In a recent online review of the John Denver Sanctuary, the riverside park in downtown Aspen, a visitor wrote, “I am moved by the quotes on the rocks, the river slipping by, and quite often the solitude. [It’s a] place to regroup, and be quiet. I often leave in a calmer place than when I arrived.”
For city parks and recreation manager Jeff Woods, feedback like this justifies all the hard work of creating and maintaining such properties. “The original intent of that park was to carry on the environmental legacy of John Denver, but as you walk through it, you’ll see that it is so much more,” he says. That includes a series of visually attractive and ecologically sound stormwater management ponds as well as the botanic garden–like quality of the colorful perennial displays.
With just under 7,000 residents, Aspen boasts 1,100 acres of open space. This number includes more than 30 parks, as well as a variety of publicly accessible properties like the Ute Cemetery, the Maroon Creek Wetlands, and a portion of Smuggler Mountain. While larger city parks like Wagner, Rio Grande, and Paepcke are well known, we suggest you venture off the beaten path this summer to some of our favorite small parks—the gems that offer moments of respite and a chance to relive a bit of Aspen’s history or simply find your own sense of inner calm.
1.Glory Hole Park
Located two blocks south of City Market on Ute Avenue, the park is named after a sinkhole that formed in 1918, when one of the mining tunnels running from Aspen Mountain to Smuggler Mountain collapsed, taking with it a couple of cars from the Colorado Midland Railroad, whose tracks ran across the land. For many years, the hole—said to be 300 feet across and 190 feet deep—was the town dump, until it was filled with water. In 1952, the city acquired the property. Now, a small pond is all that’s left of the sinkhole. With benches scattered throughout, the park is a great place to relax with a dog or a picnic, and enjoy the views of Aspen Mountain.
2. Snyder Park
Located off Midland Avenue on the east side of town, this plot is a true hidden gem among Aspen’s parks, with a lot packed into its small confines. Built with stormwater management in mind, the park, named after early Aspenite Jim Snyder, features a pond with a waterfall, filtered shade from cottonwood and aspen trees, and picnic areas. Popular with children of all ages, Snyder is a gateway into a vibrant community of local families that live nearby. When kids tire of playing hide and seek among the boulders, they can hit up a more traditional play structure on a flat area overlooking the pond. There’s also direct access to the East of Aspen trail, which leads to the North Star Nature Preserve.
3. Hillyard Park
On Bleeker Street between 4th and 5th, tucked between houses in the West End, this park is known to few outside the immediate neighborhood, even though it’s existed since 1969 on land donated by Barbara Johnson Hillyard. Evergreen trees planted in 1950 by Henry Pedersen, one of Aspen’s first landscape architects, frame picture-perfect views of Shadow Mountain; sit at the picnic table and enjoy the quiet of the surroundings.
4. Pioneer Park
One block to the east of Hillyard, at the corner of Bleeker and 3rd Street, is this extension of the historically significant Henry Webber House building and grounds that occupy the block’s southern half. The land for the park was purchased by a group of citizens, led by Les Holst, and donated to the city. A large marble statue created by artist Greg Tonozzi (who lives in the town of Marble) marks the park’s center, while a small gazebo nearby offers respite from passing summer showers. The late Maggie DeWolf, who lived at the corner of Bleeker and 2nd, funded landscape improvements, including planting flowers from her own eclectic garden at the back of the park.
5. Jennie Adair Wetlands
Located on Puppy Smith Street next to the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies and the post office, this open space property was the site of a sawmill from the late 1890s until 1937, owned by the businesswoman whose name it bears today. In 2007, the property was restored to its native wetlands state, protecting the Roaring Fork River from runoff contamination by filtering stormwater. A gravel singletrack trail winds through the park, offering interpretive signage as well as a connection to the adjacent Rio Grande trail.
6. Mollie Gibson Park
With benches, picnic tables, and plenty of grass to spread a blanket on, this spot near the base of Smuggler Mountain—once a mining lode that gave the park its name—is great for watching fireworks over Aspen Mountain or sharing a few glasses of wine at sunset. On a clear evening, the views extend from downtown to Mount Sopris on the western horizon. A singletrack trail skirts the park, connecting the surrounding neighborhoods with the dirt road up Smuggler.