The Little Nell’s Favorite Ways to Get ‘Off the Beaten Path’

The Un-trodden Trails of Aspen

Aspen gets a lot of attention for being a playground in the summer and winter, but fall should get some credit too. That’s when a golden hue drapes the hills, and the town empties out, giving locals a well-deserved rest and visitors a chance to explore some of the more undiscovered things to do.

Here are a few of our favorites ways to get out there, off the beaten path and experience Aspen on your own.

Eleven miles outside of Aspen sits the ghost town of Ashcroft


Once home to hundreds of miners and a small village, today the remnants remain — a half dozen buildings and a maintained path with interpretive signage from the Aspen Historical Society. Either rent a bike for the 11-mile, 1,100-foot climb up Castle Creek, or hitch a ride and then treat yourself to lunch at Pine Creek Cookhouse, serving Colorado-inspired cuisine.

Aspen Institute

The Aspen Institute campus hosts some of the world’s most influential decision-makers during the summer when the think-tank presents the Ideas Festival, but the sprawling property becomes a serene respite come autumn. And, much of its architecture and art is open for public consumption.

Take a self-guided tour of the campus, making sure to check out Herbert Bayer’s “Sgraffito” mural on the outside of the Koch building and Andy Goldsworthy’s “Stone River” weaving through the Doerr-Hosier Center. During business hours, head to the building’s lower floor to view an extensive collection of Bayer’s work.

Wine & Dine (& laugh)

The only thing better than a gourmet cooking lesson is one served up with a side a comedy.

Enter the Cooking School of Aspen. Rustique owner Rob Ittner opened the culinary stop last spring, and hosts everything from classes on pinot noir to dinners focused on Indian food. Several times a month, comedian and chef Glenn Smith takes the spotlight presenting a cooking demo, tips and jokes.

Explore a Classic

Explore Booksellers

Image courtesy of Explore Booksellers

The soft jingle of Explore Booksellers’ door opening signals stepping into another world: the one of a charming bookstore. While national chains like Borders may have gone extinct, small independent stores are experiencing a renaissance for the exact reasons Explore is thriving; a passionate and knowledgeable staff, almost-daily author talks, and a wide selection of literary offerings. Plus, upstairs Pyramid Bistro is a quaint café offering healthy and delicious food.

Close to the Stars

Stargazing in Aspen

Far from the illuminating lights of a big city, the high Rocky Mountains are the perfect place to take in the night sky. Though town sits at 8,000 feet, an even better viewpoint is perched on top of Aspen Mountain and closer to the stars. Take a four-wheel drive vehicle up the resort’s summer road and kick back to check out the Big Dipper. Don’t have a sturdy car? Book a Jeep Tour through The Little Nell and let them handle the details.


When the evening calls for some ball-and-pin action, skip on up to Snowmass (8 miles from Aspen) to bowl. Slopeside Lanes is more than a bowling alley. With a full bar, wood-fired pizza and comfy couches, it’s an experience. Ride the free RFTA bus between the two towns, and get up there in time for dinner at Richard Sandoval’s Venga Venga first.

Back in Town for a Beer

Get off the Beaten path in Aspen

Fall in Colorado is Denver Broncos season, and a peek into any bar on Sunday afternoon will make that evident. After going for a morning hike, pony up to the historic J-Bar inside the Hotel Jerome to watch the game. Or, enjoy the outdoor seating at Hops Culture, which still offers indoors views of the big screens. With more than 200 beers to try, there’s enough to keep you satiated through the game.

While there are countless experiences Aspen holds, the above are a little less known, which is just how we like it.