Aspen is a city in and the county seat of Pitkin County, Colorado, United States. It is situated in a remote area of the Rocky Mountains’ Sawatch Range and Elk Mountains, along the Roaring Fork River at an elevation just below 8,000 feet (2,400 m) above sea level on the Western Slope, 11 miles (18 km) west of the Continental Divide. As of the 2010 census, there were 6,658 permanent residents.
Founded as a mining camp during the Colorado Silver Boom and later named “Aspen” because of the abundance of aspen trees in the area, the city boomed during the 1880s, its first decade of existence. That early era ended when the Panic of 1893 led to a collapse in the silver market, and the city began a half-century known as “the quiet years” during which its population steadily declined, reaching a nadir of less than a thousand by 1930. Aspen’s fortunes reversed in the mid-20th century when neighboring Aspen Mountain was developed into a ski resort, and industrialist Walter Paepcke bought many properties in the city and redeveloped them.
Today it is home to three renowned institutions, two of which Paepcke helped found, that have international importance: the Aspen Music Festival and School, the Aspen Institute, and the Aspen Center for Physics.
In the late 20th century, the city became a popular retreat for celebrities. Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson worked out of a downtown hotel and ran unsuccessfully for county sheriff. Singer John Denver wrote two songs about Aspen after settling there. Both of them popularized Aspen among the countercultural youth of the 1970s as an ideal place to live, and the city continued to grow even as it gained notoriety for some of the era’s hedonistic excesses as well, particularly its drug culture.
Today the musicians and movie stars have been joined by corporate executives. As a result of this influx of wealth Aspen boasts the most expensive real estate prices in the United States and most middle-class residents can no longer afford to live there. It remains a popular tourist destination, with outdoor recreation in the surrounding White River National Forest serving as a summertime complement to the four ski areas in the vicinity.
See in Aspen
- John Denver Park – this Aspen park is a pleasant place to take your dog or your kids for a splash in the creek in summertime. The park is named after the famous Country and Folk singer who resided in Aspen. Lyrics from his most popular songs are inscribed in the creekside boulders. John Denver Park is on the creek trail on the north side of Aspen, near the Rio Grande Ball Field and park at N. Mill St. and Rio Grande Pl.
- Maroon Bells – a short drive outside of Aspen, the Maroon Bells are one of the most photographed mountain scenes in Colorado. The lake and views of the 14,000 foot peaks are spectacular. In the summer months between 8AM and 5PM, visitors must take a shuttle bus to the Maroon Bells to control traffic. Tickets are $6 for adults and $4 for children. There are some short, non-strenuous hikes around the Maroon Bells that vary from 1 mile to 10. People also like to climb the Maroon Bells; however, it is very dangerous and a guide is highly recommended.
- Independence Pass – In the summer months, this pass is open to vehicular traffic. The drive takes you up to the Continental Divide, and along the way passes some of the most beautiful scenery in the area and a ghost town that is open to visitors.
- Aspen Highlands is mainly an intermediate to expert ski area that was opened in 1958. The highest point is at 11,678 ft (3,559 m) with the longest run stretching over 3.5 miles (5.6 km). The main draw to the area is the intense Highland Bowl, which offers great expert skiing. Most of the area follows a narrow ridge extending from Highland Peak.
- Aspen Mountain, often called by its original name of Ajax, is the oldest ski area in the Aspen family. Located at 11,212 ft (3418m) on the north flank of Aspen Mountain, it is a little smaller when compared to the neighboring areas. The longest run is 3 miles long making for a nice run and the town ski area has nice funky local feel to it that dates back to the 1940s.