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Family Travel: 48 Hours In Aspen on a Budget

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As an idealist planning a family vacation, I have a tendency towards Clark Griswold-level expectations.  I envision our family strolling hand-in-hand down a picturesque cobbled-stone street, and quiet children happily entertained as my husband and I read poetry at sunset with evening cocktails.  As laughable as this apparition may be to parents of young children, I found Aspen to be a significant realization of this elusive specter.  Known as the playground for the rich and famous, Aspen also has a growing reputation as an affordable luxury family retreat.  We had the weekend free and wanted to see for ourselves what this alpine mecca had to offer. 

Aspen On A Budget

Parks

Yes, Aspen offers Prada and Gucci.  No, this is not recommended for a fun family activity.  However, this is the beauty of Aspen; the luxury of an upscale lifestyle surrounded by a plethora of outdoor activities.  You can literally take an entire day and just visit the parks.  Our family favorite was a tie between John Denver Sanctuary (where his song “Rocky Mountain High” originated) and the playground set in the center of downtown. 

Biking

Aspen was designed for biking.  Wide cobblestone streets make for a perfect afternoon excursion, a memory to make even Clark Griswold proud.  Take advantage of the city’s WeCycle bike share program.  Bike stations are located around the city, where you can ‘borrow’ a bike for 30 minutes at a time, after purchasing a pass at a Wecycle station. 

 Hiking

ACES

ACES

Aspen’s reputation for hiking trails precedes itself.  World renowned, Aspen trails offer free entertainment at its finest.  We ventured on Hunter Creek, which is an extension of the Rio Grande Trail and family friendly–our 4 and 8-year-old kids loved it.  You’ll cross bridges and waterfalls and at the top will gain a view of the valley and surrounding peaks, perfect for a family picnic. If you’d like to venture into the Maroon Bells and surrounding areas, the road is closed between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. in the summer so be sure to take the public bus for $6 from the Aspen Highlands parking lot (see exceptions).

Also, the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies has some great moderate hike recommendations for families, as well as fun and educational kids’ classes and camps.

Affordable Eats

We have two criteria when eating out on vacation.  First, we eat where the locals eat and second, attempt to eat healthy.  Peach’s Corner Café satisfied both criteria.  Peach’s offers gluten-free pastries and casual lunch options, including all natural, organic ingredients.  If you need a lunch on the go, try The Butcher Block, a local’s staple for amazing meat ball sandwiches.  For dinner, we stumbled on Little Annies, reminiscent of a charming mountain cabin.  They offer variety on kid’s meals beyond chicken nuggets, along with home-styled menu options for adults.  Another family favorite was Brunelleschi’s.  An Italian restaurant with make-your-own pizza’s and pretzel’s for the kids.  In theory, this is where the quiet evening cocktail fantasy with happily occupied children comes into play.

Family-friendly Luxury

Beautiful accommodations abound in Aspen at differing price points, the dilemma lies in just choosing one.

The Hyatt Grand Aspen includes kitchen units, balconies and/or fireplaces.  The hotel’s concierge is readily available to procure groceries or other services and housekeeping cleans twice a day.  This means they come in and clean up the homemade puzzle your 4 year old made from hotel’s stationary while you were getting dressed, and will even come back that evening for turn-down service, leaving chocolates for the little puzzle engineer.  The best part of this hotel, in my opinion, is the pool and hot tubs with warmed robes and towels kept in the outdoor robe hut.  This is where my poetry at sunset vision is realized with cocktail in hand as happy kids splash in the heated pool.

The St. Moritz Lodge is a European boutique lodge/ hostel set on the edge of town at the foot of Shadow Mountain.  The views are stunning, and evening social hours take place in the lodge’s ‘living room’ during peak season.  The St. Moritz offers standard room lodge accommodations, along with one and two bedroom condominiums.  They also offer private hostel rooms with shared baths.  The hostel rooms are economically priced with European single bunk beds.  

The Little Nell is Aspen’s only 5 star, 5 diamond hotel and they are intent on ensuring ultimate comfort during your stay down to the smallest details, including children.  Complimentary cruiser bikes are available for guests, and vintage Schwinn tricycles for the very young to cruise to dinner or around town.  The Nell also offers date nights on Monday evenings, including complimentary babysitting.

Reality in Aspen

The best family vacations are those that leave lasting memories.  As close as perfection as this beguiling town is, I found that making memories is all about your attitude.  It rained the entire weekend.  Our last day, we were adamantly set for having a picnic.  The sporadic rain showers weren’t going to hinder our success at attempting a final memory-making moment.  We sat in the middle of Paepcke Park, rain pouring around us as we were covered by a charming little gazebo.  Misty, but happy, we ate our sandwiches in silence, drinking in the magic of the mountain mist creeping across the manicured green lawn.  It was the summum bonum of our family excursion, and a realization that my expectations are all in my perspective, even in the Shangri-la of the Rockies, otherwise known as Aspen. 

Guest blogger Jennifer Fitzgerald is a mom of two darlings and a freelance writer based in Denver.  She is energized by the smell of jet fuel, wet Colorado dirt, steamy lattes, and gooey cinnamon rolls.  Beauty, art, music, and classic literature have always brought her head above the waves.  Jennifer attempts to view life as a feast to be celebrated, a grace to live intimately, and a delight to fully experience. Featured photo: Aspen Chamber

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Comments
  • comment avatar judy fitzgerald August 26, 2015

    Jennifer Fitzgerald’s visual,visceral, and humorous description of family vacationing in Aspen, was delicious! I want to see, feel, taste, and experience Aspen with her dream and her wonderful unexpected quips of reality.
    John Denver, here we come!

  • comment avatar Monica August 26, 2015

    Well stated. Aspen scares so many people off because of the price but I think it’s one of the loveliest places in Colorado.

  • comment avatar Mike McClendon August 26, 2015

    Wow! Jennifer must be supermom. She plans a great family weekend away and keeps cost, health and fun all in balance. Sign me up. She can plan my trips and I’ll just go where she tells me.

  • comment avatar Adrienne August 26, 2015

    I loved howJennifer drew us along with the details of a ‘perfect’ trip and ended with the ‘secret’ to a happy memory…our attitude.

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