When you think of a mountain getaway, snow might be the first thing that comes to mind. But in Snowmass, Colorado, fall is when you pack your sunscreen.
Just nine miles from Aspen, if you like being outside, you’re going to like Snowmass.
And one of the best ways to get the lay of the land in this mountain town is to hit the trails. Rim Trail South is just a bit more than two and a half miles, (2.6 miles to be exact) out and back. But great things are waiting at the top. Signs identify it as Spiral Point, but locals call it yin yang. It’s a moderate hike – there’s a gradual climb with switchbacks, but there’s plenty room on the trial to stop, catch your breath, and take in the views. This is a popular stretch with mountain bikers as well. It’s walking distance from the hotels in town, so it’s easy to get to.
For something with a little less intensity, the Viewline Trail is about a mile shorter (1.6 miles) but still delivers some great views. Along with keeping your eyes open for wildlife like red foxes and chip monks, a colorful hot air balloon could go gliding by.
September is when the Snowmass Balloon Festival fills the sky, adding pops of color to the mountain scenery. It’s mesmerizing to watch, but if it’s something that’s been on your wish list for a while, Snowmass is a good spot to give it a go with Above It All Balloon Company. First time fliers can sometimes be a bit nervous, only to be amazed by how quiet and calm it is floating with the wind.
Flight altitude is normally between 1,000 and 2,500 feet above ground level, but varies with wind conditions. Dress in layers. It’s easy to peel them off if you don’t need them. Once back on the ground you celebrate with a champagne brunch.
Even without snow, you’re going to want to spend some time on the mountain. The gondola ride up to Elk Camp is 12 minutes of nonstop scenery. When you hop off you can hike, go mountain biking, and fishing, but if you’re in the mood for an adrenaline rush, I suggest you start with the mountain coaster. I’m not typically a roller coaster person, but this is a smoother ride, and you control how fast, or how slow you go.
If you want to mix in a bit of a workout with your adrenaline rush, the challenge course is waiting. You get harnessed up in a similar fashion to as if you were going ziplining, and you’re always clipped in and attached, but you do the clipping in. It’s a bit complicated at first, but once you get the hang of it you’re off and climbing. Give yourself at least a couple hours here.
If it’s really just scenery you’re interested in, you can jump on a ski lift that will take you to the top of Elk Camp for views of the Maroon Bells. (It’s a 12-minute or so ride up.) The Maroon Bells are arguably the area’s most famous landmark.
If you got time to make the half-hour or so drive, getting up close won’t disappoint. During the day, (from 8am to 5pm) you can’t drive to the viewing area, a bus takes you in. But after 5pm the crowds lessen and car are allowed in. It’s a nice place for a picnic, there are trails to explore, including some stretches that are very flat and stroller friendly. When you’re not looking at the mountains, there’s chipmunks, fish, ducks and beavers to amuse you.