I grew up in Colorado and have great memories of road trips around the state when I was a kid – usually to the mountains, the sand dunes or the national parks. So now that my kids are 5, 7 and 9, I want to take them around the state as well. Last summer we headed up to Vail and Breckenridge. This summer we decided to explore Aspen.
I hadn’t been to Aspen since I was young, so I asked the Aspen Chamber Resort Association for ideas of things to do with kids. I got back a long list of things that sounded great. Most didn’t require reservations in advance, so we didn’t plan too much. We simply booked a hotel for three nights – the St. Regis Aspen Resort – and hit the road.
The only problem with our plan? Three nights weren’t enough. We had a great time, but we only got to two of the items on the Chamber’s list, since each took the better part of a day. I would recommend staying for at least five nights to be able to see and do a lot more.
What We Did
Hiking to Crater Lake
This didn’t start out as a hike to Crater Lake. We thought a walk around Maroon Lake would be fun for the kids and not too difficult for short legs. So we took two easy buses from Aspen to Maroon Lake (note: you aren’t allowed to drive to the lake in summer) and started our walk. Just a few minutes in there was a sign saying that there had been a moose sighting. Great, a moose! Nope, not in this case. Because a moose had been spotted, the path around the lake was closed for at least 24 hours. So we took the trail to the right and started walking to Crater Lake.
We didn’t intend on making it all the way to the lake, but the farther we hiked, the less we wanted to turn back without seeing the lake. So even though we hadn’t packed anything to eat and there were rain clouds building, we kept going, eventually getting there. We only spent a few minutes at the lake skipping stones before it started raining and we began the 1.5 mile hike back to the bus stop.
There were a lot of families with young kids on the Crater Lake hike. And there were a lot of kids who were having tough times on the hike, with parents who were debating turning around. I would recommend 6-7 as a minimum age for heading all the way to Crater Lake, unless your kids are adventurous and really enjoy hiking. Take plenty of snacks and water in case it’s a longer journey than you plan. And definitely bring rain gear. We at least had done that right.
Rafting the Lower Roaring Fork
I’ve rafted Class IV and V around the world, but our kids had never been rafting before. Class II seemed like a good way to start – especially for my 5-year-old. Blazing Adventures picked us up at our hotel at 8:30am and by 9:30 we were getting off the bus at the put-in for the Lower Roaring Fork River. The weather was less than ideal with cool rain for the first half of the trip, but the kids still loved it, and they got really excited every time we would hit some light Class III rapids. We were dressed in rain jackets and the kids had wet suits (provided by the rafting company) and it worked out well. Gorgeous scenery too.
We rode the Roaring Fork River until it merged with the Colorado River, and then rafted the Colorado for 20 minutes or so before getting out in Glenwood Springs, having a barbecue lunch and getting on the rafting bus for the hour-long trip back to Aspen. The kids gave the day a big thumbs-up despite the weather and they really want to do Class III next summer. The minimum age for Class III is typically six, so that should work out well.
Tip: Book Blazing Adventures’ trips through their website. There’s a 10% discount. And if you’re planning on rafting, check out the rafting company’s website in advance for the recommend gear to bring. You will get wet, even on Class II.
We were in town during the annual Aspen Music Festival. After two long days of rafting and hiking our kids weren’t feeling up to attending any of the scheduled concerts. But walking around town we still experienced the Music Festival, stopping often to watch performances on the street. The Charismatic Quartet was particularly good, and it worked out well that they were playing outside Paradise Bakery, so we could get ice cream while enjoying the music. Very family-friendly!
Wagner Park and Playground
Aspen has several parks and places to play. Because Wagner Park was right across the street from our hotel room, we spent a lot of time there. It’s a very large park with plenty of room for frisbee and soccer, and there’s a great playground at the corner that was always busy. One evening we met friends at the park and our kids all played for hours while we enjoyed wine and dessert at Jimmy’s Bodega next to the playground. Their outside tables are perfect for really enjoying the Aspen evenings and keeping an eye on the kids.
Other Things to Do
We easily could have stayed longer. The list that the Chamber Resort Association sent us included cooking classes at Little Nell, hiking at the Grottos, ghost town and mine tours, bike riding, stand up paddle boarding, drop-in science camps, horseback riding and the Aspen Mountain Gondola. Some activities take place every day but some are weekly or monthly, so be sure to look at an event calendar before you go. And of course Aspen has a lot of high-end shopping if that’s of interest to you. We found ourselves really enjoying the town and the natural beauty completely outside of shopping (although our kids liked the toy stores).
Where We Ate
We had dinners at the Ajax Tavern (Little Nell) and Mezzaluna. We ate lunch at the Highlands Taqueria. Breakfasts were at Trecento Quindici (St. Regis) and Over Easy. All were very good. Mezzaluna and Highlands Taqueria were our favorites and places that we would definitely go back to next time we’re in Aspen. Both are listed on my Top Spots list.
Where We Stayed
We had an excellent stay at the St. Regis Aspen Resort. It’s one of the rare hotels that finds the perfect balance between luxury, comfort and kid-friendliness. At check-in our kids received activity bags including journals, cups and custom FAO Schwarz teddy bears. The teddy bears were a huge hit with our kids and the other kids at the resort, judging by how many I saw being carried around and taken to breakfast.
The Loft Suite was perfect for the five of us, and there was a side entrance below our room that made it really fast to walk across the street to the park and city. There was also complimentary coffee, hot chocolate, water and tea in the lobby, and the wifi was free. They even brought surprise snacks to the room several times, including fruit, cake pops and cookies. I’d stay at the St. Regis again in a heartbeat. I wish all hotels were that family-friendly.