Aspen is a gorgeous destination no matter the season, but summer is the perfect time to visit. Of course, the cold and snowy winter season offers plenty of cozy charm and tons of opportunities to hit the slopes. However, the mild weather, breezy nights, soaring mountains and glistening lakes of summer are nothing short of spectacular. With incredible restaurants boasting international cuisines and dozens of outdoor activities, Aspen is the ideal location for your first post-COVID trip. Hiking enthusiasts can explore Maroon Bells all the way to Crater Lake. Families with young children can ride to the top of Aspen Mountain on the Silver Queen Gondola. Couples can sip cocktails while admiring the historic, world-famous Hotel Jerome. This year, Aspen holds an even more special place in our hearts. It serves as the location of our second show house and Laura’s new family home! As Laura has adjusted to life in Colorado at our new studio, she has compiled an exhaustive list of all the best things to do. Experience Aspen in the summer with us! Let the Laura U Design Collective team offer you an insider perspective into our Summer 2021 itinerary. Follow below for our favorite things to do in Aspen this summer and check out some of Laura’s favorite activities and bites.
Laura U Design Collective Presents 12 Summer Must-Sees in Aspen Colorado
1. Explore the Aspen Arts Museum
2. Tour the Garden at the Little Nell
3. Experience Aspen through the Aspen Music Festival
4. Hike the Maroon Bells to Crater Lake
5. Ride up Aspen Mountain on the Silver Queen Gondola
6. Stand Up Paddle Board along the Roaring Fork River in the North Star Nature Preserve
7. Stop at Meat & Cheese for a light snack
8. Enjoy Cocktails at Hotel Jerome
9. Dine at Matsuhisha
10. Find a bespoke hat at Kemo Sabe
11. Visit Gorsuch Cafe for a Cup of Coffee & to Shop
12. Eat to Paradise Bakery
Scroll to learn more about each item on our top 12 list!
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#1 Aspen Arts Museum
The Aspen Art Museum — a non-collecting museum celebrating local art in Aspen Snowmass — is the first destination on our list. Shigeru Ban — the Japanese architect internationally renowned for his innovative approach to post-disaster architecture — designed the museum. His work is all across the world — from New Zealand to France. However, AAM is the first museum the Pritzker-winning architect has designed in the United States.
What the AAMA Offers During Summer in Aspen
In her article “Aspen Art Museum and Shigeru Ban’s Architectural Genius” for Culture Trip, Kirsten Nicholas gushes about the AAM. She writes that “this contemporary art institution functions as a kunsthalle that will solidify Aspen as a cultural destination.” Nicholas quotes prior AAM Director Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson in her article. Jacobson notes that Ban’s building has provided the museum with “an architecturally appropriate” space. Ban has also created an “environmentally sound, and culturally significant venue for contemporary art in the core of Aspen.” The interior of the museum is stunning — with soft light filtering in from the latticed exterior — and each exhibition is “cutting-edge.” Another incredible offering is the sculpture deck, which Nicholas notes is “the only public rooftop view of Aspen Mountain.”
Can’t Miss: Cy Gavin & Cerith Wyn Evans: Aspen Drift
For a series of transportative paintings that blend social commentary with the eerie beauty of nature, head to the Cy Gavin exhibition. According to the Aspen Art Museum’s press release for the exhibition, “the changing political landscapes that redefine citizenship underlie the exhibition.” In his large-scale acrylic works, Gavin connects “concepts of land ownership with the articulation of power within societies” for a timely critique. In doing so, he “questions how our surroundings are subject to definition or privatization.” Curated by Saim Demircan, AAM Curator at Large, this exhibition is on view from late May through early July 2021.
Cerith Wyn Evans’s exhibition is currently on view at the Aspen Art Museum and scheduled through October 2021. The exhibition Cerith Wyn Evans: Aspen Drift is an entirely different show than Cy Gavin’s. According to the AAM press release for this show, “Aspen Drift is the artist’s first US museum presentation in over seventeen years.” The show will act as a sort of retrospective of the artist’s work, including “sculpture, installation, painting, and works on paper.” Together, these site-specific works evoke “the feeling of being adrift.” They also reference the “snow drifts of Aspen’s mountainous landscape.”
#2 Garden Tours at the Little Nell
Garden Tours at The Little Nell are another must-do while in Aspen Colorado. According to AspenChamber.org, visitors celebrate The Little Nell Gardens because they are “both beautiful and sustainable.” They feature Aspen Colorado’s “only living wall, an herb garden, a cutting garden and more.” Through a variety of events, visitors can “learn about high altitude gardening” and ask questions of the Gardens’ expert gardeners and horticulturists. While walking through the gardens, the Aspen Chamber Resort Association recommends sipping on a Mountain Mojito. This cocktail contains Goslings Black Seal Rum and mint grown locally in the Gardens. Find Garden Tours at the Little Nell during the summer each Friday afternoon from Friday 11 June through, through Friday 3 September. For photos of the Gardens, head over to The Little Nell’s Instagram.
#3 Experience Aspen in the Summer through Aspen Music Festival
Next on our list is the Aspen Music Festival — which was moved to digital platforms last year during the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, the Festival is back in full force with a lineup of more than one hundred fifty performances and events. The 2021 schedule features concerts from the Aspen Chamber Symphony as well as a series of recitals and artist dinners. According to the Festival’s website, “the Aspen Music Festival and School is one of the top classical music festivals in the United States.” AMF&S is “noted both for its concert programming and its musical training of mostly young-adult music students.” A typical summer season of the Aspen Music Festival includes “concerts by five orchestras [and] solo and chamber music performances.” Others include “fully staged opera productions, master classes, lectures, and children’s programming.”
Can’t Miss: Yefim Bronfman, Beethoven’s Revolution, Uncommon Women of Note and performances of works by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor
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In his article “Aspen Music Festival announces in-person concert lineup” for The Denver Post, Andrew Travers writes about the school. He notes that this year’s programming will “highlight composers of color.” Performances of note include those by Matthew Whitaker, Augustin Hadelich and Yefim Bronfam. Travers notes that the 2021 lineup will “revive the themes from the canceled 2020 season” such as “Beethoven’s Revolution” and “Uncommon Women of Note.” Visitors to Aspen during the summer season absolutely should not miss performances of “works by the Black British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.”
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#4 Hike the Maroon Bells to Crater Lake
Those familiar with Aspen Colorado know the site is not short on natural marvels. Crystal lakes, towering peaks, beautiful wildflowers and evergreen trees populate the Aspen Snowmass area. One of the most rewarding activities in Aspen Snowmass is the trek through Crater Lake Trail, Maroon Lake Scenic Trail and Maroon Creek Trail. This series of trails culminates with breathtaking views of Crater Lake and the Maroon Bells. Colorado.com’s article “EXPLORE THE MAROON BELLS: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW” offers a few tips for Aspen hikers and campers.
To start, the article notes that “the Maroon Bells are…the most photographed place in Colorado [but] pictures simply don’t do the peaks justice.” Geology buffs might already know the source of the mountains’ reddish hue. For those unfamiliar, “the mountains received their distinctive maroon coloring from the weathering of hematite, an iron-bearing mineral.” Maroon Lake — another stunning site in Aspen — “occupies a basin that was sculpted by Ice-Age glaciers.”
Can’t Miss: Maroon Bells, Maroon Lake Scenic Trail, Maroon Creek Trail and Crater Lake Trail
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Colorado.com notes that children can likely handle the Maroon Lake Scenic Trail and the Maroon Creek Trail. However, the Crater Lake Trail is a bit more difficult. According to the post, the Maroon Lake Scenic Trail offers an “easy 1-mile round trip trek” perfect for a quick trip to the mountains. Maroon Creek Trail is for slightly more advanced hikers, featuring “rocky slopes” along its 3.2 mile path.
The Maroon Creek Trail is best for hikers enthralled by wildlife. This area is teeming with “mule deer, red fox, bighorn sheep, porcupines and a variety of birds.” Lastly, the 3.6 mile Crater Lake Trail takes hikers on a round-trip trek through the mountains. Hikers should prepare themselves for “a steep and rocky ascent, cooler temperatures and spontaneous thunderstorms.” Dogs are welcome in the area as long as they are leashed.
#5 Ride up Aspen Mountain on the Silver Queen Gondola
The Silver Queen Gondola and its citywide views are popular year round in Aspen. This activity consistently tops “Best Things to Do in Aspen Snowmass” lists — regardless of the season. In their April 2021 article “SUMMER THINGS TO DO WITH KIDS IN ASPEN,” RadFamilyTravel.com awards the Silver Queen Gondola fourth place in their list. The post notes a variety of free children’s activities — including a sandbox, lawn games and more. In 2021, the gondola is open from 10 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon. According to Aspen Luxury Vacation Rentals, the Silver Queen Gondola is “one of the more popular Aspen summertime activities.” As such, interested parties should purchase tickets or reserve spots early on. The gondola carries parties 12,000 feet into the sky. It offers “breathtaking views of the town and beyond as it takes you to endless activities located at the top of the mountain.”
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Colorado.com article “10 AWESOME WAYS TO EXPERIENCE ASPEN IN THE SUMMER” describes these activities in further detail. Live musical performances are available on the Sundeck every weekend in the summer — with bluegrass on Sundays and classical music on Saturdays. There is also an “18-hole disc golf course [which] is one of the highest official courses in the world.” The Sundeck also boasts “a casual restaurant dishing up American, Asian and Mediterranean cuisine.”
#6 Stand Up Paddle Boarding along Roaring Fork River in the North Star Nature Preserve
According to NorthStarAspen.com, “floating the Roaring Fork River through North Star is a wonderful way to experience nature.” Some visitors swim or take small boats through North Star. However, “stand-up paddleboards, canoes and kayaks are the preferred vessels for floating through the Preserve.” Even children and beginners will enjoy floating along the River, as the waters are gentle and the current soft.
In her article “3 Places to Stand-Up Paddleboard Around Aspen” for Aspen Sojourner, Allison Pattillo recommends North Star. She considers it one of the best paddleboarding spots for beginners. She suggests the Stillwater stretch of the Roaring Fork River, which “has a well-deserved rep as a perfect gentle paddleboarding destination.” To reach this stretch of the river, travelers should park “at the Wildwood School.” The school is just a “few minutes out of town off Highway 82 toward Independence Pass.” Here, they can catch up with a shuttle and guides if desired.
When to Visit: Late Summer
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If planning to paddleboard or kayak along the Roaring Fork River in the North Star Nature Preserve, try traveling to Aspen in late Summer. The waters of Roaring Fork River are incredibly cold from mid Autumn through early Summer. Visitors to North Star Nature Preserve should also plan to leave the area by nightfall, as the park is closed between dusk and dawn.
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#7 Lunch at Meat & Cheese
Next on our list of things to do in Aspen Snowmass this summer is to visit Meat & Cheese — an Avalanche Cheese Company restaurant. Meat & Cheese was awarded one of the Best 50 Food Shops in the World in 2021 by The Financial Times. Leah Bhabha writes a review of Meat & Cheese for The Financial Times in their article “The 50 greatest food stores in the world.” In her article, Leah Bhabha raves about the restaurant. She writes that “should you want to assemble a picnic for a…summer hike, there is no better place than Meat & Cheese.”
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Located on Aspen’s Restaurant Row, this farm shop and restaurant offers “a robust charcuterie and cheese selection.” Their meat and cheese board is what we have named as our “can’t miss.” Bhabha recommends pairing the cheese and meat platter with “a bottle of natural wine.” Brit + Co writer Lesly Chen also suggests popping into Meat & Cheese in her article “Why Aspen Is Even Better in the Summer.” She writes that “Meat and Cheese uses locally sourced ingredients for its ‘World Farmhouse’ cuisine.” In addition to their meat and cheese platter, diners can also find “fresh salads, sandwiches, flaky biscuits, and kombucha on draft.”
#8 Cocktails at Hotel Jerome
This next recommendation comes courtesy of Laura Umansky herself. Lovers of historic architecture, antique interiors and vintage-inspired cocktails must stop by Hotel Jerome. In his article “Hotel Jerome, Aspen | If These Walls Could Talk…” for Amuse, Sam Haddad describes the hotel’s unique charm. Haddad writes that the hotel opened way back in 1889.” This was “when Aspen was a shiny new town awash with silver prospectors who would celebrate their good fortune at the hotel’s J-Bar.” Haddad quotes 1960s Hotel Jerome bartender Tim Mooney in the article. Mooney says that “‘the Hotel Jerome and the Wheeler Opera House gave a certain dignity to this Colorado town.’” Hotel Jerome became a destination for travelers and the center of Aspen’s party scene around this time.
Can’t Miss: Hotel Jerome’s Martinis & Aspen Crud Cocktail
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Today, the hotel is a modern establishment with vintage flair. In 2012, the hotel was refurbished and a series of luxury amenities were added. It boasts a series of high-caliber dining options — including “a bistro and lounge restaurant.” Visitors to Hotel Jerome often tout its vintage-inspired cocktails, which are our “can’t miss” for this Aspen destination. Hotel Jerome’s Aspen Crud is their most iconic drink. According to the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, the Aspen Crud is “a spiked milkshake of sorts that was created during the time of prohibition.” It combines “freshly churned French Vanilla ice cream [with] Bourbon” to serve as both “a sweet treat and a party starter.”
#9 Dinner at Matsuhisa
In their article “The 21 Essential Aspen Restaurants” for Eater Denver, Josie Sexton and Katie Shapiro name Matsuhisa as one of their favorites. Seventh on their list, Sexton and Shapiro write that “this original Aspen outpost of the LA-based restaurant serves sushi and other staples.” All are from the “famous Japanese chef, Nobu Matsuhisa.” Diners can find the restaurant in a 120-year-old Victorian on Main Street” — a far cry from its LA counterpart. The restaurant offers diners a number of places to sit and enjoy their meal — from an upstairs lounge to a patio and sushi bar.
Can’t Miss: Broiled Black Cod
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Though there are typically “two omakase tasting menus available” each evening for dinner, securing a reservation is difficult. As such, travelers to Aspen should plan well in advance if they want to get into one of “the super-exclusive ‘Nobu in Town’ nights.” During these exclusive evenings, “the master himself is behind the bar.’” According to a review in Condé Nast Traveler, Matsuhisa “is known for its astoundingly fresh sushi, Peruvian touches…and specialty sakes.” In Aspen, however, diners can expect to find a “gluten-free menu with sea bass and dry miso.” The Beverly Hills location is a bit “slicker.” However, the Condé Nast writers note that they enjoy their sushi “in this charming Victorian home even more.”
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#10 Kemo Sabe
In our Valentine’s Day post “WE ARE IN LOVE WITH THESE 10 ASPEN BOUTIQUES,” we wrote about Kemo Sabe. We noted that Kemo Sabe is “perfect for the traveler and the long-term resident alike.” Each piece in the shop nods to the Aspen Snowmass area and “offers a fun Western edge.” The entire Laura U Design Collective team has fallen in love with Kemo Sabe’s products and incredible service. As we noted in our earlier post, Laura U Design Collective’s Creative Director, Gina Elkins found her perfect hat here! Many of the hats sold at Kemo Sabe “are lovingly handmade by the Kemo Sabe team.” Those that are not handmade by the crew are chosen specifically by artists and craftspeople associated with the shop. We especially love Kemo Sabe’s River Hat — pictured above.
Can’t Miss: Locally Sourced Women’s Hats
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A Travel + Leisure review of the shop notes that “you may not need Luchese boots, Stetson hats, horsehair belts, or leather chaps.” However, these things are “what makes Kemo Sabe such a delightfully fun place to browse.” We love their hand-crafted hats. On the other hand, the Travel + Leisure writers note that “Kemo Sabe also sells some more pedestrian items.” These items are those that “the average buckaroo might find useful—especially the super-warm flannel PJs.”
#11 Gorsuch Cafe
Nearly fifty years ago, the first Gorsuch Cafe shop opened in Aspen Snowmass — becoming an instant hit over the months that followed. In 2017, the Gorsuch family opened another location in Aspen to compliment their shop in Vail. Located at the base of Ajax Gondola, visitors to the Aspen location of Gorsuch Cafe can sip on a cup of coffee. While they do so, they can watch the gondolas and shop through apparel and other luxury items. In her article “Gorsuch Ski opens with ‘retail-driven hospitality’” for Aspen Daily News, Madeleine Osberger wrote about the new location in 2017. Osberger quotes company president Jeffrey Gorsuch. Gorsuch says that the family “‘likes the idea of hospitality and to have a place where people can rest and regroup.’”
#12 Paradise Bakery
Last on our list is Paradise Bakery — a hotspot for both locals and visitors to Aspen Snowmass. According to the bakery’s website, Paradise Bakery is considered “Aspen’s gathering place.” It has been owned and operated locally since the early 1980s. The bakery offers everything from fresh squeezed lemonade and gelato to brewed coffee and warm cookies. Paradise Bakery opens at 6:30 AM each morning. They offer Aspen locals the chance to start their day off with a hot cup of coffee and a delicious treat. Owners Mark and Danny Patterson originally planned to move the bakery away from its original location in 2021. However, The Aspen Times announced in May 2020 that the bakery would remain in situ. We recommend giving their Raspberry Mocha Paradise Latte and their Spinach Muffin a try!
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We cannot close out this post without noting LUDC founder Laura Umansky’s summer favorites. Laura’s perfect summer day in Aspen begins with a morning walk through Wagner Park with the family’s dogs. After this, she heads off for a challenging workout at TieHack. In her article “Uphill at Tiehack: A Lung-Busting, Locals’ Favorite Spot” for RootsRated.com, Allison Pattillo writes about the intense hike. She notes that TieHack is located “off to the east side of Buttermilk, the smallest of Aspen’s four ski mountains.” A hike up TieHack offers “pleasantly challenging terrain” for those looking for a quality workout. Pattillo warns that the “base of the climb is 8,037 feet.” This makes “for a nearly 1,700 foot gain over the two plus-mile route to the top.” Another great option for hiking is Smuggler’s Loop at Hunter Creek. This is a favorite due to its location just being a few minutes from downtown Aspen – plus the views at the summit will not disappoint!
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After a hike up TieHack, Laura’s perfect day in Aspen might feature lunch at Ajax Tavern. Next, an afternoon Aperol Spritz before dinner on the patio of Casa Tua is a must! According to Casa Tua’s website, the restaurant is “rustic, yet impossibly elegant.” It represents yet another “product of the ingenious partnership between Italian architect Michele Bonan, and owners Miky and Leticia Grendene.” The back patio, front patio and club terrace are all beautiful spots for late afternoon or evening drinks.
A perfect Aspen summer day must include watching the sunset at Smuggler Park. with her family. For dinner, you will find Laura and her family at the Caribou Club enjoying the thoughtful and creative dishes and enjoying the elegant ambiance.
If you are visiting Aspen, be sure to check out the Anderson Ranch Arts Center. Anderson Ranch, the beneficiary of the Mountain Lane Show House opening ticket sales, is the cornerstone of the Aspen arts community and a hub of creativity. Explore the work of world-renowned artist and curators and stimulating conversations at the Ranch’s Summer Series. Their popular ‘Summer Series: Featured Artist and Conversations’ fosters a broader understanding of contemporary art and art making. Most presentations are free of charge and open to the public.