New England is often considered the autumn travel destination for gorgeous foliage, beautiful hikes and massive orchards, and this native New Englander was admittedly skeptical that anywhere else could come close. But when you only have a long weekend at your disposal, a cross-country flight and jet lag just aren’t worth it, so I headed to Snowmass Village, Colorado, to see if it truly lives up to the hype. (Spoiler alert: It does.)
Snowmass is a 15-minute drive from Aspen and shares its stunning mountain views and outdoor activities, but with fewer crowds, lower price tags, and a more laid-back vibe. And with hot-air-balloon rides and plenty to do without hitting the slopes, a visit to Snowmass is just as appealing in autumn as it is during ski season.
It takes just under five hours to get from Seattle to Snowmass Village. Take a two-and-half hour flight to Denver, then switch planes and hop on an approximately 45-minute flight to Aspen/Pitkin County Airport. Once you land in Aspen, take a shuttle into Snowmass. It’s an approximately 15-minute drive from the airport.
Where to stay
The recently opened Limelight Hotel Snowmass (limelighthotels.com/snowmass) features two pool spas, a five-story climbing wall and a seriously delicious breakfast spread that includes everything from European pastries to staples like scrambled eggs and bacon; there’s also live music and special themed dinners (often attended by locals). Limelight also offers guests transportation to and from the airport and around Snowmass Village, which is practical in a town where Ubers and Lyfts are scarce.
Operated by Aspen Skiing Company, Lost Forest (aspensnowmass.com/plan-your-stay/lost-forest) is an on-mountain adventure center with a wealth of fun activities, no snow needed. There’s an alpine coaster, bike trails, ropes courses, a massive outdoor climbing wall and zip lines. An excursion generally takes three to four hours at the very least, but you could easily spend an entire day at Lost Forest.
Another option? Hot-air-balloon rides. A bucket list item for some, hot-air-balloon rides make for a peaceful experience and a chance to take in amazing views of the foliage and the Rocky Mountains from a few hundred feet up. You can even add on a meal: Above it All Balloon Company (aboveitallballoon.com) operates hot-air-balloon rides followed by a Champagne brunch. Booking in advance is a good idea.
If you’re in the mood for a hike, you’ll find plenty of routes in Snowmass. For a fairly easy jaunt with a rewarding view, head to the Viewline Trail (hike.gosnowmass.com/trails/viewline-trails/), where, at the end of a 1.6-mile trail climb, you’ll be able to look down on Snowmass Village and the surrounding mountains.
If you’re looking for a more rigorous hike, the Rim Trail (hike.gosnowmass.com/trails/snowmas-rim-trail/) fits the bill. You can make this scenic hike as short or as long as you’d like. Start by hiking 2.7 miles up to Spiral Point, where you’ll find a beautiful stone platform called the Yin Yang. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can continue along the ridge of the mountain to some incredible valley views (if you pursue this option, the hike is about 7.8 miles total).
For more outdoor adventure, head to Maroon Lake for some of the best view of Maroon Bells (stayaspensnowmass.com/activities/visit-maroon-bells), the most photographed peaks in North America (you’ll see why immediately). At the lake, you can see both the peaks and their reflections. It’s an excellent spot for a picnic dinner and sunset-watching. (There was a brief thunderstorm during my visit, but the rainbow that came out after made the 15-minute retreat to the car well worth it.)
Where to eat
For a unique dining experience, check out Blazing Adventures’ Backcountry Sunset Dinner (blazingadventures.com/trip/backcountry-sunset-dinner/). After a Jeep ride up Snowmass Mountain (with stops along the way for photo ops, of course), guests are served a delicious barbecue dinner accompanied by live music. You can dig in, watch the sunset, and finish off the night roasting s’mores around a campfire. The sunset dinner is popular with families, but I’d recommend it to folks of all ages.
Located inside Stonebridge Inn, the Artisan Restaurant (destinationhotels.com/stonebridge-inn/dining) is a local favorite for seasonal eats, unique cocktails and wide variety of frequently rotated, menu-paired, locally brewed craft beers.
For good old-fashioned comfort food, head to Snowmass’ oldest restaurant, the Stew Pot (stewpotsnowmass.wixsite.com/stewpot). I’m partial to classics like their chili (available vegetarian or with beef) and hot pastrami sandwich, and the Middle Eastern salad was also solid. I walked away very full and fairly confident that it’s hard to go wrong with this menu. The Stew Pot is also located in the Snowmass Mall, so you can browse the shops before or after eating.