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Visitors to the Maroon Bells Scenic Area prepare to board a RFTA bus with “Maroon Bells” displayed in the bus destination marquee. Riding the bus supports sustainable transportation to the Maroon Bells and can help visitors avoid road closures due to overcrowding. (White River National Forest, courtesy photo)

Bus service to the Maroon Bells Scenic Area will gear up June 9 for its 40th season, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

“That’s 40 years of reducing traffic congestion, carbon emissions and other impacts in the environment by limiting car trips,” the agency said in a statement.

More than 300,000 people visited the area last year for day visits, camping or venturing into the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.

The bus service provided by the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority will operate from June 9 through Oct. 8. Tickets are $8 for adults, $6 for children 6 to 16 years of age and seniors 65 and older. Children 5 and younger ride for free. Tickets can be purchased at Four Mountain Sports at Aspen Highlands or the Rubey Park Transit Center.

Aspen Skiing Co. has increased parking fees at Aspen Highlands. The rates are $5 for up to three hours Monday through Friday and $10 for as many as three hours on weekends. For three to eight hours, the rate is $10 Monday through Friday and $15 for weekends. A full day, more than eight hours, will cost $20 for weekdays and $25 for weekends.

Read the full story at AspenTimes.com.

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This summer, Colorado will be buzzing with new activities, recreational pursuits, events, attractions and more. Following is a sampling of what’s new this summer in Colorado, visitwww.COLORADO.com.

Exciting New Events, Festivals & Anniversaries:

The Dead Sea Scrolls on Exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, March 16 - September 3, 2018: The regional premiere of the exhibition is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see authentic Dead Sea Scrolls, ancient manuscripts that include the oldest known Biblical documents dating back over 2,000 years.

Broadway in the Rockies Celebrates its 50th Anniversary, Summer 2018: Rocky Mountain Repertory Theatre of Grand Lake features professional actors and musicians in a state-of-the-art venue. June 8th is opening night for the 2018 season with summer-long programing for the anniversary.

70th Annual FIBArk Festival, June 14-18, 2018: 2018 marks the 70th anniversary of FIBArk “First in Boating on the Arkansas”, the nation's oldest whitewater festival featuring whitewater boat races where paddlers from across the nation and world come to compete.

The Broadmoor Resort in Colorado Springs Turns 100 and Hosts the U.S. Senior Open June 25-July 1, 2018: On June 29, 2018, The Broadmoor will officially turn 100 years old. The historic hotel will celebrate with fireworks and a special gala event. From June 25-July 1, the U.S. Senior Open will be played on The Broadmoor's iconic East Course.

AdventureOUT Comes to Snowmass, July 4-8, 2018: Geared toward the LGBT community and their families, the new AdventureOUT Snowmass features a different spin on the Aspen Gay Ski Week Experience, with an emphasis on building community and getting out into nature in the summer.

Splash-In Sea Planes Event, July 14, 2018: Bring the family to experience this new and highly unique event as seaplanes land on Kenney Reservoir in Rangely, Colorado.

Slow Food Nations Returns to Denver July 13-15, 2018: Following a successful inaugural year in 2017, Slow Food Nations will return to Denver, gathering leaders, eaters, farmers, chefs, educators and families for a weekend of tastings, tours and talks.

Velorama and Colorado Classic Return to Denver, August 16-19, 2018: World-class pro bicycle teams compete in circuit races throughout the state – 2018 cities are TBA – ending in Denver on the final stages. Following the race, there will be a three-day music, crafts, beer and food festival in the River North (RiNo) Art District.

Kokopelli 140 Mountain Bike and Trail Running Race Debuts, September 7-8, 2018: This year, bikers and runners will be able to experience all 144 miles of the Kokopelli trail from Fruita, Colorado to Moab, Utah fully supported during the mother of all mountain bike and trail running races. ​

Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering Celebrates its 30th Anniversary, October 4-7, 2018: The event celebrates the lifeways of rural people by creating the "campfire" around which anyone with an interest can come to share in the appreciation of the culture and traditions unique to the West.

Enticing New Attractions, Activities & Adventures:

City on the Side Offers Motorcycle Sidecar Tour Experiences: City on the Side provides an exceptional, personal and private sightseeing journey through Colorado on a classic Russian Ural cT sidecar motorcycle.

New Colorado Creative Corridor: The new Colorado Creative Corridor will officially launch in May 2018 offering visitors an invitation to pair the destinations of Carbondale, Salida, Crested Butte, Delta County/ North Fork and Ridgway with unique arts and cultural experiences.

Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop Launches New Passport Promotion: The Passport to the Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop is a collaborative effort between the western Colorado hot springs destinations, including Chaffee County, Pagosa Springs, Ouray County, Glenwood Springs and Steamboat Springs. Participants simply obtain the official stamp from each visitor center and mail it in to redeem their prize.

New Tech Toolkits from Colorado Parks & Wildlife: Colorado Parks & Wildlife has launched a fishing App for smart phones that enables anglers to check out mapping information for over 2,000 locations in the state, and a new State Park Pass Online Purchasing System allows travelers to purchase state park passes, make state park camping reservations and buy wildlife licenses online.

Colorado Riverfront Trail Expands: Debuting this spring 2018, the new Kokopelli segment of the Colorado Riverfront Trail will extend the trail from Fruita to the Kokopelli Trails area in the McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area.

New Colorado Spirits Trail: The Colorado Distillers Guild is launching a Spirits Trail in 2018 inviting visitors to discover the spirits of the West. The trail highlights more than 50 participating distilleries from every corner of the state, and offers a map and interactive website.

Eagle River Launches Whitewater Park: The Eagle River Park will open summer 2018, unveiling a world-class white water park featuring an in-stream design optimizing the river’s natural morphology, and will offer riverside recreation areas, where there will be riparian plantings and restoration.

Earth Treks to Build Nation’s Largest Climbing Gym in Englewood: Earth Treks Climbing and Fitness, a long-time leader in providing superior indoor climbing experiences, will debut its newest gym in Englewood this summer, which will span more than 52,000-square-feet making it the largest climbing gym in the US.

Glenwood Springs Adds New Single Track Trail: Glenwood Springs newest mountain biking trail, The Grandstaff Trail, has riders amped with its valley-wide, professionally bermed turns and the opportunity to catch air.

San Juan Hut System Launches New Gravel Grinder Route: New for spring 2018, the San Juan Huts will offer a hut-to-hut gravel ride from Grand Junction, Colorado to Moab, Utah through some of the most scenic and remote stretches of pavement in the west.

The Sebastian Vail Expands its Artists, Authors & Athletes Program: This summer, The Sebastian is expanding its popular Artists, Authors & Athletes speakers series that launched in winter 2018 and connects guests, owners and the local community with experts in their chosen field.

Snowmass Expands Summer Operations with Development of the Lost Forest: New for summer 2018, Aspen Snowmass announces an immense list of activities at the new Lost Forest located on Snowmass Mountain. These enhancements include an alpine coaster, canopy tour, challenge course, climbing wall, expanded hiking and biking trails and more.

Snow Mountain Ranch Offers New Family Attractions: Brand new to Snow Mountain Ranch for summer 2018 is the Spruce Saddle Adventure Zone playground with fun mountain features including a pendulum swing, small zip line, twisted log ladder, climbing moose and stump hoppers.

Timber to Table Guide Service Offers New Program for Hunters: Hunts are geared toward first-time hunters, and a five-day cow or bull elk experience includes a private guide who leads the hunt and will also teach participants how to process the animal, identify various cuts and custom wrap their meat.

New TPC Colorado Golf Course Opens in Berthoud: Summer 2018 welcomes major golf news including the opening of the new TPC Colorado, the state’s first ground-up golf course development in nearly 10 years located in Berthoud, Colorado.

YMCA of the Rockies Opens the Boone Family Mountain Center: New for 2018, the Boone Family Mountain Center at the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, Colorado will provide a base camp for nature, environmental and high-adventure activities.

New and Unique Summer Lodging Packages & Experiences:

Golf with a Legend at The Broadmoor: In celebration of the legendary Broadmoor Resort’s 100th anniversary in 2018, the property is offering a special “Golf with A Legend” package allowing guests to tee it up on the fabled East Course with Hale Irwin.

Branding Camp at Chico Basin Ranch, May 13 – 18, 2018: Chico Basin Ranch is home to Ranchlands’ largest herd of cattle. Guests are invited to join the working team this spring to be part of the branding crew that will hold the herd, assist with vaccinations and ear notching.

New Mountain Cures at the Four Seasons Resort Vail: New for 2018, the Four Seasons Resort Vail’s Forbes Five Star Spa has created Colorado and mountain-inspired treatments, certain to aid in sleep, altitude adjustment and boosting energy while in Vail.

Gateway Canyons Resort & Spa Adds New Summer 2018 Palisade Ranch Packages:Gateway Canyons Resort & Spa will offer four new experiential packages in summer 2018 – Palisade Ranch Adventure, Red Rock Romance, For Foodies, and Curiosity – for its on-site Palisade Ranch that will allow guests to choose customized experiences based on their ideal vacation.

The Maven Offers Decadent Denver Culinary Experience: This package includes a gourmet cooking class led by a professional Denver chef followed by a decadent 5-course dinner, 10 personalized chef jackets, luxury transportation, accommodations for five couples in five urban suites for two nights, and valet parking at The Maven.

Hotel Telluride Offers Ropes & Rungs Package: This package is designed for all abilities and includes accommodations, daily breakfast for two, a full-day guided Via Ferrata climb and a full-day rock climbing adventure. Both days are complete with a packed picnic lunch.

Hotel Telluride Offers ‘Best in Show’ Dog Package: The Hotel Telluride’s exclusive new ‘Best in Show’ package offers the ultimate experience for its furry guests including: A two-night stay; a personalized pet welcome; homemade dog treats; a plush dog bed and food and water bowls; and other canine amenities.

New Lodging Properties and Renovations:

Eleven Experience Introduces the Lofts at Public House in Crested Butte:Opened in early 2018, the Lofts feature the same design and five-star amenities consistent with the Eleven Experience portfolio and guests also have access to the same authentic adventures offered by Eleven Experience guides with a selection of year-round, a la carte pursuits.

Elizabeth Hotel Opens in Fort Collins: With record players in the guest rooms, inspired artwork and a piano in the Sky Bar, a musical theme permeates this modern 164-room luxury hotel, which opened in December 2017.

Embassy Suites and Hilton Garden Inn Opens in Boulder: Opened in late 2017, these new dual-branded properties feature a combined 375 rooms and offer two price points at a single site, as well as the largest hotel-ballroom in Boulder.

The Jacquard Opens in Denver’s Cherry Creek North Neighborhood: Slated to open in early 2018, The Jacquard hotel is Stonebridge Companies in partnership with Autograph Collection Hotels newest luxury hotel to include stunning art collections, tasteful design and sophisticated dining.

Mount Princeton Hot Springs Expands: Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort will debut 25 new creek-side units in June 2018. These new guest rooms will feature modern finishes and balconies directly on Chalk Creek.

The Ramble Hotel Opens in Denver:The Ramble Hotel, an independently owned, three-story hotel will open in spring 2018 in Denver’s RiNo (River North) district with 50 guestrooms; an intimate theatre and bar; an independently owned restaurant; and a marquee lobby bar, Death & Co Denver.

New Lodging and Tours at The Redstone Castle: The historic Redstone Castle, located outside of Carbondale, Colorado in the Crystal Valley, will open doors spring 2018 after an extensive renovation program, to offer boutique lodging and tours of the famed castle.

Royal Gorge Cabins Adds Additional Glamping Tents: Royal Gorge Cabins is adding four new glamping tents to its existing four tents and nine luxury cabins in time for the summer 2018 travel season.

The Source Hotel Opens in Denver’s River North: Expected to open in spring 2018, the 100-room Source Hotel is proud to showcase exceptional independent artisans and will feature a new New Belgium brewing concept to highlighting sour beers.

Hotel Talisa Opens in Vail: Opened in late-2017, the 285-room Hotel Talisa features exclusive amenities including one-of-a-kind spa treatments, three dining venues, curated alpine experiences and a 58,000-square-foot athletic club.

Food and Beverage Offerings Debut:

Angry James Brewery Opens in Silverthorne:Opening in Q1 2018, Angry James Brewery is a small, community-oriented brewery and tap room featuring a seven barrel system and showcasing a variety of American and international-style beers.

Crafted Beverages of Southwest Colorado Adds Tasting Passport: Now in its second year, Crafted Beverages of Southwest Colorado (CBSW), aims to raise awareness of the region’s “drink local” movement spotlighting independent producers of crafted beverages, and — new for 2018 — coffee and tea roasters.

Dairy Block Micro-District Opens in Denver: Slated to open in summer 2018, and anchored by The Maven Hotel, The Dairy Block in Denver’s newest micro-district highlighting some of the area’s most creative makers and businesses, including the much anticipate Milk Market food hall from acclaimed chef, Frank Bonanno.

Denver’s Famed Cherry Cricket Opens Second Location: One of Denver’s most popular burger joints, the Cherry Cricket, will open its second outpost in the city’s Ballpark neighborhood in summer 2018.

Fall Line Kitchen & Cocktails Opens in Vail: New for 2018, Fall Line restaurant celebrates the active and adventurous lifestyle of Vail with casual comfort food and inventive cocktails in a bright, modern space flanked with large 60’s era ski photos lining the walls.

Goat Patch Brewing Opens in Colorado Springs: Goat Patch Brewing offers a variety of handcrafted beers along with a fundamental goal of supporting the local Colorado Springs community.

New Hands-On Culinary Experiences at Larkspur Vail: This summer, guests are invited to join the Larkspur culinary team for a hands-on culinary experience including food preparation with chefs in the kitchen, cocktail reception and a three-course meal.

New Butchery Program at Leonora at The Sebastian in Vail: The Sebastian-Vail is completely refreshing its food and beverage program for summer 2018 with a new menu and concept at Leonora featuring a whole animal butchery as well as game and prime beef selections.

The Nice Guy Opens in Aspen: LA Hotspot, The Nice Guy, has plans to expand their second restaurant in Aspen.

Oskar Blues Opens in Downtown Colorado Springs: The new eatery will offer underground bocce courts, an outdoor patio, 48 taps and locally sourced meats that round out the menu.

Pikes Peak Market Opens in Colorado Springs: Opened in late 2017, Pikes Peak Market is an indoor market and non-profit focused on building the local food ecosystem, supporting local vendors, and building community.

Jennifer Jasinski’s Ultreia Opens in Denver’s Union Station: James Beard Best Chef Southwest Jennifer Jasinski opened Ultreia this past winter featuring shared plate pinxtos and tapas from Spain and Portugal.

Zeppelin Station Opens in Denver: Opening in Q1 2018, the 100,000-square-foot Zeppelin Station will boast a ground level market hall featuring retail tenants focused in design goods, various street food vendors from around the country, multiple bars and a full-service anchor restaurant.

New Rural Colorado Cuisine Offerings: Top-tier chefs are moving into rural areas—especially west of Denver—and raising the bar on the dining scene with small focused dinner events and intimate dining rooms offering fast-evolving menus that reflect seasonality and locality of ingredients. Cloverdale Farm and Restaurant opened doors mid/late 2017 in Steamboat Springs offering an intimate, fine dining experience using locally grown and sourced ingredients alongside a curated old world wine list. Traditional hunting lodge, High Lonesome Ranch in Debeque launches its second season of high-end dinners, serving a 20-course tasting menu overseen by Matt Chasseur and Patrick Ayers. Latigo Ranch in Kremmling will also offer a second season of fine dining, with a molecular dinner club.

Major News on the Horizon for Winter 2018/2019:

Dior: From Paris to the World Debuts at The Denver Art Museum, November 18, 2018 – March 3, 2019: The Denver Art Museum will host the U.S. debut of the renowned exhibition, Dior: From Paris to the World, this fall.

Limelight Hotel Snowmass to Open: Slated to open in November 2018 the Limelight Hotel Snowmass will offer fun, unfussy luxury with an energetic vibe and will feature an indoor/outdoor lounge area, a five-story climbing wall open to the public, a fitness center and spa pools.

W Aspen and The Sky Residences at W Aspen to Open: Slated to open for the 2018/2019 winter ski season, the new hotel and residences will offer 88 guestrooms and 11 W-branded fractional residences.

# # #

Kirstin Koszorus
Colorado Tourism Office
Phone: (303) 892-3871
E-Mail: kirstin.koszorus@state.co.us

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Dan Leeth, Special to The Denver Post An overnight visitor enjoys the gilded grandeur and rustic solitude of an autumn stay in the ghost town of Crystal City.

ASPEN – As usual, my wife insists that it’s all my fault.

Some 20-odd autumns ago, Aspen’s three ritziest hotels, the Little Nell, Hotel Jerome and what was then the Ritz-Carlton (now the St. Regis), offered fall rooms at plummeting prices.

The discounts began right after Labor Day and ran until Thanksgiving. At the height of autumn grandeur, we booked one night at each, and for one long weekend, my wife and I lodged in golden-leafed luxury.

Finding bargains in Aspen during Colorful Colorado’s most colorful season was something I felt I should share with the world, so I wrote a newspaper travel article revealing the bargain. The story ran across the country, and all three hotels found themselves besieged with a sudden rush of guests.

That apparently doomed the discount. During subsequent autumns, room rates didn’t crash until the last leaf hit the ground.

The discounts may have dimmed, but autumn is still a fine time for us leaf peepers to visit the town named for the hill-gilding tree. Arriving via Independence Pass, we’re treated to savory views of mountainous hillsides that look like they’d been slathered with relish and splattered with mustard. In town, golden glades seemingly avalanche down the ski slopes and swamp the Roaring Fork and Frying Pan Rivers with a flood of vibrant color.

For many, wearing waders and flinging flies is one popular way to mine the riverside gold. We prefer to pedal beside it on bicycles. The 42-mile long Rio Grande Trail parallels the river from Aspen to Glenwood Springs. It’s all downhill, and with the Woody Creek Tavern and Capitol Creek Brewery providing burger and brew stops en route, we find it to be a truly delicious ride.

Pavement abounds for those who prefer pistons over pedals. The road to the Maroon Bells, accessible by shuttle bus, traverses territory as glitzy as the town’s reputation. Midas-touched leaves line the valley, and when glazed with fresh snow, the gold-fronted peaks can shimmer like a pair of diamonds set in a 24-karat mounting.

The road up neighboring Castle Creek offers a vivid drive through a cornucopia of color. At pavement’s end lies the ghost town of Ashcroft, whose timeworn structures present a photogenic contrast of dark, weathered wood against a gold-leaf background.

A turnoff before Ashcroft leads the Conundrum Hot Springs trailhead. I’ve made the 9-mile slog up the canyon more than a dozen times over the years, with autumn my favorite time for the hike. Last time I backpacked there on a guy-trip with two hiking buddies, one of whom was assigned wine duty. He arrived at the springs with a five-liter box of pink zinfandel. We chastised him for his choice, but by trip’s end, there was nary a drop left.

Our favorite fall drive from Aspen heads up Colorado 133 from Carbondale to McClure Pass. Near the base of the pass, a paved side road leads to the village of Marble, where stone for the Lincoln Memorial was quarried. From there, 5½ miles of four-wheel drive roadway leads to the aspen-draped Crystal Mill, probably the most-photographed icon of Colorado’s mineral past.

Beyond lie the ghostly remains of Crystal City, a silver-mining ghost town awash in golden aspen. Privately owned, many of the town’s remaining buildings sport new roofs and curtained windows. On one autumn visit, I met a man who had rented one of the historic cabins and planned to spend a few delightful days ensconced in rustic solitude.

“They’re pretty basic,” he said. “Running water and a wood burning stove is about all they offer. And, oh yes, there’s an outhouse.”

Far from the four- and five-star luxury found in downtown Aspen, I assured my wife that no words of mine will cause this autumn eye-candy retreat to be besieged by a sudden influx of guests.

“If it is,” she declared, “it will all be your fault.

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Texans have been invading Colorado for decades to play in the snow. But in the past decade or so, spending a chunk of one’s summertime in a Colorado mountain town to avoid the scorching heat has almost become a rite-of-passage. The winters offer skiing, snowmobiling, tubing and, my favorite winter pastime, après-ski. In the summer, there’s biking - both mountain and road - hiking, white water rafting, fishing, four-wheeling, and countless outdoor festivals and concerts. Basically, if you can think of any activity to do on land or in water in temperatures that rarely get higher than 80 degrees where you may need a mountain or river, you’ll probably find someone doing it in a Colorado mountain town.

Oh, and don’t forget the dogs.

Coloradans love their pooches. I discovered this phenomenon when my family and I traveled to Breckenridge a few summers ago. They’re everywhere. They’re in hotels, they’re in stores, they’re in restaurants (typically allowed on the patio). They’re even allowed in the gondola cabins!

This past June, I wanted to give my family, including our golden retriever Rosie, a way to beat the Texas heat. So we loaded up the SUV, created a special place for Rosie in the back, and headed off to Crested Butte and Aspen for a week. As we had never been there before, it would be interesting to see just how much these towns offered for humans and canines. Spoiler alert: the towns, the activities, and the people were even better than I imagined.

An elevated experience

The extremely pet-friendly Elevation Hotel and Spa takes up residence as the centerpiece of Mount Crested Butte. A true ski in/ski out property in the winter, in the summer it plays host to a bevy of activities for kids and adults.

We strapped our mountain bikes to the chair lift and enjoyed an afternoon of navigating trails from the top of the mountain down to the base. The trails were marked in a similar fashion as ski runs in terms of difficulty with green indicating the easiest, blue as moderate and black as most diffi cult. The mountain also contains a disc golf course and numerous hiking trails that Rosie and I enjoyed in the crisp early morning air while the rest of our crew slept in.

In the late afternoons, my wife and I sat with Rosie on the back patio of the hotel’s 9380 Prime restaurant and bar and enjoyed a couple beers and a bowl of cold water respectively as we watched the kids play in the Kid Zone, which featured a giant stuntman-style bag jump, miniature golf course, rock climbing and bungee trampolines. To close out one particular evening, we didn’t have to move a muscle from our perch on the patio as we listened to a free concert while drinking in the stunning mountain backdrop behind the music stage.

Heading down the mountain

Take a short drive - or better yet do the three-mile-ish run on the concrete hike/bike trail with your four-legged family member - down the mountain to the town of Crested Butte (CB) and you’ll be immersed in one of the last true Colorado ski towns. While there’s all sorts of evidence on the old Interwebs on what some locals think of tourists, especially us Texans (for a taste, check out Outside magazine’s recent article, “Did Airbnb Kill the Mountain Town?” and the Facebook page, “Crested Butte Bitch and Moan”), the business owners couldn’t have been nicer to us.

“Without visitors and the tourist economy, we couldn’t live here and do what we do,” said Al Smith, Camp4Coffee owner and operator. The name for his business, like many in CB, came from the mountains. “We had been climbing all day and sitting around the campfire in Yosemite’s camp number four. In the climbing world, camp four is usually the last opportunity for climbers to get something hot to eat and drink before making a push for the summit,” said Smith.

His location in downtown CB is less campsite and more respite, with plenty of outdoor seating for locals and visitors to sit and enjoy the drinks made from Camp4Coffee’s top secret bean recipe. And, of course, dogs are always allowed.

If family is the name of the game for dinner, then look no further than Secret Stash - named for an area of powder snow that is known only to the skier or snowboarder - for pizza, and Lil’s Sushi for sushi, robatayaki, fine steaks and seafood. And for those Texans jonesing to get your Mexican food fix while in CB, Kyleena Falzone, Secret Stash owner, also runs the Bonez Tequila Bar & Grill.

But if you’re looking to ditch the kids, er, have a date night, then do yourself the biggest favor of your life and book a table at Soupcon. Shining like a miner’s light at the end of a darkened tunnel, this French American Bistro is located off the beaten path down an alleyway and inside an old miner’s cabin. While serving simply luxurious yet comforting food inside a place that also brought miners relief from their work in a past life, I only needed to look at pictures of snow covering its roof and mounding around the entrance to realize just how much more powerful and emotional an effect Chef Jason Vernon’s menu might have on patrons in the winter. Dining at Soupcon will be something my wife and I savor for a lifetime.

Accessible Aspen

If you’re like me, you may have a preconceived notion of Aspen. It’s fancy. It’s extravagant. When we drove past the local airport and saw the gleaming Gulfstream jets stacked up like cars in a valet parking lot, my opinion was ready to be cemented in place. But after spending time there, I’ll give you one more adjective. It’s accessible.

“There’s this perception that Aspen is an expensive place to visit, and it certainly is on the upper end. But there are great alternative, affordable options in Aspen,” said Jeff Bay, managing director of HayMax Hotels. Their properties in Aspen are the Molly Gibson Lodge and the Hotel Aspen. Both dog-friendly hotels have been recently renovated, but each had a personality all its own. The Molly Gibson definitely hasn’t lost its soul as a mountain ski chalet while the Hotel Aspen gave off a more contemporary vibe. The hotels are across the street from one another and, no matter which one you choose, once you park your car, you don’t have to get back in it again during your stay.

World-class shopping and activities like the gondola that takes you up the mountain where hiking trails offer stunning views in all directions are all within walking distance. Speaking of stunning views, many restaurants feature outdoor seating that not only leverage the views, but allow Fido to tag along. We ate dinner at BB’s restaurant, which several locals I talked to consider an Aspen institution. The outdoor patio is considered one of the best in town for breathtaking views of Aspen’s ski mountain. But views aside, restaurants need to offer good food, right? Not only is their menu of contemporary cuisine on point, but their kale & Brussels salad was one of the best salads I’ve ever had. Ever.

And if you’re missing your favorite barbecue joint back in Texas while you’re there, fear not. Home Team BBQ offers barbeque from original pitmaster and graduate of the Culinary Institute of America (the other CIA) Aaron Siegel that can rival any Texas joint. When I talked to Siegel about his ‘cue, he used another word that I will use from now on when I refer to Aspen: approachable.

No matter who you are, travel writer or not, after you go somewhere on vacation, people typically ask you if liked it enough to ever go back. As far as Crested Butte and Aspen go, it’s a definite yes. I’m going back to hike the CB to Aspen trail (though I’ll go in late July or August to avoid the snow next time). I’m going back for all the outdoor activities and to escape the heat. But mostly, I’m going back for the friendly people and to make more memories with my family members, including our four-legged one.

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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:

Carbondale

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

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