I love off-season travel. There are less visitors to compete with, the locals are less harried and happier, the weather is often moderate, and prices are more affordable. We first discovered off-season Aspen about five years ago when looking for an affordable quick vacation. We instantly fell in love, and have made it (nearly) an annual event. There was a specific moment from our first visit that still resonates with me. We were hiking and passed a friendly group on one of Aspen’s many hiking trails. As we parted, going different directions, one of them said “Happy Off-Season!” Affordable off-season Aspen is welcoming, beautiful, peaceful, and restorative. Yes, you can visit Aspen without breaking the bank, and you’ll love it!
Stretch Your Vacation Dollars
Let’s face it: Aspen is usually a very expensive destination. During the heart of summer or ski season lodging prices can be out of the range of many vacation budgets, including ours. During the weeks between those seasons, however, lodging prices decrease immensely. If you want to go the traditional hotel route, you can watch for discounts on the big travel sites. If there’s a specific hotel you like, be sure to check their website directly for even better deals. I’ve also had good luck finding deals on Aspen’s tourism website: aspensnowmass.com. Sadly, our favorite hotel (Sky Hotel) was recently demolished to make we way for something new. We don’t have another favorite yet, but this year we went with a condo so we could have a kitchen and not have to eat out as much.
Budget Restaurant Picks
One of the downsides to off-season travel is that some restaurants are closed for most of November. Although you may not be able to try all of Aspen’s fine dining establishments, some of the restaurants that stay open have special deals in an attempt to drive in more traffic. In our experience, however, it’s some of the less expensive eateries that are our favorites. These are the kind of places that are recommended by locals, and more importantly also frequented by them. EatAspen.com is a great resource for restaurant closures, off-season hours, and special deals.
Here are my top cheap eats:
- New York Pizza: Order a slice or two, have a beer, and watch the locals. This pizza is good! They know how to make crust!
- Zane’s Tavern: Another local hangout that’s THE place to watch a game and have a beer. They have great burgers and sandwiches. This time, we tried the fried mac and cheese bites and were not disappointed. We are so healthy! In our defense, we were walking A LOT.
- Big Wrap: For something a little more healthy, try a wrap or smoothie at Big Wrap. This is mostly a take out place, so find a bench or picnic table and enjoy your lunch alfresco. I had the Garden of Eden: a spinach wrap filled with chicken, quinoa, veggies, and feta.
- Make it yourself. Aspen is a walkable city, so even if you are staying within town and don’t have a car, you can easily walk to a grocery store.
- Mezzaluna: Lovely Italian restaurant. I had the special, which was trout served with spinach and pea and pepper purees. They have a great wine list too.
- L’Hostaria: Another wonderful Italian restaurant with a more intimate feel. We didn’t visit this trip, but we’ve never been disappointed.
- J-Bar at the Hotel Jerome: Although you can go for dinner, I highly recommend drinks and dessert in this historic bar. We had the spiced beignets with burnt coffee sauce, which were amazing. Make sure to ask your server about the history of the building, and check out the original bar from 1889. J-Bar is more moderately priced, but not what I would call a cheap eat.
Off-season adventuring does have some limitations. Early snowfalls may make some trails impassible and roads to popular destinations like Maroon Bells usually close sometime in November. Nevertheless, there are plenty of trails and activities in or near town that will keep you busy and give you a taste of the awesome landscape of the Colorado mountains.
Aspen is a wonderland of both paved walking/biking trails and those that take you off the beaten path. Paved trails along the Roaring Fork River are a good option if it’s been snowing or raining, or if you are struggling with the elevation. The East of Apsen trail is another easy route, although parts are unpaved. It’s a nice hike out to the North Star Preserve to hopefully see some wildlife. The Ute Trail is challenging, but with beautiful rewards. Due to the steep elevations, I don’t recommend this one unless you like a challenge. Give your body some time to adjust to the altitude before tackling it. The Hunter Creek trail is another favorite. It also has some elevation to it, and you will be climbing over a lot of boulders. I recommend a walking stick and lots of water. Even on cool days, the dry air and altitude will have you frequently reaching for your water bottle. Several trails, including the Ute Trail, were closed during our recent visit, so be sure to check on current conditions.
Along the way to the East of Aspen Trail or Ute Trail, stop by the 1880 Ute Cemetery. Most of those buried there were Civil War veterans. It’s a peaceful place to ponder the history of the area and pay respects to some of Aspen’s early residents.
John Denver Sanctuary
This beautiful park space is one of the most touching and peaceful memorials I’ve ever visited. Knowing how much the late John Denver connected with Colorado and its natural environment, this park is the perfect tribute. The park includes streams, ponds, waterfalls, and plant life, and is dotted with giant rocks that are carved with beautiful messages and song lyrics. We typically visit several times during our Aspen pilgrimages.
Aspen Volunteer Fire Department Museum
This small museum explores the history of the community’s volunteer fire department, which was founded in 1881. It’s a fun activity on days when the weather may not be cooperating. You can read my full blog post about it here. While you are there, visit the Aspen Thrift Shop next door. Although I haven’t found any treasures there, sometimes it’s about the hunt.
And More. . .
Beyond Aspen’s borders there are even more opportunities for exploring the beauty of this spectacular place. This is just the begining.
Have you visited Aspen? Tell me about your favorite places and activities.