5 Best Photo Opportunities in Aspen

Photo Opportunities Aspen

Lee Van Grack

Aspen, Colo., is located at the head of the Roaring Fork Valley, near the highest peak in the Centennial State. It's well known for its celebrity high jinks, but it's even more renowned for the surrounding scenery. This former Victorian mining town offers a variety of memorable photo opportunities. Aspen history, its outdoor beauty, and its celebrity residents and visitors make great backdrops and subjects for travel photography.

The Best Romantic Aspen Photo Opportunity – John Denver Sanctuary

The John Denver Sanctuary in Aspen was constructed through the efforts of many Aspen individuals and organizations after the untimely death of John Denver in 1997. The sanctuary consists of large granite boulders carved with the lyrics of John Denver's most recognized songs from his singing career. The boulders are set in a circular pattern along the banks of the Roaring Fork River.

The John Denver Sanctuary is open year-round and easily accessed from downtown. From the Hotel Jerome, turn left onto Mill Street and head down the hill. When you see the soccer field on the right, look for a place to park. The sanctuary is beyond the field in Rio Grande Park and lies along the banks of the Roaring Fork River near the start of the Rio Grande Trail.

Late spring, summer, and fall are the best times to visit the sanctuary. The scenic aspen trees are leafed out providing a perfect backdrop to the water flowing by. Children can scramble on the rocks, while adults can admire the peaceful surroundings. The most romantic spot in the rock garden is the rock inscribed with the lyrics to "Annie's Song." As one of the three most requested songs played at weddings, it's the perfect spot for proposing to that special person.

Best Fun Family Aspen Photo Opportunity – The Rio Grande Trail

The Rio Grande Trail is built upon the former Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad grade that ran for 42 miles from Aspen to Glenwood Springs. This mostly paved trail starts near downtown Aspen, and now runs uninterrupted all the way down the Roaring Fork Valley to Glenwood Springs exclusively for non-motorized traffic. This flat trail sees heavy usage from walkers, road bicyclists, cross-country mountain bikers, and in-line skaters during the snow-free seasons.

To access the Rio Grande Trail from downtown Aspen, head north on Mill Street towards the Roaring Fork River, then turn left onto Puppy Smith Street to the trailhead. For those needing better parking access, park at the Henry Stein Park on Cemetery Lane/McLain Flats Road in Aspen.

The trail is open year-round, but is best traveled from spring through fall. The trail provides plenty of spots for family picnics, pictures of waterfalls, and glades of scenic aspen trees. Six miles down the trail is the world-famous Woody Creek Tavern. It's a great place to stop and take pictures of Hunter S. Thompson's favorite bar. If you fall under the spell of its wares or just get tired, there are buses with bicycle racks that will haul you back into town. (002 Woody Creek Plaza, 2858 Upper River Road, Woody Creek, CO 81656; 970-923-4585; Open from 11AM to 10PM daily except Christmas and Thanksgiving)

Best Quirky Aspen Photo Opportunity – Popcorn Wagon

For the past 30-40 years in Aspen, all roads have led to and from the Popcorn Wagon, located at the intersection of Hyman Avenue and Mill Street. When giving directions to visitors, many locals will use this Aspen landmark as the starting point.

The Popcorn Wagon has seen many transformations since its construction in 1913. In 2008, the crumbling wagon finally succumbed and was completely rebuilt from the ground up. While the new Popcorn Wagon was carefully reconstructed from measurements of the old wagon, it's no longer the familiar red color.

This new incarnation of the Popcorn Wagon can still be visited and used for great Aspen photo ops, but it is currently not open for business. In the past, this Aspen institution has offered a late night fare in summer and winter.

Best Scenic Aspen Photo Opportunity – Aspen Mountain

The top of Aspen Mountain lies high above the city of Aspen. From the top you can look down into town or peer west across the valley at Highlands Bowl, part of the Aspen Highlands ski area. The surrounding Elk Mountains are highlighted against clear Colorado blue skies in this scenic Aspen spot with 360-degree photo opportunities.

While the top of Aspen Mountain can be accessed throughout the winter ski season, it is best viewed in summer when skiers and non-skiers can take in the mountain's beauty. The top can be accessed daily by gondola with Aspen Skiing Company from mid-June to the beginning of September. (877-282-7736 or 970-923-1227; Tickets range from $6-24)

The top can also be accessed via high-clearance 4WD vehicles on the rugged Summer Road. The drive up provides views into Aspen's skiing operations and the chance to photograph many of the mountain's natural features.

Once at the top of Aspen Mountain, you can follow a number of hiking trails for even more spectacular views. The best Aspen photo ops are of mountain meadows full of blooming flowers or the very dangerous open mine shafts leftover from the city's mining past. If a self-guided stroll isn't enough, take the free summer nature walk with a naturalist from the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies. The naturalist will point out all the must-see features on scenic Aspen Mountain. (970 925-5756; 100 Puppy Smith St. Aspen, CO 81611; Summer hours: Mon-Sat 9AM-5PM)

Best Classic Aspen Photo Opportunity – The Maroon Bells

The Maroon Bells, just outside Aspen, are the most photographed peaks in Colorado. If the road is open, a trip is mandatory to this classic Aspen spot. The Maroon Bells are best photographed in the summer and fall. Due to pollution problems, the area can only be accessed by bus during the busy summer months from 9AM to 4:30PM. The tickets range from $3-6.

As the bus tour makes its way up the access road, a guide will point out the various avalanche chutes that make it too dangerous to keep this road open in winter. The piles of broken trees and boulders show the destruction that nature can wreak. Some slides come down the narrow valley wall and then proceed up the other side of the valley causing trees to bend uphill.

Once at the Maroon Bells, have a photograph taken of you or your group in front of Maroon Lake with the Bells in the background. In summer, the Maroon Bells are a verdant green and offer explosions of purple, blue, and yellow wildflowers along its hiking trails. Fall offers the best photo opportunities. Aspen trees that surround Maroon Lake change to a bright yellow with the snow-covered Bells in the background. On a calm clear day the peaks and fall colors will reflect on the pristine waters of Maroon Lake. It's the ultimate classic photography landscape in the Aspen area.

Capturing all the memorable travel photography in Aspen will take a few days. With its fresh mountain air and cool summer nights, you'll awake refreshed every morning to go capture more.
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