Review and photos by Brendan McAleer

A place where the beer flows like wine; a place where women instinctively flock like the Salmon of Capistrano. A little place called Aspen, Colorado.

White River National Forest
Aspen, Colorado
Aspen, Colorado
Aspen, Colorado. Click image to enlarge

Hmm. That’s probably enough Dumb & Dumber for now.

Welcome to Aspen, a ski destination settled high in the Rockies that’s more than just your usual winter playground for the well-heeled. In fact, the town has a reputation for being a haven of counter-culture: John Denver’s songs about Aspen caused many to flock to the back-to-nature style of living in the 1970s and the infamous Hunter S. Thompson even lived here.

In the winter, it’s of course a place to shred deep powder and then soak in the hot tub. In the summer months, however, there are plenty of other charms to be found in and around the city.

Despite the altitude, Aspen is a very bike-friendly town. The high mountains hem in the settlement such that everything’s within easy cycling distance and there are a well-developed series of trails.

Runners and walkers will also find plenty to explore, and can take the trails out to the John Denver Sanctuary. This is not, as I initially thought, a place where wild John Denvers are nursed back to health until such time as they can be released back into the wilderness, but rather a peaceful sort of place. Huge stones are placed at intervals with the lyrics to many of the songwriters best-known works – surely a mecca for his fans.

Hiking is also a popular activity in and around Aspen, though even experienced explorers should expect the thinner air to make the climb a little more challenging. The drive out to White River National Forest is gorgeous, with the eponymous aspen trees lining the sides of the road and huge, jagged and snow-capped peaks rising up ahead of you.

These are the Maroon Bells – the most photographed mountains in the continental United States. There are several easy trails here, all of which offer breathtaking views, and for the less adventurous, an easy stroll around a glass-smooth alpine lake provides a great leg-stretch prior to picnicking down by the snowmelt-fed stream.

Of course, there’s more than one way to get to the top of a mountain – if you’ve no interest in grabbing your pitons and ice-axe, better to just take the Silver Queen Gondola straight up Aspen’s main peak (known among locals as Ajax). It’s a fifteen-minute ride that feels more like forty-five, swaying up high over dry ski-runs until you reach the roof of the world.

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