Miami of the Mountains
For many, summer evokes memories of endless days at the beach or a community pool—and while the scene may not be quite the same around Aspen as it is in Miami or Martha’s Vineyard, you can still make a splash in the mountains.
Known simply as “The Beach,” a sandy curve of riverbank just east of Aspen fulfills
that role for many locals, particularly those with young families. In high-runoff years, the beach itself may not actually emerge until weeks into the summer season (one recent summer, it was submerged until after the Fourth of July), but once it does, the expanding sandbar is a popular spot to build sandcastles, lounge on beach blankets, and take brief dips in the cold, clear Roaring Fork River. A pullout next to Highway 82 that currently accommodates just a handful of cars is planned to be enlarged and improved.
About 10 miles upstream of Aspen, the Roaring Fork River carved through rock several millennia ago and pooled into a swimming hole known as the Devil’s Punchbowl. The only way into the frigid, emerald waters is to leap from the rocks above—about 10 to 25 feet, depending on the launch point. Look for an unmarked pullout after mile marker 50 on Highway 82; for daredevils and gawkers alike, it’s a short hike along the rocks from there.
Ruedi Reservoir, a.k.a. “The Lake” to longtime locals, has a couple of beach-y hangouts. From the dam end of the lake, turn right off of Fryingpan Road near the boat ramp and follow signs for Little Mattie Campground. Just before the campground, there’s a small parking lot marked “Fishermen’s parking”; from there, it’s a short walk to a picturesque bay. The shore might be grassy, sandy, rocky, or mucky (or some combination thereof), depending on water levels, but there’s usually room for plenty of groups, and the water in the bay (especially close to shore) tends to be much warmer than out in the open lake. About halfway along the length of Ruedi, Freeman Mesa day-use area ($8 ) is another popular summer hangout, with picnic tables and bathrooms—but no sandy beach.
If you desire safe (lifeguarded), convenient, and predictable water leisure time, the valley has three outdoor municipal pool complexes. The Snowmass Recreation Center boasts the only saltwater pools in the area—four in all, including a lap pool, a water slide, and fun features like tumble buckets and waterfalls—plus a spacious deck area and beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. Basalt’s Arbaney Park Pool cultivates a more traditional scene—albeit with a new, robot-shaped kiddie pool this year—and is wildly popular all summer long. Carbondale’s John M. Fleet Pool offers up to six 25-meter lap lanes; there’s also a diving board, a slide, and a wading pool for the littles. A new, expanded aquatics center is eventually replacing the 44-year-old pool after winning voter approval in April.
Although the rec centers in Aspen and Glenwood each have indoor pools (Aspen’s even has a lazy river and a two-story water slide), outdoor options exist in both towns. In Glenwood: Seek out the hot springs. In Aspen: The WET Deck atop the W Hotel is open to the public, with a rooftop pool, firepits, hot tubs, a DJ, a bar, mountain views, and a fashion-forward lounge scene that’s a grown-up alternative to the municipal pool vibe. And just for fun, on a hot afternoon about town, cool off with a run through Aspen’s Dancing Fountain, which spouts random streams of water up from the ground in the heart of downtown on the Mill Street Mall.
Swimming & Lounging Resources
Outdoor municipal pools: Snowmass Recreation Center (970-922-2240, snowmassrecreation.com), Arbaney Park Pool (970-927-4799, basalt.net), John M. Fleet Pool (970-510-1275, carbondalerec.com); indoor municipal pools: City of Aspen Aquatic Center (970-544-4100, aspenrecreation.com), Glenwood Springs Aquatic Center (970-384-6301, glenwoodrec.com); open-to-the-public hotel pool:
W Aspen WET Deck (970-975-0714, marriott.com)