Coming home from a fall filled weekend in Colorado, my heart is still beaming from all the beautiful colors + quality time spent with family. Every year, my Mom, sister and I try to coordinate a fall foliage road trip out west. Last year we tackled Gunnison + Montrose. This year was a real treat as the men of the family {Dad, brother and Sterling} decided to join! We ultimately decided to experience leaf peeping in Aspen, Colorado, and the surrounding areas for a few days – pure bliss.

WHEN TO VISIT COLORADO FOR FALL LEAVES

This is the burning question everyone asks. And sadly, the answer is not precise. Predicting the changing of the leaves is tricky, even for meteorologists, and relies on numerous factors like annual rain fall, sunlight and temperature. Typically speaking, peak fall begins in the mountains around mid September and trickles down to the foothills in late September to early October.

If you have a flexible schedule, I recommend waiting until the last minute to book a trip to Colorado for fall foliage. It’s quite unpredictable and can essentially be wiped out all together in a single early season freeze or snow. Another route – book your flight in/out of Denver so you have set dates for the trip, but wait to book hotel, restaurants and activities about a week out so you can track where in the state the best leaves will be at that time.

This particular 2019 season, we were thrilled to have arrived on essentially the final days of peak season in Aspen! It’s predicted to snow/freeze Thursday, so we were able to experience a sea of yellow leaves just in the nick-of-time. Early October is not common for this area, but it was the weekend that worked best for our schedule so we went with it, hoping for the best. And were certainly NOT disappointed!

WHERE TO STAY IN ASPEN

When researching where to stay in Aspen, you’ll find two main options: Aspen and then Aspen Snowmass. These two locations are only about 12 mins apart, so are essentially very similar in accessibility to surrounding trails and leaf related activities. This might not be the case in peak season {i.e. ski season}, but for fall purposes – they’re very similar, aside from price point. You’ll find Snowmass resorts to be significantly less expensive this time of year. Check out discount sites such as Hotwire to score insane rates on some of the areas highest sought after properties.

We opted for the Viceroy Snowmass, which did not disappoint. Easily accessible to Downtown Aspen, beautiful interiors, great on-site restaurant, and a King Room with personal fireplace and floating tub! Only downsides we experienced – there is no self-parking, so you have to relay on valet every time you wish to leave {there are complimentary shuttles within Snowmass}. I also found myself driving up to the Westin Snowmass each morning for a Starbucks fix. Properties with connecting {or nearby} Starbucks rank high on my list. Just food for thought.

WHERE TO EAT IN ASPEN

This is simply a highlight reel of my favorite spots we visited during our quick weekend stay. I’m sure there are MANY more fabulous options but can only personally speak to + recommend these.

White House Tavern | Voted #1 restaurant in Aspen, and even with my limited experience in the area, I totally agree! The look of White Tavern isn’t anything particularly special. Cute white house with a small outdoor patio and fairly limited indoor seating. They don’t take reservations, so you’ll often find a slew of people waiting outside on nearby benches for up to an hour on any given day. But y’all, it’s worth it.

My eyes got bigger and bigger as we read through the menu. We ordered about 5 different dishes for the table – each one so stinkin’ good! My brother even said ‘this is the best chicken sandwich I’ve ever had! Even beats Chick-fil-a.’ Which is saying a lot coming from him, haha. The menu includes some creative twists on classic, feel good food with surprising spices and a slight Asian influence here and there with peanut sauces and spicy slaw in the mix.

French Alpine Bistro | By far one of the coziest restaurants I’ve even stepped foot it. It’s like dining in a French vintage shop with curated trinkets galore. The menu boasts quintessential French options like sweet + savoy crepes, french onion soup, 4-cheese blend fondue that is insanely tasting and an array of well sourced Old World wines. And whatever you do, don’t skip the french fries! They’re perfection.

Home Team BBQ | Located in the Inn at Aspen Home Team BBQ is a hometown favorite for us! When we arrived in Aspen the first evening, we didn’t have reservations, which deemed tricky for a party of 6 on a Friday night. As we searched for a low-key spot, we discovered a Charleston favorite of ours – Home Team BBQ – was right down the road! Even when you travel, sometimes a little taste of home is just what you need. The menu was essentially the same {which we appreciated}, so the table was happy all around with wing, sliders and tots for all.

If you’re not from Charleston/not familiar with the South Caroline based BBQ spot, then you’re in for even more of a treat! This is a great spot for kids and large groups. Those who need a low-key night of good food without dressing up or spending a fortune.

HIKES, TRAILS + EASY DESTINATIONS FROM ASPEN

Maroon Bells | A MUST visit! This spot ranks high on many bucket lists, and for good reason. Located in the Elk Mountains, Maroon Lake is situated in a natural valley surrounded by trees, open fields and peaks. It can be quite the journey to arrive at this popular destination, but totally worth it. Check out my full guide to experiencing the Maroons Bells.

Crystal Mill | About an hour and ½ drive from Aspen lies Crystal Mill. A spot I’ve been wanting to visit myself for years, but haven’t been able to time is quite right. Accessible only be foot {8.2 mile roundtrip hike} or via an off roading vehicle. Crystal River Jeep Tours is the main group tour group licensed to take groups to the area. You can also rent/drive your own vehicle up the path if you’re up for it! Unusual Places sheds some interesting light on a little history about the Mill and what makes it so unique. It’s a sight to see and one I can imagine is even more magical in person.

Grottos Trail | A pretty easy hike that takes visitors through ice caves {enter at your own free will} and cascading streams. Continue even further up, and you’ll come across Devil’s Punch Bowl. This is where adventurers can take a plunge into some freezing {but supposedly refreshing} mountain water. We skipped the later haha.

Have you been leaf peeping in Aspen? Share your tips/favorite spots below for other travelers!

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