Affordable Aspen Vacations for Budget-Minded Travelers

Backcountry day trips: $65

In summer, when mountain roads are free of snow, Aspen is a great base for day trips in the region, including exploring the Continental Divide on 12,095-foot Independence Pass. Extremely fit bicyclists make the roughly 20-mile ascent southeast of Aspen — gaining over 4,000 feet in elevation — but far more drive the twisting, narrow route on a seasonal stretch of Highway 82 that follows the cascading Roaring Fork River.

I hitched a ride with my sister and brother-in-law, who live in nearby Carbondale. Slushy ice still covered a pond ringed in wildflowers on the pass. Working our way back down the road, we parked below the pass to hike to Linkins Lake, a steep 1.2-mile round-trip in the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness for a lakeside picnic, and later wandered around the mining ghost town of Independence. At the Grottos, we waded into the icy river at a tumbling section known as the Cascades. We broke out a D.I.Y. happy hour at Devil’s Punchbowl, entertained by jumpers from surrounding cliffs launching themselves into a river pool.

To replicate this day without freeloading, I would need to rent a car (Kayak lists them from $48 a day), pack a picnic (Grateful Deli’s ham, turkey, Cheddar and Swiss, $10.50) and stock up on beer (25-ounce cans of Bud Light were recently priced at two for $6 at City Market grocery in Aspen), a roughly $65 outlay, not including gas. Rocky Mountain high: priceless.

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