Spend a weekend in Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley, home to Glenwood Springs, Carbondale, Aspen and Snowmass. From its confluence with the Colorado River at the mouth of Glenwood Canyon to its humble beginnings near Independence Pass, the Roaring Fork River flows through a valley that has always been one of Colorado’s favorite playgrounds.
Start day one with a bike ride up the Colorado River on the paved bike path into Glenwood Canyon. As you stare up at the 1,300-foot chocolate-colored canyon walls, you will undoubtedly notice that Glenwood Canyon feels like a precursor to the Grand Canyon located nearly 500 miles downstream. As an alternative to cycling, hikers should visit Hanging Lake, a mysterious natural wonder located high in the bluffs.
Next, melt any muscle aches away at the Glenwood Hot Springs, home to the world’s largest hot-springs pool. The springs are the perfect antidote for the everyday stresses of life, with mineral-rich waters that fluctuate between 90 and 93 degrees. Swimming lanes, a kiddie pool, waterslides and mini golf add an element of playfulness, while the nearby Yampah Spa & Salon Vapor Caves provide another unique way to unwind.
You can follow those sighs of relaxation with squeals of delight at the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, where an alpine coaster, mountain sling shot and a new zipline — among other thrill rides — provide year-round exhilaration for all ages.
Finish your visit to Glenwood Springs with chills of a different sort at the historic Hotel Colorado, where ghost tours provide a fascinating glimpse into the colorful characters that have decorated the local history. Stay the night in Glenwood Springs or head up the valley to Carbondale for shopping, dining, golf or a drive through the magnificent Crystal River Valley.
On day two, it’s time to explore Aspen. Renowned as a haven for celebrities, skiers and culture vultures, Aspen manages to maintain a character that is 100 percent Colorado.
To experience the essence of Aspen in a day can be a tall order, so hit the ground running with a stroll through downtown to survey the stores that the town is famous for. While high-end fashion may garner much of the attention, Aspen also has a superb selection of children’s shops, bookstores, jewelers and art galleries to peruse. If you are visiting during the summer, check out the Saturday Market for farm-fresh produce and local food-and-drink products.
In the afternoon, make ample time to savor the scenery of the valley. One option is to take a scenic gondola ride to the top of either Aspen Mountain or nearby Snowmass Mountain for breathtaking 360-degree views. On Aspen Mountain, you can hike and dine at the Sundeck, while on Snowmass Mountain you can play disc golf or mountain bike more than 40 miles of on-mountain trails.
As early evening arrives, make your way to Maroon Lake via the free shuttle. This meadow-ensconced lake takes in one of North America’s most famous mountain landscapes: the striped, tilted pyramids of the twin Maroon Bells.
Next up is dinner, and you are in luck: For a town its size, Aspen may be one of America’s finest when it comes to food. Much of this has to do with how Aspen’s chefs have embraced the “locavore” movement. The chefs at such renowned restaurants as Peach's and Element 47 at The Little Nell build their menus around what local, seasonal ingredients are fresh and available. In the case of Montagna, they have their own farm in the nearby town of Paonia where their choice ingredients are grown and raised.
Make sure you pair dinner with a visit to the Aspen Art Museum, which features a compelling lecture series and free admission courtesy of some notable locals.
As the town’s name might lead you to believe, Rifle, located about 30 minutes west of Glenwood Springs, is a major year-round hunting destination. The area has ranked on several lists of top places in the country to hunt, including Field & Stream’s Top 10 Best Public Lands for Elk Hunting.
The town of Marble is also great for a quick visit to tour its historic downtown, fish in Youle Creek and a trip to the ghost town of Crystal.
Photo: Gondola at Aspen Mountain; copyright flickr/Insufficient Postage.