A cyclist down a hill during the first day of the 31st annual Ride the Rockies on June 12, 2016. Ride the Rockies kicked off day one with a 50-mile ride from Carbondale to Aspen. (Michael Reaves, The Denver Post)
Although Aspen often gets all of the attention, the towns that dot Colorado 82 on the way back toward Interstate 70 are all thriving communities themselves.
Here are the three not-to-miss highlights in Carbondale, Basalt and Snowmass:
For a free dip au naturel, hit Penny Hot Springs, located below Colorado 133, on your left heading south from Carbondale. Mile marker 55 marks the spot to park the car and take the dirt trail down to this enclave on the river. You’ll pass Avalanche Ranch Cabins & Hot Springs (from $15 per day, 12863 Colorado 133, Redstone, 970-963-2846, avalanche- ranch.com) on the way; that’s the place to go if you want a more traditional experience (and where bathing suits are required).
Home to a thriving community of creatives, First Fridays Carbondale (facebook.com/FirstFridaysCarbondale/) turns downtown into a block party celebration of art, music, cuisine and culture. New to the scene this summer, look out for the Rosy-belle Art Bus, a fully equipped mobile maker space bringing arts education and creative experiences up and down the Roaring Fork Valley (carbondale.com).
The best vantage point for a stunning vista of Mount Sopris is the iconic Mushroom Rock, located on the eponymous and dog-friendly trail (aspentrail- finder.com/mushroom-rock-trail/) that starts on Red Hill Road (County Road 107) just past the intersection of Colorado 133 and 82. Whether you’re hiking or biking, a plethora of routes lie within the area leading up to its crown formation.
Stay: The Distillery Inn. From $299/night. 150 Main St. 970-963-7008, marbledistilling.com.
With spectacular scenery, large, wild trout and a variety of year-round insect hatches, the Frying Pan River between Ruedi Reservoir and Basalt may be the most famous 14 miles of fishing in Colorado. (Scott Willoughby, The Denver Post)
Longtime Roaring Fork Valley locals have combined forces with executive chef Flip Wise (formerly of Meat & Cheese) at Free Range Kitchen + Wine Bar (305 Gold Rivers Court, 970-279-5199, freerangebasalt.com) in the heart of historic downtown, which just opened earlier this year. With a menu focused on clean food paying tribute to local farmers and ranchers, you’ll notice a global influence, too, in dishes from Handmade Pasta ($12) and Chai Indian flatbread ($10) to its Beef Empanada ($14) and Curry of the Week (MP).
Situated at a rushing confluence of the Roaring Fork and Frying Pan rivers, Basalt is a fisherman’s paradise. Book a wade trip (from $275) or float trip (from $400) with Frying Pan Anglers (970-927-3441, fryingpananglers.com) for the best access to catching gold-medal trout. The outfitter also operates Taylor Creek Cabins, which in addition to authentic alpine lodging, includes 1 mile of private fly-fishing waters.
Owned by Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, Rock Bottom Ranch (2001 Hooks Spur Road, 970-927-6760, aspennature.org) is its satellite 113-acre working hub for environmental education, wildlands preservation and sustainable agriculture. Farmyard tours are offered Monday through Saturday at 11 a.m. ($10 suggested donated per family) for a behind-the-scenes look at the expansive operation. If you plan far enough in advance, you might score a seat at the always sold-out monthly Farm-to-Table Dinners, featuring a five-course menu from the land itself.
Stay: Element Basalt. From $159 per night. 499 Market St., 970-340-4040, elementhotels.com/BasaltAspen
Mountain biking in Snowmass. Mountain-biking in Snowmass. (Photo by Jeremy Swanson, Tribune Content Agency)
A dreamland for downhill mountain bikers, the Snowmass Bike Park ($42 for one-day ticket, aspensnowmass.com/plan-your-stay/biking/bike-snowmass) features 50 miles of trails with gondola and lift service for all abilities. Experts will want to take the Elk Camp chairlift all the way to the top for spectacular summer views and a thrilling descent of 2,893 feet back down to the base village.
It doesn’t get more classic than Wednesday night at the Snowmass Rodeo (June 14-Aug. 23, 2735 Brush Creek Road, 970-923-8898, snowmassrodeo.org), held since 1977. The weekly celebration of all things Wild West features classic competitor events plus a Mutton Bustin’ and Calf Scramble for the kids, with a pre-rodeo a la carte “Cowboy Dinner,” petting zoo, mechanical bull rides and more.
Snowmass’ jam-packed summer concert calendar gets a new signature festival this season with BLUEBIRD Art + Sound (June 30-July 2, gosnowmass.com/event/bluebird-art-sound/). A free interactive art exhibition will take over Base Village. It’s curated by Los Angeles artists Jesse Fleming and Emma Gray, with the Drive-By Truckers headlining the main stage on Fanny Hill.
Stay: Viceroy Snowmass. From $195 per night. Snowmass Ski Resort, 970-923-8000, viceroyhotelsandreorts.com/en/snowmass