Magazine article Sunset

Bargain Aspen: Explore Colorado's Historic Town-When Hiking, Fall Color, and Prices Are at Their Best

Magazine article Sunset

Bargain Aspen: Explore Colorado's Historic Town-When Hiking, Fall Color, and Prices Are at Their Best

Article excerpt

Aspen is an outdoor-lover's dream in September: relaxed, uncrowded, and gloriously lovely, with plenty to do. The weather is typically sunny and warm during the day, cool at night. By the middle of the month, aspen groves edging the town are shimmering with gold. Fall is also a bargain season, so it seemed like an ideal place to go with my fitness-minded sister, Mary Kay. We could hike, bike, speed-walk, and power-shop 'til we dropped. Or, at least until I dropped.

We cruised the Internet for the best room rate but ended up with an even better one by going through our travel agent. We also looked in the free local papers for dining discounts. And because Aspen is level, walkable, and easy to get around, we decided not to rent a car.

We found that Aspen in autumn was enjoyably laid-back, even though its wonderful performing arts scene ebbs a bit and some shops and public transit services have reduced hours.

Day one: The riches of Aspen

Almost everything in town was within walking distance of our room at the St. Moritz Lodge & Condominiums. At $73 a night plus $7.01 tax, it is well located, clean, and comfortable, if a tad noisy. And the daily continental breakfast makes it an even better deal.

Mary Kay and I dumped our bags at the hotel and headed off down quiet West Hopkins Avenue, which is also a bike and pedestrian path. A seven-block walk brought us to a visitor center in the historic sandstone Wheeler Opera House, where we loaded up on info for our Aspen assault: a free town map, a free shuttle bus map and ,schedule, the free local paper for discount coupons, and a map of a self-guided historical downtown walking tour.

Aspen's rural past is embodied in a few buildings at the Marolt Open Space. To get there, we walked to the Rubey Park Transit Center and hopped on a free city shuttle. In the fall, the Castle/Maroon bus is part of a four-route system running every 20 minutes or so, and it proved to be a mainstay of our trip. We got off near the Aspen Valley Hospital at the trailhead leading to the Holden/Marolt Mining & Ranching Museum. The building is open only by appointment from fall through spring, but the walk took us into lush wetlands, along Castle Creek, and past the once-grand ranch house itself.

Back in town, Aspen's current riches were easy to find--just go window-shopping along Galena Street. The shops serve Aspen royalty--Jill St. John, RJ (as Robert Wagner's buds call him), Oprah--and wannabes. At Christian Dior, we paused to ogle the Galliano goatskin jeans in the window. Alas, they were $6,250, not to mention a size 4. But at Susie's Ltd. Consignments, we happily poked through gorgeous castoffs of the rich and famous. I mugged for my sister, modeling a full-length red-fox coat ($1,200).

For refreshment, just head to the historic Hotel Jerome and plant yourself at the J-Bar. It's been a famed people-watching spot since the 1940s, when stars like Hedy Lamarr and Gary Cooper held down barstools. No celebs were out that day, but we found what we came for--happy-hour beers and chips with guacamole. Then on to a late dinner at another Mother Lode of local lore, Little Annie's Eating House. Its ambience is old Aspen: red-checked tablecloths, wood walls, and patrons in cowboy boots.

Day two: Walking the wild side

Cashing in on the area's natural wealth was one of our goals, so after our free breakfast at the lodge, we rode the free bus along Main Street to Mill Street and walked to the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies. This parklike center is a nature refuge, ringed by cottonwoods and Colorado blue spruce and home to ducks and beavers. We had the trails all to ourselves.

The short hike was a hardly a workout for my sister, so we headed to Aspen Velo Bicycles, rented bikes, and hit the nearby Rio Grande Trail. Sis soon streaked out ahead of me, but the ride was no less enjoyable: a mostly level, paved path through a tunnel of yellowing aspen above the foamy Roaring Fork River. …

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