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Elevation: 8,000 feet; Population: 7,359
The Vibe: Despite its ritzy ski-town reputation, Aspen is a five-star trail-running town with a mix of great restaurants, bars and intimate live-music venues. Aspen features great local trails accessible from town, as well as long-distance, high-alpine routes that can lead to destination runs to Snowmass ski area (11 miles) or as far away as Crested Butte (35 miles). The trail-running community is modest in size, but big in spirit.
“The vibe is super friendly and all about exploration over competition,” says trail-running coach and former pro athlete Megan Lund Lizotte, who grew up in Aspen and spends part of her summers training there. “There are certainly some competitive and elite athletes training here, but I see and experience firsthand more of the ‘let’s go see how many wild flower meadows we can find’ versus ‘let’s see how much vert we can bag in one day.’”
The Four Pass Loop is one of the premier adventure-running routes in the U.S. The 27-mile route sends runners over four 12,400-foot passes (West Maroon, Frigid Air, Trail Rider and Buckskin) in the Elk Mountains, offering spectacular views of 14,000-foot peaks, alpine lakes and wildflower meadows. One of the keys is starting early, both to avoid afternoon thunderstorms but also because the section of Maroon Creek Road from Aspen to the Maroon Bells trailhead closes to vehicle traffic (except buses) after 8 a.m.
Meanwhile, running Electric Pass Trail requires climbing 3,600 feet in 4.5 miles to a remote 13,465-foot saddle between two high peaks—the pristine views are definitely worth the tough ascent. North Hunter Creek and Sunnyside trails are two great in-town options with linkups offering a few miles to double digits, while the Government Trail from Snowmass to Aspen is an exhilarating, 11.5-mile mostly downhill route.
The 17-mile out-and-back run along Conundrum Creek Trail to Conundrum Hot Springs is a special treat, but it’s best done on weekdays to avoid crowds. The hot springs are situated at 11,200 feet in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness and the run gains 2,400 feet in the 8.5-mile route from the trailhead, crossing Conundrum Creek twice over primitive log bridges and once via wading through a sometimes fast-flowing section of rapids.
The Power of Four Trail Run 10K/25K/50K (July 13), Aspen Backcountry Marathon and Half Marathon (August 10), Crested Butte to Aspen Grand Traverse 40M (August 31), Golden Leaf Half Marathon (September 28)
The Inn at Aspen and Aspen Mountain Lodge are centrally located and moderately priced hotels. The Hotel Jerome has been one of Colorado’s grand, luxe properties for decades. There are plenty of places to camp near Aspen and east of town on the way to Independence Pass.
CP Burger is a down-and-dirty fast-food joint with good burgers and great fries; White House Tavern is known for tasty sandwiches and salads and zesty cocktails; Matsuhisa Aspen compares with the finest big-city sushi restaurants in quality, presentation and price.