In an elite mountain town like Apsen, Colorado, food, lodging and entertainment expenses can add up to uncomfortable levels very quickly. I recently spent a weekend there (with my girlfriend Anjali) and learned some helpful lessons on how to have a great time without breaking the bank – plus I was introduced to some amazing sights and sounds the everyday traveler might easily miss out on.
Are even great Priceline hotel deals a bit over your budget? Consider staying at one of the campgrounds just outside Aspen. While some, like the larger Difficult campground are reservation only (and fill up early), Weller campground is first-come first-served.
With only 11 sites, Weller remains quiet on even the busiest weekends. When I arrived early afternoon to pick a spot -- only 2 were already taken -- I was immediately greeted by a friendly, on-site camp host.
At only $15/night, you’ll wonder why you’d consider spending hundreds at an in-town resort hotel. Sure, you'll be without running water for a night, but that's easily made up for with priceless camping experiences like the moon rising through the aspen trees, as seen above. Bring your equipment and enjoy a night under the stars!
Adjacent to the campground is a short trail to Weller Lake.
Rising early to avoid the summer heat, you’ll have plenty of time for a quick hike before heading into town for the day.
A very short drive farther up the road from Aspen is a favorite spot of the locals, the Punch Bowl. Here you’ll have the opportunity to jump cliffs of various heights into a deep blue pool.
The water remains quite cold year round, but the jump is a wonderful refresher and a must-do if you’re the more adventurous type.
During their summer season, the Aspen Music School orchestra offers nighty performances of both classical and contemporary favorites.
Performances are held in their open-air dome, which allows for unique listening opportunities.
Each night, visitors can enjoy the concert for free by sitting on the grassy hill surrounding the dome. This creates the perfect evening picnic setting. Before heading to the beautiful green grass and aspen trees that surround the school, grab a blanket, a cheap bite to eat (more on this later) and a bottle of wine – with that you’ve got a perfectly lovely evening of entertainment at a cost that can’t be beat.
Above: Anjali soothed by the classical music and setting sun through the aspen trees.
I must add that it can be hard to hear some of the quieter notes from outside the dome. But with a night like this out in the fresh evening air, amongst happy, relaxed locals, you’re sure to have no complaints.
In a resort town where $7 lattes and $14 house salads are the norm, there’s one refreshingly cheap spot that can’t be missed by the budget minded traveler. Big Wrap offers wraps with all kinds of ethnic flavor options (Mexican, Asian, Middle Eastern, and American), plus many delicious salads and smoothies, all for under $10.
It’s convenient to all downtown locations and the line moves quick with the help of their friendly and efficient staff.
For a more refined (yet affordable) dining experience, try Pyramid Bistro upstairs from Explore Booksellers. Its Vegan menu "provide[s] fresh, nutrient dense food that is organic and locally sourced whenever possible." Everything we tried here was a delight.
Independence Pass. While I-70 offers a slightly more convenient route to Aspen, if you are coming or going from the East (Denver), be sure to make one of your trips over Independence Pass, which reaches elevations of 12,095 feet (3,687 meters).
On your way out of town, a scenic (and often very narrow), winding road leads you out of the valley and up over the pass.
The travel time is almost identical to the I-70 route, only here you’ll be afforded with amazing views and an above tree-line, tundra experience. It's certainly worth a brief stretch break from your car ride for a quick jaunt around the short path to the lookout.
When in doubt of where to stay, eat and play, never be afraid to ask the local residents. There are always a wealth of great deals and activities available that usually go un-advertised to the wandering tourist. With this, enjoy your Aspen stay -- on the cheap!
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