Located in western Colorado and consisting of approximately 50 miles stretching from Aspen (on the southeast end) to Glenwood Springs (on the northwest end) the Roaring Fork Valley includes the communities of Aspen, Snowmass, Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs. Surrounded by a mountain range and defined by three rivers, which include the Roaring Fork River, Crystal River and the Frying Pan River; the valley is characterized by an average of 240 days of sunshine, low humidity, mild winters, comfortable summers, and amazing views which creates a very sought after place.
At a distance of approximately 50 miles long and ranging in width between one and five miles wide, the Roaring Fork Valley is surrounded by mountains on all sides, in particular on its southwest edge by the Elk Mountain range. This is the location of the Aspen and Snowmass ski resort, which is the main economic force for this valley. The ski industry drives tourism, hospitality, construction, real estate, professional services and all other industries. Although the ski industry forms the foundation, many other activities contribute to the culture and entertainment that make this area unique.
Originally, Aspen was founded as a mining camp during the silver boom and later named Aspen because of the abundance of aspen trees. The city thrived during the 1880s, and crashed when the silver market collapsed. For a half-century, the population steadily declined and Aspen almost became a ghost town. Then in the mid-20th century, a ski resort was developed on Aspen Mountain, which was the start to Aspen’s ski industry. By the late 20th century, Aspen became a popular retreat for celebrities and today property values in Aspen are one of the highest in the country.
At an altitude of 7,815 feet and located at the southeast end of the Roaring Fork Valley, Aspen is a cultural mountain town commonly known for its ski resort. It is the home of the Aspen Institute, Rocky Mountain Institute, Santa Fe Ballet along with the Aspen Music Festival and Music School, which offers cultural events that attract visitors year-round. The Aspen and Snowmass ski resort consists of four separate ski areas, all offering a variety of terrain and consist of Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass.
In the early 20th century Snowmass Village was part of a ranching community that consisted of a handful of different family ranches, and would be considered the countryside to Aspen. When Aspen continued to grow, land was sold and by late 1960s, Snowmass ski area was developed. Snowmass has been growing ever since and now not only is it the largest ski area in the valley it also consists of mountainside luxury homes, condominiums, hotels and offers a wide range of terrain for everyone with incredible views, top-notch restaurants and many other activities.
Basalt began as a railroad town and is located about 20 miles north of Aspen, at the confluence of the Roaring Fork and Frying Pan Rivers. It currently is well known for its Gold Medal trout fishing, and in the past ten years has grown tremendously and now consists of mountain townhouses, luxury homes, hotels, and great restaurants. Living or staying in Basalt is a “more affordable” luxury option of experiencing the Roaring Fork Valley.
Carbondale is known to be a ranching and farming community, and only in the past 15 years has developed into a “hip and trendy” mountain town. Located mid-valley (in the middle of Aspen and Glenwood Springs) Carbondale’s valley floor is mostly privately owned, but the surrounding highlands are within the White River National Forest, which are a source of recreation for hiking and mountain biking. The 12,953-foot Mount Sopris is the town’s icon and creates amazing views throughout the town. Although to this day, cattle drives are led downtown Main Street each spring and fall, this quaint little town now offers cute boutique shops, trendy restaurants and breweries, and don’t forget the Carbondale Rodeo offered each week throughout the summer!
Rounding out the last of the five cities that make up the Roaring Fork Valley, Glenwood Springs is located at the northwest end and sits at an altitude of 5,768 feet. Due to the location of this city, as well as railroad and highway access, Glenwood Springs didn’t experience the “bust” that most mountain towns endured due to the silver mining crash of the 1880s. Unlike most mountain towns, Glenwood Springs focused on hospitality and since its foundation has continuously grown. Today Glenwood Springs is one of the most sought out places to visit in Colorado and offers downhill skiing at its own ski resort Sunlight Mountain, whitewater rafting on the Colorado River, boutique shops, restaurants, breweries and much more.
The Roaring Fork Valley is a perfect year-round setting for recreation, culture, landscape and activity. From music festivals, concerts, ballets, galleries, high-end restaurants and boutiques, or its outdoor activities such as fly-fishing, whitewater rafting or kayaking on the three rivers, sightseeing or hiking near the Maroon Bells and many other wilderness areas, enjoying the caverns and hot springs in Glenwood Springs, skiing/snowboarding one of the five mountain resorts, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in Aschroft ski area, or road biking the Rio Grand Trail, a 44-mile multi-use trail from Aspen to Glenwood Springs. The adventure and activities never stop in this 50-mile valley! This is a place not to miss!
More images of things to do in the Roaring Fork Valley:
This article first appeared in the summer 2016 issue of LAND magazine. Visit www.landmagazines.com to read more and subscribe to future issues of both LAND magazine and TEXAS LAND magazine.