Some great minds have said Aspen is “a place where the beer flows like wine,” but there’s a lot more going on in this picturesque mountain town than craft brews. (Although, there is plenty of it.) Fall in the Colorado mountains is as idyllic as you’d expect: golden Aspen trees, crisp mountain air, and the annual Potato Days celebration (for real). What more could you want? How about a ghost town tour, a tribute to John Denver, and a “best legs in a kilt” contest? It’s all happening in the Aspen area this fall, so get out there and find your perfect Rocky Mountain adventure.
Ongoing Castle Creek Road, Aspen As far as we know, there are no time machines in Aspen, but you can get a firsthand look at what like was like in the late 19th century at this formerly booming mining camp. Today, you can explore the remains of several structures via a self-guided tour. The Blue Mirror Saloon, post office, and the View Hotel all remain near the headwaters of Castle Creek, set in a gorgeous alpine valley that was once home to nearly 2,000 people. Cost: $5
Ongoing Snowmass Recreation Center If you think the views around Aspen are impressive from the ground, just imagine what they're like from 2,000 feet up. Or better yet, stop imagining and make that experience a reality. Above it All Balloon Company offers early morning flights all year long. Get a whole new perspective of the Elk Mountain Range, then enjoy a champagne brunch with bubbly mimosas, fruit, pastries, cheese, bagels, and even homemade chocolate-covered strawberries. Cost: $295
December 7 Vail, CO Colorado winters mean one thing: ski season. And Marriott Bonvoy is here to make yours especially epic. They’re offering up an exclusive ski session with Bode Miller, A.K.A. the most decorated Olympic skier in U.S. History, in exchange for points. And that’s not all: Marriott Bonvoy offers benefits and endless experiences at more than 7,000 hotels across the globe, so whether you’re into live music, exclusive dining events, or luxury VIP experiences, you’re bound to find a perk that fits your lifestyle. Of course, they’ve got you covered on where to stay after you hit the slopes, too. Cost: Starting bid at 122,500 points. Auction terms apply.
Thursday, October 3-Saturday, October 5 Belly Up Aspen & Wheeler Opera House The slopes are calling, beckoning you to get out your gear, but there's one problem: opening day is still nearly two months away. So instead, satisfy your inner adrenaline junkie at The Meeting Film Fest. Celebrating its 15th year, this annual event brings the best of winter sports filmmaking to town for a celebration of epic powder days caught on camera. From Level 1's Romance, which documents skiing's progress as a sport, to snowboarder Jamie Anderson's first feature-length movie, Unconditional, the flicks are sure to inspire you to go bigger on your next run. Cost: $15 per screening
Saturday, October 5 Hyman & Galena You could say the end of summer comes to Aspen on the fall equinox (which is scientifically correct and all), or when the first leaves turn gold. But the true sign impending snow in Pitkin County is the final Saturday Market. Stop by the farmers market’s last outing of the season to shop its selection of only Colorado-grown produce, a food court with everything from donut holes and Chicago hotdogs to Thai food and boba drinks, and unique items from a variety of local artisans. Cost: Free admission
Saturday, October 5 Basalt Located just half an hour from Aspen, the small town of Basalt may not be the first place you’d expect to find a packed lineup of world-class jazz performances. But during Pumpkin Jazz, that’s exactly what you’ll get. It all kicks off at Basalt Regional Library with a kid-friendly performance at 3:30pm. Then, at 5pm, performances take over the entire town. See the Jeff Jenkins Trio at Capitol Creek Brewery, pop over to Tempranillo Restaurant to catch Valle Musico, hit up Free Range Kitchen & Wine Bar to see the Mark Johnson Trio, and more -- all in one night. Cost: Free
Saturday, October 5 Carbondale Just past Basalt lies Carbondale, home to an annual celebration for the vegetable that’s the root (get it?!) of some of the best dishes in existence -- french fries, tater tots, latkes, etc. Simply put, potatoes rule, and you can join others who share your passion for spuds at the 110th Annual Potato Day. Festivities include a parade with floats competing for best in show, a farmer’s market, community barbecue, live music, and the Tater Tot Run. Cost: Free
Thursday, October 10 Carbondale Beer Works Fall is back-to-school time, and around these parts, that means back to distilling school. This season’s first class features a favorite: Carbondale’s own Marble Distillery. Their lineup of boozy creations includes vodka and whiskey, along with specialty liquors like Gingercello and Moonlight Espresso. Learn about how these are made, what makes each unique, and get expert guidance on the proper technique for tasting different liquors. The class includes liquor tastings as well as a food pairing. Cost: $45
Friday, October 11-Saturday, October 12 4th Street Plaza and Park, Carbondale Start doing daily calf raises and get your best kilt to the dry-cleaners 'cause you're about to have a very good reason to show it off. This festival serves as a mashup of German and Irish culture, and brings the best of both worlds. Day one is all about Celtic celebrations featuring dancing, music, and a whiskey tasting. Then on day two, Oktoberfest traditions take over the spotlight with plenty of beer, German foods, a cornhole tournament, and -- yep -- a “best legs in a kilt” contest. Cost: Free to attend
Saturday, October 12 Wheeler Opera House Talk about a “Rocky Mountain High.” It doesn’t get much better than listening to the melodies of John Denver’s hits from a seat in the historic Wheeler Opera House. The venue, built in the 1890s, is still a hub for the community in Aspen thanks to events like this annual tribute to the writer and singer of Colorado’s official state song. This year marks the 22nd anniversary of Denver’s death, and Aspen is commemorating the occasion with this evening of performances by Mack Bailey, Chris Nole, Mollie Weaver, Alan Deremo, and Jim Curry. Cost: Tickets start at $50
Saturday, October 12 Rock Bottom Ranch Break out the flannel shirts and beanies for this one. The Aspen Center for Environmental Studies is throwing their annual harvest party to officially welcome autumn and it’s jam-packed with all the cool-weather traditions you could possibly want. Pumpkin carving? Yep. Hay rides? Totally. Fresh-pressed apple cider? Duh. Come for lunch and stay for the games, live music, arts & crafts, and more. Cost: Non-member adult tickets are $18
Thursday, November 14 Red Brick Center for the Arts It’s no surprise that artists get plenty of inspiration from Aspen’s mountain vistas. Just one look around and you might be searching for a paint brush to pick up, too. But it’s probably best to leave that to the professionals, particularly those on display at this exhibit. The Red Brick Center for the Arts is a former schoolhouse (built in 1942) turned center for arts and culture. It has 14 resident artists that create works in a variety of mediums, from ceramics and photography to textiles, jewelry, and paintings. The opening night party is your first chance to see the work these artists created in 2019, but if you can’t make that, the exhibition will remain on display through January 2, 2020. Cost: Free
Thursday, November 28 Aspen & Snowmass Mountains This is not a drill. Powder days and bluebird skies await and you can be among the first to hop on a chairlift on opening day of the 2019/2020 ski season. Whether you’re a first-timer or a seasoned pro, Aspen and Snowmass have terrain for you. At Snowmass, newbies can get schooled at Elk Camp Meadows, which is exclusively for beginners, while Aspen is a mecca for challenging terrain, like the Aspen Highland Bowl -- which you can only reach via a vertical 700-foot hike. So bundle up, get your gear together, and conquer those mountains ’cause the best part still awaits: après ski. Cost: Single-day adult tickets are $149
Thursday, November 28 Carbondale Thanksgiving is all about feasting (and, like, gratitude and family, too) but before you stuff yourself straight into nap time, you’ve got a chance to really earn that second -- and third -- slice of pie. Get energized for the day of eating and join the Huffin’ 4 Stuffin’ 5K, 1 Lap Fun Run, or Turkey Cross Bike Race. The dirt-and-grass course includes obstacles such as barriers and a dirt pile you'll have to climb, to make things a little more interesting. In addition to possibly winning a medal and holiday table bragging rights, there’s also a prize for best costume -- so if you’ve been hanging onto a full-body turkey suit, now’s the time to let that baby shine. Cost: Adult registration for the 5K is $30
Friday, December 13 Belly Up Aspen The Belly Up is the go-to venue for live music in Aspen. It hosts over 300 events a year and its concerts span genres; everyone from Social Distortion to B.B. King has graced this stage. But while the names are big, the space itself is on the small side, which means you get the bonus of a memorably intimate concert experience. So when Bone Thugs starts in on “Crossroads,” you’ll feel like you’re right next to them as you belt out that chorus. Cost: General admission tickets are $48
Saturday, December 15 Snowmass Base Village Over the off-season, Aspen’s other famous mountain has gotten a bit of a makeover. So, as part of the celebrations around the grand opening of Snowmass’ new base village, the 2019 Bud Light HiFi Concert series is kicking off early for a pre-holiday show featuring Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe. Free music, holiday cheer, and some shiny new additions to this world class ski destination -- what could be a better way to wrap up fall and officially welcome the start of winter in the Colorado Rockies? Cost: Free to attend
Molly Martin is a freelance writer in Denver who's totally down to explore ghost towns with you. Follow her Colorado adventures @mollydbu on Twitter and Instagram.