspen too. Try Aspen Bike Tours & Rentals located on South Spring Street.

The guys there directed our group of 10 (including novice riders) towards a section of the Rio Grande Trail that follows the Roaring Fork River. A gorgeous, easy-going ride with plenty of cool spots for picnics.

If you’re into more technical, thrilling mountain biking adventures, check out Snowmass Bike Park.

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3. Maroon Bells day hike

This hike to the most photographed mountains in North America is totally worth an early morning if you’re looking for the best photo ops and prefer to drive up Maroon Creek Road to snag yourself a free, parking spot nearest the trails.*

Maroon Lake sits just beyond the Maroon Bells Visitor Center. An easy going scenic trail is great for families with small children or mobility issues.

The 1.8 moderate hike up to Crater Lake is icing on the cake. Our kids ages 9 to 16 hiked this easily. Sitting at the base of the 14,000 foot peaks of the Maroon Bells, Crater Lake dries up towards the end of the summer, but we lucked out with a relaxing picnic lunch and plenty of stone skipping before beating the afternoon thunderstorm.

*Typically past 8 am in the summer, the Maroon Bells parking lot is already full and your next choice is to park at Aspen Highlands (small fee) and buy a ticket for each person in your group to hop on the Maroon Bells bus for the 20 minute scenic ride to the visitor center. Consider going during the week, as the weekends are very busy.

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4. Take the Silver Queen gondola up to the Aspen Summit

Spend the day at 11,325 feet at the top of Aspen. Buy your lift tickets in downtown Aspen at the base of the Silver Queen gondola and treat yourself to the following:

  • Sundeck Restaurant - casual dining

  • Live music on the weekends

  • Summer hiking trails

  • Disc golf

  • Lawn Games – giant chess and checkers, corn hole, ladder toss, croquet and more.

  • Free kids activities - spirit nests, sandbox, and more

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5. Heart pumping adventure at Snowmass Lost Forest and more

Looking for more adrenaline rush activities? Take a ride on the Elk Camp Gondola in Snowmass instead and enjoy:

  • Lost Forest (Treeline Trial Challenge Course, Breathtaker Alpine Coaster, Canopy Run Zipline Tour, Rugged Ascent Climbing Wall, Aerial Approach Disc Golf, Elevated Journey Hiking Trail, and Maroon Vista)

  • Snowmass Bike Park

  • Elk Camp Restaurant

  • Summer hiking trails

  • ACES Naturalist hikes

6. Aspen Whitewater Rafting

Aspen Whitewater Rafting offers all kinds of rafting and SUP opportunities. Choose between mild, adventurous, and wild whitewater rafting runs on the Roaring Fork River or the Arkansas River. Or opt for inflatable kayak trips.

While we just completed our first full family rafting trip with Noah’s in Buena Vista this summer, we haven’t done any rafting in the Aspen area. Check out Aspen Whitewater Rafting here.

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7. Castle Creek Road to Pine Creek Cookhouse

A local tipped us off to this gorgeous 12 mile scenic drive. Just hop on Castle Creek Road off the same roundabout that also send you on your way to Maroon Creek Road.

Near the end of this beautiful drive, Ashcroft Ghost Town pops up eleven miles in, and the Pine Creek Cookhouse awaits.

Self-described as “locally sourced American cuisine served in a remote log cabin with a cozy vibe & mountain views,” you must at least share an appetizer and a beer or two. Aim to sit out on the patio to soak up the views. Make a reservation for lunch or dinner here.

Pearl Pass rests at the end of Castle Creek Rd, where hiking, primitive camping, and 4x4 trails await.

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8. Day trip to Hanging Lake in Glenwood Springs

Just a bit over an hour away from Aspen and well worth the drive sits Hanging Lake in Glenwood Springs.

A crystal-clear turquoise lake that literally hangs from the cliffs of Glenwood Canyon makes the challenging 1.2 mile hike with a 1,000 feet elevation gain completely worth it. The trail is quite rocky and steep, so please wear sturdy hiking boots or tennis shoes. Bring lots of water (no potable water available) and snacks. Allow at least 3 hours with kids.

Allow time to hike just a tad further beyond Hanging Lake up to Spouting Rock. Especially on a warm day, Spouting Rock is very fun and refreshing!

Tips: Go during the week to avoid large crowds. In 2019, Glenwood Springs plans to implement a fee-based reservation and permit system for visiting Hanging Lake. You can learn more here.

9. Shopping

About 30 minutes of window shopping is more my style, but if you’ve got a shopper or two in the group, Aspen has everything from thrift stores to high-end boutiques. Peek at Aspen’s Shopping Guide here.

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10. Indulge in gelato at Paradise Bakery

Remember I said we descended on Aspen in search of ice cream? We found something even better: gelato at Paradise Bakery.

This tiny gem hits the spot every time. Made from scratch and baked fresh daily, the cookies, muffins, croissants, brownies, and more are also quite tantalizing.

Psssst: You get a small free cookie with your gelato! And on a warm day, the lemonade freeze is just as refreshing as the lemon sorbet. (320 S. Galena St.) For a complete guide to eating in Aspen, visit eatAspen.com.

Where to stay around Aspen

Looking for a sweet spot to lay your heads all in one place? Ten of us (two families) stayed in this awesome home with killer views in Snowmass Village.

Favor tent camping or own a camper van? My favorite campground is currently Silver Bell just a few miles down from the Maroon Bells.

The best part about camping in Silver Bell, or one of the other campgrounds along Maroon Creek Road, is you have instant, free access and all-day driving privileges to and from the Maroon Bells. No bus for you!

Have you been to Aspen Snowmass? What is your favorite thing to do there?

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