Summer in Aspen On a Budget - Aspen Real Life

Summer in Aspen On a Budget

I'm just getting into the swing of things and with still a few weeks left of summer break, I'm going to pack it in. Only, I'm digging deep into my wallets and only coming up with lint. Thankfully, there are many things to do that don't involve money. All you need are bathing suits, a creative mind and the energy to have at it. Quite often, planning takes more energy than the actual activity so I thought I'd share with you a list of things to do. If your family remotely resembles mine, with children who "think" that they prefer to hang out over exploring and who accuse you of being selfish for planning activities that only you think are fun, than this list is for you.

[su_heading size=”18″]Summer in Aspen On a Budget[/su_heading]

Thinkin’ of a master plan ‘Cuz ain’t nuthin’ but sweat inside my hand
So I dig into my pocket, all my money is spent So I dig deeper but still comin’ up with lint.

Thankfully, there are many things to do in our valley that don’t involve money. All you need are a good pair of hiking shoes, a bathing suit that stays on when you plunge into hypothermic mountain lakes and streams, a creative mind, and the energy to get out there.

As I type this post, gaping dark holes of empty boxes stand ominously in 3D reminding me that I have approximately 17 days to pack them up and move us out of here (yes, we’re moving again, story to come). As I work fast and furiously to get it all done; the pack, my rapidly growing start-up, the kids needs, house  showings, my windows are open and the cool Colorado breeze caresses my skin beckoning for me to shut it all down and maximize my fleeting play-time,  without snow, in the mountains.

If your family remotely resembles mine with children who “think” that they prefer to hang out over exploring, and who accuse you of  being selfish  for  planning activities that only you think are fun, than this list is for you.

My trick is to secretly mask our daily adventures by packing a picnic lunch and telling them what our  “hanging” spot of the day is going to be and  slip in the adventure part before they realize that they’ve been duped.


Instead of buying into expensive pool memberships and being confined to one pool all summer, we prefer to hop from one pool to another. Our favorites have diving boards, lazy rivers and slides: ARC (Aspen Recreation Center), Basalt Pool and Snowmass Rec.

Summer in Aspen On a Budget


  • Independence Pass Devil’s Punch Bowl: There have been many a thrill seeker jumping or diving off of a cliff into this hypothermic swimming hole, carved out from where the Roaring Fork River runs through a five-foot opening below The Grottos on Independence Pass.  I personally do not recommend  it for there have been many accidents, but there are a few places for the kids to jump in higher up the river that are much safer and perhaps just as thrilling.
    • Click here for my story on camping at Lincoln Creek.
    • Watch this You Tube video of professional stuntman, Brad Dingess, performing crazy tricks into this punch bowl.

Summer in Aspen On a Budget

Summer in Aspen On a Budget

  • John Denver Sanctuary: A great swimming hole for both dogs and kids alike located just across the park from the Rio Grande Place Visitors Center.
    • While there the kids like to run around the boulder garden and amongst the stones carved with beautiful lyrics from some of John Denver’s most popular songs.
    • There is no public parking at the sanctuary so we recommend that you utilize the nearby parking garage which charges $1.50 per hour.
  • Northstar Nature Preserve:  North Star Nature Preserve is a 175 acre tract of open space located in Pitkin County about 1.5 miles east of Aspen, on the Roaring Fork River. Pitkin County is managing the preserve for low-impact recreation, as a much-needed wildlife corridor, and as an environmental education site in an area being “swallowed up” by the rapidly growing town of Aspen so please do not abuse this privilege and take care of our beautiful wilderness.
    • Get a SUP, kayak or tube and put in around the Wildwood School. Make sure that the water is not moving too fast. Head out a couple of miles back toward town to the bridge.
  • Basalt River: Also a great swimming hole for both dogs and kids alike in Basalt. Path can be found across the street from 711.
  • Glenwood Whitewater Park:  The first man-made whitewater feature built on the entire length of the Colorado River.
    • Surf, kayak or boogie board on the first man-made whitewater feature built on the entire length of the Colorado River. Be aware that with the river levels getting lower, the wave decreases in size. You can check real-time action to see how high the wave is on the Colorado webcam.
What to do in Aspen in the Summer
Photo Credit: Michele Cardamone
  • Ruedi Reservoir: Located approximately 14 miles east of Basalt, Colorado, in the White River National Forest, Ruedi Marina Campground is situated on Ruedi Reservoir at an elevation of 7,800 feet. Sites at this campground open up to views of the reservoir and starry nighttime skies. A mixed conifer forest hems in the shoreline and nearby peaks offer an ideal setting for guests seeking recreation and relaxation.
    • A great place to go camping with the family or just hang out for the day. There are campsites you can reserve and plenty of mild hikes in the area to explore. Bring your fishing rods, your SUP and your road bike and make friends with boat people to go exploring around the lake.  [su_quote cite=”Recreation.Gov”]Ruedi Dam is a rock and earthfill structure that stands about 285 feet high above streambed and has a crest length of 1,042 feet. The Reservoir is on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains, where snow-capped mountain peaks reach over 13,000 feet and the thickly forested slopes provide an exceptionally beautiful background for recreation activities. Recreation facilities consist of 4 campgrounds accommodating 81 campsites and 2 boat-launching ramps. Surface available for recreation includes 997 acres. Primary recreation activities include camping, motorized boating, sailing, and fishing. Access is good. Game fish species available include rainbow trout, brown trout, and mackinaw trout. Facilities closed in winter due to ice and snow. Current reservoir levels.[/su_quote] Click here to book your campground.
  • Stand Up Paddle: Our favorite spots; Northstar Preserve in Aspen; Ruedi Reservoir or Beaver Lake in Marble but there are soooo many places you can go to explore. Just call Shaine or Mary at Shaboomee and they’ll get you all set up.
  • Dancing Water Fountain in the Aspen Mall: Designed by the late computer wiz Nick DeWolf this fountain is a fun summer playground for everyone.

fountain IMG_5243

3. Mountain Biking in Aspen With The Kids

  • Rio Grande Trail: This friendly bike path runs 42 miles from Aspen to Glenwood Springs, with mileage markers  found at half-mile intervals. Stop for lunch at a local’s favorite, The Woody Creek Tavern.

Summer in Aspen On a Budget

What to do in Aspen in the Summer - John Denver Park*NOTE: Dogs are not allowed on the trail between the Catherine Bridge trailhead and Rock Bottom Ranch on Hooks Spur Road.

**For more biking and hiking trails click on the Aspen Chamber website for a comprehensive list.

  • Snowmass Bike Park: Seeking an adrenaline rush to sustain your summer? Look no further than Snowmass Bike Park, where downhill biking trails weave their way from the top of the Elk Camp Chairlift down to the Snowmass Village base — a thrilling descent of 2,893 feet.
    • If you are new to the sport, you’ll find the park to be just right. Our dedicated bike Pros will help you master the basics, and the world-renowned bike culture of Aspen will get you in the spirit and fill you up with confidence. Meanwhile, expert riders find plenty of stoke on the twisting paths of Valhalla, Viking and Vapor trails, where features offer ample challenges deep in the aspen-laden woods of Snowmass. And with connections to several cross-country trails (a total network of more than 50 miles), Snowmass Bike Park can be the epicenter of your pedal-powered summer.
      • Snowmass Bike Park is open daily from June 24 – September 5 and weekends: September 10-11, 17-18, 24-25, and October 1- 2.
      • Elk Camp Gondola Hours: 10 am – 4 pm (last ride down at 4:15 pm)
      • Elk Camp Chairlift Hours: 10 am – 3 pm (last ride down at 3:15 pm) Bonus Bike Nights (Tuesdays, July 19 – August 23) – On Tuesday nights lift-served biking continues into the evening until dusk. Use your daily bike park ticket or purchase a Late Arrival ticket for just $29 and ride from 2 pm until dusk.


Photo on Aspen Chamber Website. Photo Credit: Jeremy Swanson

Summer in Aspen On a Budget

4. Great Family Hikes in Aspen

  • Aspen Mountain: For parents with hard core children nine and older, hike up the Ute Trail and continue on up Aspen Mountain for Bluegrass Sundays. Start early so you don’t miss the Silver Queen Gondola down.
  • 2016 Summer Aspen Gondola Hours:

  • Daily: June 18 – September 5

    Weekends: May 28-30, June 4-5, June 11-12

     Hours: 10 am – 4 pm (last ride down at 4:30 pm)

    • The Sundeck Restaurant is open when the gondola is running.

NOTE: It is a difficult two hour + hike straight up the mountain.  When you reach the summit find the FREE ACES Guided Nature Tours,  Kids’ Activities,  Music Concerts,  Disc Golf and more.

  • Conundrum Creek Trail: You don’t have to hike the 8.5 miles to the hot springs to enjoy this hike with your family, although it is an incredible hike. The trailhead to Conundrum Creek Trail is off of Castle Creek Road, five miles from Rt. 82 West of Aspen. Roundtrip to the pools is 17 miles.

Summer in Aspen On a Budget

  • Hunter Creek Trail: One of our favorites. This trail is perfect for families. The trail parallels Hunter Creek and has several bridges that cross scenic short hikes in the area. The grade is steep as the first mile of the trail ascends more than 700 feet in elevation. There is also a public parking area and trailhead farther up Red Mountain off Hunter Creek Drive.

Summer in Aspen On a Budget

  • Independence Pass Summit: Feeling hot? Want to go play in some snow? Drive up windy Route 82 up to 12,095 feet above sea level to the summit of Independence Pass that marks the Continental Divide. There are many hikes that you will pass along the way that range from moderate to difficult so check your hiking trail map before driving. If you’re wanting to continue the adventure drop down the other side of the pass to Twin Lakes. For more hikes in this area, click here.

Summer in Aspen On a Budget

What to do in Aspen in the Summer - Independence Pass
Photo from
  • Aspen Ice Caves: Located near The Aspen Grottos you will find ice caves that were formed when the Roaring Fork River was swollen with meltwater from receding Ice Age glaciers about 15,000 year ago. There are great directions to the trail head here.

Summer in Aspen On a Budget

  • Ashcroft Ghost Town: Ten miles south of Aspen on Castle Creek Road is the historic ghost town built in 1880 for silver mining. The children love walking along the trail past the old buildings. Call 970-925-5756 if you are interested in a tour. No dogs allowed.


  • Aspen Saturday Market: Colorado grown produce, local crafts and live music. Kid favorites include the raw local honey that they say helps their allergies, the Kettle Corn and the Italian Ice.
    • Located at Hunter and Hopkins the market runs from June 13 through October 10, 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays. After Labor Day, it will run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • Basalt Sunday Market: Located in Downtown Basalt. June 12 – September 25th. 10am-2pm.
  • Carbondale, Colorado Farmer’s Market: Every Wednesday, June 8 – Sept. 28 (Wed) 10:00am – 3:00pm
    • Located at 4th Street Plaza & Park.
  • Glenwood Springs Market: Every Tuesday 4-8 pm ~ June 14 – September 20. Located at Centennial Park (Ninth & Grand Ave).

6. Summer Music:

  • Aspen Music Festival and School: June 30th – August 21st. Sit on the lawn at the beautiful Benedict Music Tent and listen to classical music concerts performed by extraordinary musicians, masters and students throughout the summer.
  • Bluegrass Sundays on Aspen Mountain: Every Sunday from June – September at Noon from Noon – 3 pm. A favorite among locals, top bluegrass musicians from around Colorado perform outside the Sundeck atop Aspen Mountain.
    • Cost: Free with the purchase of a gondola ticket
  • Classical Saturdays: Every Saturday from July – August, 2015 at 1 pm. Relax at 11,000 feet in a glorious meadow overlooking Mount Hayden and take in the beauty as students of the world-renowned Aspen Music Festival & School perform a repertoire of their own choosing. Bring a picnic (or build one at the Sundeck) and a lawn chair and enjoy. Located just a short walk out Richmond Ridge from the top of the gondola.
    • Cost: Free with the purchase of a gondola ticket
  • Snowmass Free Music Series:   Check out the amazing bands coming to Snowmass this summer.
  • Basalt Summer Music: The Town of Basalt, with the Basalt Chamber of Commerce and Basalt Downtown Business association and generous sponsorship from local merchants, hosts an 6-week concert series on Wednesday nights. In 2015 the all concerts will be held in Lions Park, Downtown Basalt. Bring your blanket and beverage and enjoy free live music all summer long.
  • Carbondale Summer Park Concert Series:  June 11 (Sat) 2:00pm – 8:00pm 4th Street Park & Plaza

7. Carbondale’s Wild West Rodeo: 

A not for-profit, volunteer organization committed to keeping the Roaring Fork Valley’s western heritage alive by offering a fun family-oriented event for residents and visitors alike. The Carbondale Wild West Rodeo is held every Thursday from June until late August, rain or shine.

** We now have an comprehensive Aspen Calendar where you may submit your events for free by clicking here.

*** Please note that there are dangers involved in all of these activities so please do your research before each excursion and pack appropriately for the mountains. Gather maps, bring water and snacks and remember that the weather can change from sunny to freezing rain in a heartbeat.


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