There's no question that once a visitor arrives in Aspen, they will be blown away by the myriad of things going on in town. The endless dining options, renowned nightlife, world-class cultural events, and pristine trails to explore via foot or wheel are well documented. One aspect of the Aspen experience that deserves a bit more attention is how to get here. With highways that are lined with jagged cliffs, winding roads over high-alpine passes, and deserted back-roads from the desert, accessing Aspen can be nearly as memorable as the time spent once you arrive. Here are 5 drives to Aspen that double as terrific day trips:
INDEPENDENCE PASS IS CLOSED NOVEMBER 17, 2017 for the season. Check cotrip.org for up-to-date information.
Drives from Denver to Aspen
1. A majority of visitors to Aspen originate in Denver, or Colorado's "Front Range," having flown into Denver International Airport (DIA) or residing in a city or town along the eastern edge of the state. Without question, the can't-miss drive to Aspen from the front range travels over Independence Pass (via Highway 82, which is open during the non-winter months). A handful of gorgeous roads lead to Indy Pass, such as the high-plateau plains of Jefferson and Grant along Highway 285, driving alongside the Collegiate Peaks near Salida and Buena Vista, and the switchback-turns on Highway 24 from Minturn. Be sure to have your camera ready as you pass Twin Lakes and descend towards Aspen; the countryside over Independence Pass is stunning! This is part of the Top of the Rockies Colorado Scenic Byway Tour.
2. Don't ignore the classic: Highway I-70 from Denver passes through the Glenwood Canyon on the "Million Dollar Highway." Jagged cliffs line the Colorado River between Gypsum and Glenwood Springs, and there are a handful of trails accessed right of the highway that weave up into the mountains and offer a great respite from the drive. One great hiking option is the quick and moderately strenuous trail that leads to Hanging Lake just outside of Glenwood Springs. Most people recognize the waterfall at the summit of the trail as the iconic falls from Coors Brewing Company advertisements. And, the Glenwood Hot Springs are the perfect place to soak your sore muscles after the hike, before heading in to Aspen.
Other Scenic Drives
3. If you're in Southwest Colorado and looking for a picturesque way to get to Aspen be sure to hit Highway 133. Dense groves of aspen trees color the roadside over McClure Pass. The ominous peaks of Mount Sopris and Chair Mountain make up the panoramic views as you crest the pass and descend into the Roaring Fork Valley. As you drive along the Crystal River you'll pass the historic town of Marble, the small-town Redstone, and charming Carbondale. Highway 24 and 285 from Southeast Colorado will place you amidst the highest concentration of 14,000-foot peaks in the country, pass Colorado's mecca of whitewater rafting and kayaking-the Arkansas River, and run alongside some of the best trout fishing in the state.
4. For those in the West and headed East along I-70 across the Utah desert, the back-roads surrounding Moab are the best way to break the beautiful monotony of the desert. Highway 191 takes you past Arches National Park and towards Moab. As you cross the Colorado River, you'll see Highway 128. Take a left and follow the river through canyons and rolling red-rock desert, and past towering spires that will leave you in awe. The drive through Castle Valley and Dewey, Utah is one of the best-kept secrets in the "wild west." Though this detour adds about 2 hours onto your drive, you won't be disappointed. (Plus, the wineries in Palisade, Colorado-which you'll pass en route to Aspen-produce some of the best wines in the state.)
5. If you're Aspen-bound from Northeast Colorado, such as Estes Park, Loveland, Fort Collins, or Greeley, Highway 34 bisects Rocky Mountain National Park. Known as "Trail Ridge Road," the highway promises incredible panoramic views of mountains, loads of wildlife, and endless meadows of wildflowers. Eventually, you'll pass through Grand Lake, Colorado and be able to trace the headwaters of the Colorado River from the old resort town on the shores of Colorado's largest natural lake, to a gravel road through spectacular Upper Gore Canyon.
For an in-depth look at scenic byways throughout Colorado, visit http://www.coloradobyways.org/.