It’s safe to say, adventure has been a little hard to come by these last few months. Canceled trips were replaced by backyard sojourns and walks through the park. As the world opened up a bit, our LifeToGo contributor Jacqueline Reynolds headed for the Colorado mountains where cooler temperatures, blue skies and verdant mountains beckoned. Her multi-part travel guide breaks down everything from the must-see mountains to the adrenalin rush of river rafting. In this first installment, Reynolds gives the lay of the land and her favorite hikes.

Aspen 101: An Escape for the Body and Soul

Aspen is energized, festive and buoyant. The luxurious town is commonly known for its supreme skiing, celebrity scene and high-end shops and restaurants. While some people are drawn to Aspen’s ritzy reputation, others turn their heads at the expense and extravagance. What most people don’t know is that under all of its glam, Aspen is a hub for creativity, adventure and renewal.

In the 1940s, Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke established the Aspen community around the mind, body and spirit. This original vision was called “The Aspen Idea,” and it still pumps through the veins of the vibrant town today. Home to diverse arts and cultural institutions, such as The Aspen Institute, The Aspen Music Festival & School and numerous museums and centers, the town hosts unique events and reputable programs throughout the entire year. Artists, writers, musicians and adventure-seekers travel from all over the world to experience this rich culture and creative community.

The Aspen Idea spreads up, down and around Highway 82. Stretching from Independence Pass and flowing along the Roaring Fork River through Aspen and Snowmass, all the way to the unique, little town of Basalt, the spirited domain provides opportunities beyond comparison. With swank stereotypes and an overwhelming list of “Guides to Aspen,” it can be difficult to filter out the glitz and find the central spirit of this special place.

Having lived here every summer since before I could walk, I present to you some recommendations for summer adventures. From go-to outdoor activities to my secret spots, I hope you discover the adventurous heart of the little town tucked between the peaks of the Elk Mountains and the valleys of the Roaring Fork River.

Let’s Get Outdoorsy

Aspen is better known for its winter reputation with four diverse ski mountains, a legendary après ski scene, and endless activities for on or off the slopes. However, summer offers even more adventures and outdoor recreation with hiking, biking and horseback riding to fishing, river rafting and golfing.

My Favorite Hikes:

For as long as I can remember, I spent my summers exploring the mountain ranges along Highway 82. While I’m always game for a good mountaineer workout, I also enjoy an easier climb with a beautiful view. Here are some of my all-time favorites:

  1. Ute Trail (Difficult)

This hike is tough but one of my favorite workouts. It’s short, steep and the view overlooks all of Aspen. Climbing steady switchbacks for about a mile, your heartrate is high and your legs are on fire. I usually head back down at Ute Rock, but there’s been a few times where I’ve continued up the trailhead to the top of Aspen Mountain (about another two miles) for an intense yet satisfying experience. At the top of Aspen Mountain, you’re rewarded with vigorous views, drinks and music. The best part is riding the Gondola down for free!

(*Secret Spot: Although most visitors head up the Gondola to check out Aspen Mountain, many people are not aware of the amazing activities at the top. My favorite is the free bluegrass bands every Sunday afternoon. Enjoying a cold beer, the sun and live music on the top of the world is pretty unforgettable).

2. Cathedral Lake Trail (Moderate-Difficult)

Nestled back in Castle Creek Road, Cathedral Lake Trail is another difficult climb, yet it’s one of the most exquisite and unique terrains I’ve ever experienced. From switchbacks to waterfalls to a rocky path, this 2.8 mile hike has it all. A beautiful, clear-water lake sits at the top where you can fish, swim or enjoy a peaceful picnic.

3. Grottos (Easy)

About nine miles up Independence Pass, the Grottos trailhead is a popular spot for families and picnicking. The Grottos consists of a few short and easy trails, waterfalls, large rocks and ice caves. This loop is ideal for adventuring, exploring and enjoying, no matter your age.

4. Exploring Maroon Bells (All Levels)

If you’re visiting the Aspen/ Snowmass area, Maroon Bells is one of the top recommended places to go. It’s a great spot for hiking, biking, camping and photography.  You can get there by car or shuttle and experience the enchanting, notorious view any way you’d like (check for coronavirus restrictions and reservation requirements).

Click Here for more information on hiking trails in and around the Aspen/ Snowmass area.


Jacqueline Reynolds is a senior journalism major at the University of Georgia with a certificate in Interdisciplinary Writing. She attended the Juniper Institute for Young Writers in 2016 and the Aspen Summer Words writers conference in 2020. Originally from Fort Worth, Texas, Jacqueline currently lives in Athens, Georgia where she is a staff editor for Stillpoint Literary Magazine and a contributor on the opinion desk for The Red and Black. Curious, conscious and creative, Jacqueline is an adventurer and a storyteller.