Aspen is best known for its world-class ski resorts and upscale après-ski parties during the winter, but there is something magical that happens in Aspen during the fall: the foliage begins to change from green to golden hues, the weather is crisp and cool and you can enjoy the vast landscapes ahead of the ski season crowds.
It’s also the best time to take advantage of the reduced lodging rates. The vibrant mountain town is one big, outdoor playground, so you can go hiking in the morning, leaf peeping in the afternoon and top off your evening with Aspen’s vibrant culinary scene.
Aspen welcomes a slew of new restaurants this fall, including CATCH Steak, Fort Lauderdale-based Italian restaurant Casa D’ Angelo, Harper & Hudson for casual dining, and the famed West Village restaurant Dante, which started a year-long residency at the Chef’s Club at the St. Regis Aspen.
Here are some more things to check out in Aspen during the fall, as well as 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 limited nonstop flights to and from Aspen/Pitkin County Airport, with United and American Airlines as the main carriers that fly to 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 around $1,400. The custom-designed jet-black aircrafts feature hand-stitched Italian leather seats, state-of-the-art mood lighting and a custom sound system.
Aircrafts also fly between private terminals for a more seamless experience, and every traveler on board has access to dedicated hosts that can assist with booking ground transportation and fulfilling special in-flight amenity requests.
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, accommodations may be extremely limited. For long term stays, larger 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 center of town.
Rentals may also include hotel-like amenities such as a hot tub, pool, fitness center and shuttle service. You might even stumble upon luxury condo listings from the St. Regis Residences so that you can enjoy accommodations that feel like home with the full service provided by a luxury hotel.
Check out the 38th Annual 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 celebrated chefs, winemakers and culinary experts come together for the FOOD & WINE Classic set against the idyllic backdrop of the Aspen mountain ranges. This year, the star-studded event will be hosted on September 10-12 with an impressive lineup that includes Martha Stewart, Carla Hall, Guy Fieri and Brooke Williamson, as well as many other renowned chefs and rising stars.
The foodie extravaganza kicks off with cooking demonstrations, wine pairings, tastings and unique offerings at local restaurants during the day, and with exclusive events in the evenings hosted by Bacardi, S.Pellegrino and more. In 2022, the festival will return to its original June dates.
Hike Maroon Bells
Fly fishing on Maroon Lake offers scenic views of Maroon Bells — Photo courtesy of Zach Maraziti
Revered for its natural beauty, Maroon Bells is one of the most photographed places in Colorado, and fall is undoubtedly the best time to visit. The twin peaks – which tower at 14,000 feet high – change colors with the seasons and reflect over the glistening Maroon Lake, creating a beautiful image that captures the true essence of the Rocky Mountains.
Choose from pet-friendly hiking trails that offer scenic views of the 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 to mid-October.
Try the J Burger at J Bar
The J Burger at J Bar is consistently ranked among Aspen’s best burgers — Photo courtesy of Auberge Resorts Collection
J Bar is a casual gastropub inside the Hotel Jerome, Aspen’s crown jewel and a 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, consistently recognized as one of the town’s best.
A thick, juicy beef patty is sandwiched between a house-made brioche bun (with the option to add bacon and griddled onions) and served with fries. Make sure to wash it all down with one of J Bar’s signature cocktails like the Aspen Crud, with freshly-made vanilla ice cream infused with bourbon.
Order a custom 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 wear you need to dress the part in Aspen. From belts to cowboy boots and hats, Kemo Sabe is the best place to shop for western attire. You can customize hats to your liking and choose every last detail down to the feather, and you can even get your initials branded for a more personal touch.
The staff is attentive and offers a personalized shopping experience to make sure you find just what you’re looking for. Since the pandemic, Kemo Sabe has reduced in-store capacity, so there is almost always a line outside the store. The best time to visit is right when they open.
You can also book a special event at the intimate bar upstairs, which is typically reserved for clients and private events year-round.
Have sushi at Matsuhisa
Sushi might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a mountain town, but it definitely should be: Matsuhisa is one of downtown Aspen’s hot spots. Set inside a Victorian-style house, Matsuhisa Aspen was the second outpost for Chef Nobu Matsuhisa before he went on to open Nobu.
You can expect to see signature dishes like yellowtail sashimi with jalapeño, tempura rock shrimp with creamy spicy sauce, and the black cod with miso. Book a table downstairs where the vibe is buzzing, and enjoy people-watching.
Get cultured at Aspen Art Museum
A latticed screen of paper, resin and wood veneer wraps two of the Aspen Art Museum’s façades — 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 lattice design by Shigeru Ban. The contemporary art museum features paintings, sculptures, multimedia art, rotating exhibits and monthly talks with artists. Don’t forget to stop by the SO Café on the rooftop for casual afternoon bites and views of Aspen Mountain. Admission to the museum is free.
Drive up the Independence Pass to the Grottos
Grottos Trail, dazzling rock formations and majestic waterfalls await in Aspen — Photo courtesy of Aspen Chamber Resort Association
The drive on Highway 82 towards Independence Pass is absolutely breathtaking between the summer and early fall. As spectacular as the views of the terrain are, the road is not for the faint of heart. Hairpin turns require extra precaution 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 lot for Grottos Trail off of Highway 82, which will take you right to the trailhead. Look for the signs that say “ice cave,” and follow the path to the magnificent rock formations. If you walk a little further past the cave, it will lead you to the Cascades: a series of waterfalls that pour into the Roaring Fork River.
Have lunch at Meat & Cheese Restaurant
Meat & Cheese isn’t just a restaurant; it’s also a specialty food store — Photo courtesy of Jim Paussa
Meat & Cheese Restaurant is a specialty marketplace just as much as it is a restaurant. Stock up on picnic essentials like charcuterie, cheese, freshly baked bread and other condiments for your pantry, and then make your way to the cozy restaurant and bar.
The globally-inspired menu highlights local ingredients, as seen in eclectic dishes like the vegan tom yum, rotisserie chicken board and cous cous taboulleh. The menu is driven by what’s in season, and if you see tacos listed, they’re a must. Reservations are not accepted at Meat & Cheese, so expect a line during peak hours.
Take a Pilates class at Higher Terrain Fitness
Higher Terrain 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 full body and is unlike any Pilates class you might be used to. If you’re looking for a challenging indoor workout, check out this studio which is also Aspen’s only Lagree fitness studio.