Aspen, Colorado on a Budget

Here are eight free and discounted ways to enjoy the tony ski town of Aspen, including cheap dining, lodging, activities, and more.

Top-notch hotels, fine dining, and luxury shops are found throughout charming (and expensive) Aspen, Colorado. But locals know how to enjoy the upscale resort town without breaking the bank. Here’s how to do just that on your next Aspen vacation:

WINTER in Aspen

Buy multi-day lift tickets in advance. If you know when you’re traveling (likely, if your visiting from out of state) and how many days you plan to ski or snowboard in Aspen, buy your tickets online before you arrive. Otherwise, you’ll spend $80 a day to hit the slopes on your Aspen vacation. Ouch!

Ski with an ambassador. These friendly folks offer free guided tours of each of the four Aspen/Snowmass ski areas (Aspen, Snowmass, Aspen Highlands, and Buttermilk). If you’re new to the area, don’t waste valuable ski time finding your way around—instead, get the scoop from locals who know the runs like the back of their hands. Ask how to hook up with an ambassador at the ticket counter or Guest Services at any mountain.

SUMMER in Aspen

Listen to a free concert. Outdoor music abounds in the summertime. Relax on a bench and listen to Aspen Music School students play for donations on the downtown pedestrian mall. Take the Silver Queen Gondola (or hike for free!) to the top of Aspen Mountain for free classical or bluegrass concerts. Pack a picnic lunch and sit on the lawn outside the Benedict Music Tent during the annual, summer-long Aspen Music Festival. And the big daddy of free concerts: the Thursday-evening shows at slopeside Fanny Hill in Snowmass Village featuring major headliners.

Take a hike. It doesn’t cost a cent to revel in Aspen’s gorgeous scenery along with any one of the area’s several mountain trails. Visit the local Forest Service office for detailed maps and directions to trailheads. The Aspen Center for Environmental Studies offers free guided hikes on the top of Aspen Mountain.

Watch a movie or stroll through a festival. Weekly at Aspen Highlands Village, you can pitch a blanket slopeside and watch free movies on a big screen under the stars. And the numerous outdoor festivals throughout the warm-weather season—especially in nearby Snowmass Village—offer plenty of options for food samples, street entertainment and kids’ activities.

OFF SEASON in Aspen

Visit in the spring or fall. The number of visitors to the Aspen area peaks in the winter (Thanksgiving to mid-April) and summer (early June through Labor Day). So you’ll find that hotels discount their room rates in the fall (a particularly glorious time to visit, with the changing colors) and the spring (“mud season,” but a delightfully quiet time of year). Some area restaurants close during this time, but many stay open and offer prix fixe, three-course specials.

YEAR-ROUND in Aspen

Sleep cheap. There’s no doubt Aspen hotels are pricey, especially in the winter (try $500+ a night at The Little Nell, Hotel Jerome, or St. Regis.) For cheaper dorm-like Aspen lodging, check out the Tyrolean Lodge, St. Moritz Lodge, or the Little Red Ski Haus. These lodges are all members of the Gems of Aspen, a consortium of unique, small inns and B&Bs that offer reasonable rates. Also, check out Aspen/Snowmass central reservations online for last-minute specials on hotels in Aspen.

Eat cheap. Many fine Aspen restaurants offer affordable bar menus. You may need to fight for the first-come, first-serve seats at the bar, but if you snag a stool, you can enjoy small plates, appetizers, salads, and pizzas for a fraction of what a full meal would cost in the main dining rooms of some of Aspen’s nicest eateries. For other cheap eats, visit the historic Popcorn Wagon for gyros and crepes, New York Pizza for a late-night slice, and Paradise Bakery for half-price, day-old muffins and cookies.

For more information about visiting Aspen, read Summer in Aspen and Aspen, Colorado for Kids.