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Low-budget fun in Aspen? Head to the outdoors

world Updated: Jun 04, 2009 12:17 IST

This mountain playground has Gucci, Prada and Burberry stores downtown but still can offer the average Joe a budget vacation for those who can get to Aspen.

This summer, people who stay at least two nights at participating hotels receive an “Aspen Summer Pass” good for discounts around town. More discounts are available if the stay includes a Wednesday night.

The best time to find Aspen lodging deals is in the so-called mud season when the ski mountains are closed. But summer may be the best time of all to enjoy the beauty of Aspen’s high-altitude surroundings.

GETTING AROUND: Covering a bit more than 3.5 square miles, Aspen is tiny enough to get around on foot or by bike. Buses offer rides up and down the Roaring Fork Valley. They’re free in town and between Aspen and Snowmass Village.

Many visitors fly into the Eagle County airport, about a 70-mile drive from Aspen, or Denver International Airport. From Denver, it’s about a four-hour drive west along Interstate 70 through scenic Glenwood Canyon to Colorado 82. If high, narrow stretches don’t bother you, detour through Leadville and drop into Aspen from Independence Pass, whose highest point is above 14,000 feet. Colorado Mountain Express and Gray Line both have shuttles with Denver-Aspen service.

WHERE TO STAY: A few hotels in town offer cheaper lodging, but check the fees for cancellations and for putting extra people in a room.

Outdoors types can camp at various sites for as low as $10-$15 a night.

Hardy travelers up for mountain biking, hiking or backcountry skiing can check out one of 29 huts managed by the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association in the Rocky Mountains. Margy’s Hut near Aspen is about $30 per adult per night. It’s open most of the winter through April 30 and from July 1 to Sept. 30. Bring your own food and bedding.

WHAT TO DO: The reflection in Maroon Lake of the majestic peaks in the Maroon Bells wilderness area make for a postcard picture. The access road is located off Colorado 82. Road access is free for walkers and others using nonmotorized transportation. Access by car is limited. Buses leave every 20 to 30 minutes from the base of Aspen Highlands for $6 per adult. A bus from Aspen goes to the Highlands free, and there is a free parking lot at the Highlands;

The Aspen Art Museum at 590 N. Mill St. has free admission. It is closed Mondays and on major holidays;

The Aspen Music Festival and School offers free performances by the American Academy of Conducting Orchestra at 4 pm on Tuesdays, from June 25 to August 23. The festival also has ticketed performances ranging from $10-$150.

For most of the summer, the Silver Queen Gondola takes visitors up Aspen Mountain for $23 per adult. Weekly passes at $46 offer unlimited rides plus extra discounts like 10 percent off lunch at Sundeck Restaurant.

Some people opt for a free trip by hiking the 2.5-mile (4-kilometer) way up 3,000 vertical feet (914 vertical meters). Once you’re there, pick up a score card and map to play on a mountaintop game of disc golf.

The Aspen Center for Environmental Studies offers free, 45-minute guided nature walks that leave from the top of the gondola line on the hour, from 11 am to 3 pm.

Also, if you rode the gondola up, you can listen to a free concert by the Aspen Music Festival and School at 1 pm on Saturdays. There’s free bluegrass on Sunday afternoons this summer.

EATING: Tricks like eating during happy hour or sitting at the bar and ordering from the bar menu can help you get a more palatable price for food from higher-end restaurants like Cache Cache.

FALL: If you can’t make it here this summer for the music festival and the beautiful weather, hotel prices are even lower in the fall and enjoying the autumn scenery, when the trees turn yellow and gold, is free.