When it’s high season in Aspen, the arts and culture calendars swell and cosmopolitan crowds come to town in droves. But that relaxing holiday in the high country that visitors like to think they’re on? It can be a challenge to truly unplug. From catching your friend taking calls on Smuggler Mountain to dealing with Snapchat-obsessed teens during dinner, the only way to escape distraction is by heading out of range to where those smartphones are mere cameras. Here are five day trips from Aspen where screens will blissfully read “no service” … really.
For one of the most stunning hikes just outside of Aspen, head around the roundabout down Castle Creek road to the Cathedral Lake Trailhead, just past the ghost town of Ashcroft. After some gradual elevation gain, you’ll reach a steep, switchbacked incline; the hike ends at a high alpine lake at the base of Cathedral Peak’s rugged ridges. You’ll log 5.6 miles round trip, warranting a three-course meal at Pine Creek Cookhouse. Legendary views meet fine dining in this cabin tucked away in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. Its menu of “alpine gourmet” cuisine features locally sourced wild game and fresh fish. Reservations are recommended, and there are also endless easy-rated trails in the area to explore. pinecreekcookhouse.com
2. T-Lazy-7 Ranch
On the way to what is one of the most majestic (and most photographed) sights in the world, the Maroon Bells, lies T-Lazy-7 Ranch, the last private property along Maroon Creek Road. Through its on-site outfitter, book the scenic East Maroon Lunch Ride ($175 per person). The four-hour journey on horseback will take you along the creek, through alpine meadows and past beaver ponds to a base camp, where chances are likely for mountain goat sightings on Pyramid Peak in the distance while you feast on a gourmet picnic spread. tlazy7.com
Just 75 minutes from downtown Aspen and on the headwaters of the Crystal River, time stands still in this tiny town nestled deep in the Elk Mountain Range. Head here early to embark on a day hike starting from Forest Service Road 314. After a 6-mile journey up a moderate incline, you’ll end at the historic Crystal Mill site (a.k.a. Sheep Mountain Tunnel Mill), which dates back to 1892. The round-trip trek takes roughly four hours, but a ride with Crystal River Jeep Tours is an easier way to go (from $60 per person). Refuel at Slow Groovin’ BBQ (101 W. First St.), the ultimate hog heaven for hungry hikers and bikers. Only open in the summer and fall, its seriously superb meats are all smoked on site and best enjoyed on the patio with a Marble Mule ($12) to help cool you down.
Rent a bike for the day from the just-relocated Hub of Aspen (from $59 for 24 hours; 616 E. Hyman Ave.) and head 15 minutes down the valley to Woody Creek. This beautiful beginner’s ride starts at Woody Creek Road, which is paved for the first 10 miles and dirt for the final 6 to the tiny town of Lenado: Population 10, elevation 8,000. And of course the only way to end the day is with a fresh-squeezed lime margarita ($9) and fish tacos ($16.95) at Aspen’s infamous anti-establishment haunt of Hunter S. Thompson, the Woody Creek Tavern (where you can park pre-ride too). Note: It’s cash only and if you have Verizon, you might get service. woodycreektavern.com
5. Ruedi Reservoir
Who says we’re landlocked in Colorado? About an hour drive from downtown Aspen sits a rock-and-earth-fill structure known as the Ruedi Dam and Reservoir. This hot spot for water sports was once home to an entire town (beneath the surface) and now is a paradise for stand-up paddleboarding and more. Before you go, call the Aspen Kayak & SUP Academy, which will come to you to get you geared up, and offers lessons elsewhere in the valley. Make a pit stop in Basalt at BLT & Taqueria (130 Basalt Center Circle) for one of their takes on the old bacon, lettuce and tomato (from $7.25) to enjoy on the beach, in your boat, or on your board. basaltchamber.org