Why Late Summer Is the Best Time to Visit Aspen

In Aspen, festivals, food, and fresh air abound as summer leads into fall.

Aspen already has winter locked up with its endless après-ski happy hours and eponymous Gay Ski Week festivities. But this year, consider skipping the late summer High Tea on Fire Island for “Mountain Tea” in the Rockies. From the jaw-dropping hiking trails, LGBTQ-friendly festivals, and fantastic seasonal outdoor dining, you will see why the last few weeks of summer are the best time to this ritzy mountain town.

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A Feast of Festivals

Summer in Aspen is filled with festivals. The season kicks off with the iconic Food and Wine Classic and comes to a close with Snowmass Wine Festival, September 14-15. And although you will have to wait for next summer to catch up with some of the area’s other LGBTQ-friendly festivals—the brand new AdventureOUT Snowmass and Aspen Ideas Festival, for example—you still have time to see live performances from Aspen Music Festival and School, which runs through August 19.

Alternatively, spend Labor Day in the mountains at JAS Labor Day Experience (above); a three-day music festival with some of the country’s best bands and tons of local food and drink vendors. This year’s line-up includes performances by Jack Johnson, Lionel Richie, and more.

Enjoy the Gay Scene

Aspen is an uber LGBTQ-friendly town, so everyone is always welcome at every bar in town. That said, head to Guerrilla Gay Bar at Mi Chola for 4 pm wine spritzers and an afternoon kiki with out-of-town and area gays alike. Afterward, check out Aspen Kitchen’s rooftop bar on a breezy summer night to sip on a Summer Hopkins or Blackberry Lime Rickey.

The Grey Lady restaurant also hosts “Gay Lady” nights throughout the summer by offering drink specials and live music for the gay community and its allies. Check out AspenOut’s social media pages for any updates.

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Experience The Outdoors

Surrounded by the lush green Rocky Mountains, Aspen is a premier hiking spot for nature lovers. Stay just outside of downtown at the peaceful, Bauhaus-style Aspen Meadows Resort and start on one of two beginner trailheads that lead you straight to the famed Rio Grande Trail. Plus, Maroon Bells (above), the most Instagrammable spot in all of Colorado is just a short bus ride away.

Take full advantage of your gym membership by trying the challenging hike up Aspen Mountain—the views from the top are worth it. Don’t worry if you’ve had one too many vodka sodas the night before, you can also take the gondola up.

Treat Yourself to a Summer Feast

I’m not just talking about the Food & Wine Classic, Aspen is notorious for their farm-to-table dining. After you’ve relaxed by the pool at The Little Nell, head into the resort’s Element 47 for a silver service experience and a renowned wine list.

There’s plenty of other casual spots to eat in Aspen too, including the Saturday Aspen Farmers Market, where all summer into fall you can peruse organic veggies, order fresh baked goods, try some artisanal honey, and stop off for some Thai street food.

Katie Lockhart is an Asia-based travel and food journalist writing for Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, Food & Wine, and Harper's Bazaar.