Aspen’s Best Kept Secret: Why Shoulder Season is the Perfect Time to Visit

Skiers flock to Aspen’s pristine snow-covered mountains in the winter, while outdoorsmen make the charming resort town a basecamp for their summer exploits in the Rocky Mountains. 

The town practically shuts down in the spring and fall, as it’s too cold to enjoy the wilderness yet not snowy enough for winter sports. 

However, the shoulder seasons offer opportunities for those who want to enjoy all Aspen offers without massive crowds or price tags. 

Aspen’s Three Tourism Seasons

A spokesperson from The Aspen Chamber of Commerce explains that Aspen has three main seasons: the busy tourist season, the shoulder season, and the off-season, each occurring twice yearly. 

The off-season occurs from mid-April to late May, then again from mid-October through Thanksgiving. The shoulder seasons occur closer to summer, from late May through mid-June in the spring, then after Labor Day through mid-October in the fall. 

The Spokesperson added that everything is typically open in the shoulder seasons, while some hotels, restaurants, and shops may close during the off-season. 

Shoulder Season Offers Lower Prices and Fewer Crowds

Aspen Chamber Resort Association (ACRA) confirmed that hotels are much less expensive during off-and-shoulder seasons. The first few and last few weeks of ski season fall in the shoulder periods and offer excellent opportunities for skiers to enjoy the mountains with less competition, but those uninterested in skiing will find the best deals when the slopes are closed. 

Parking is more accessible in the off-and-shoulder seasons as well. Aspen is a small town, and though there’s typically ample parking, those driving in on the busiest weekends may struggle to find space. 

ACRA recommends tourists ditch their cars and use the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA), a free bus system offering regular service around Aspen and to the popular ski mountains. Aspen also offers a free point-to-point ride service, and in the late spring to fall, We-Cycle provides bike rentals free for the first 30 minutes.

What To Do in Aspen’s Shoulder Seasons

Most stores and attractions remain open during the shoulder season. Tourists can browse the trendy galleries, bookstores, and eclectic consignment shops without fighting crowds for parking or service. 

Those looking for quiet solitude will enjoy strolling through the iconic John Denver Sanctuary, a 4.5-acre park featuring calming fountains, rock sculptures, and charming bridges over idyllic ponds and creeks. The soft murmur of the flowing water calms the spirit, especially during the off-season when the park is empty. Lucky travelers in late spring may even glimpse Aspen’s earliest flower buds slowly peering out from beneath the snow. 

History buffs will enjoy the Wheeler-Stallard Museum, a late 1800s residence turned museum honoring one of the area’s most prominent residents. The main floor showcases Victorian-era furniture similar to that which would have adorned the home while in use, while the second floor offers visitors a short tour through Aspen’s history and development as a world-class ski resort town. 

Aspen Art Museum remains open year-long (and has complimentary admission), featuring ever-rotating exhibits honoring artists new and old, famous and yet unknown. Previous exhibitions showcased work from influential artists such as Andy Warhol or highlighted the best pieces of undiscovered artists local to the area. The constantly changing displays make the museum a must-visit, even for travelers making a yearly sojourn to the charming town. 

Shoulder season offers motivated explorers the opportunity to beat the crowds outdoors. ACRA says it’s a great time to bike to Maroon Bells or ride on the Rio Grande Trail, as these areas get busier in the summer. Some hiking areas in lower altitudes will be open in the shoulder season. 

Fine Dining in Aspen Open During Shoulder Seasons

Many fine dining establishments remain open for business during the off-and-shoulder seasons, allowing visitors to experience the exquisite cuisine without long waits or reservations. Aspen has dining options for every palette, featuring a top-rated sushi restaurant, French bistro, oyster bar, and numerous gastropubs, cafes, bars, and coffee shops. 

Consider popping into White House Tavern for premium sandwiches and mouthwatering hamburgers in a cozy yet upscale bar or sampling traditional Italian fare and wood-fired pizzas at Mezzaluna. 

The city also offers options for cheaper meals, including the Grateful Deli and the casual breakfast diner Poppycocks. 

Summer Kicks Off In Aspen

Spring’s shoulder season is coming to a close, but those who don’t want to wait until after Labor Day to cross the iconic town off their bucket list should consider a summer retreat to the mountain village. 

An ACRA spokesperson provided great reasons to visit in the summer. 

“Summer is about the intersection of culture and adventure/town and the outdoors, with the Aspen Institute’s summer programming kicking off with the venerable Aspen Ideas Festival.” 

The spokesperson added that Aspen’s Music Festival, an eight-week season with more than 300 performers, kicks off in summer, and Theatre Aspen will be celebrating their 40th anniversary with various performances. 

Cost-conscious travelers should wait until after Labor Day. Though the festivals will end, the city offers plenty for vacationers to do and see all year.