Come Memorial Day in Aspen, it's safe to say the summer season officially kicks off. Not only do temperatures start to rise, but visitors return, restaurants reopen and activities switch from those involving snow and ice to ones focused on dirt, water, and verdant mountains.
One of the key signals Memorial Day is here and summer is right behind is the opening of Independence Pass. This high-mountain route is closed during the winter, and much of the month of May is spent by plow trucks and road crews working to make it navigable by cars for the summer season. The Thursday prior to Memorial Day is the traditional opening day, and cars and cyclists start to enjoy the drive, ride, and sights.
Many of the parks and trails accessed by the Pass start to come to life Memorial Day weekend. Independence Ghost Town is 16 miles east of Aspen. Visitors can explore the remains of the gold mining town that boomed in the 1880s and 1890s.
Memorial Day weekend is the perfect time to explore the grottos and ice caves. The Roaring Fork River has created slot-canyon-like caves and channels, some of which keep snow well into the summer due to lack of sunlight reaching their depths. This small loop hike is a great way to see some of Mother Nature's finest work along the Pass.
The more daring may enjoy a trip to Devil's Punch Bowl. This deep water pool can be jumped into from a near vertical rock wall cliff. The water is COLD and the jump is big, so adrenaline junkies will be right at home.
With the snow melt from the high mountains starting to pick up pace, the rivers start to do the same. The influx of water from the snow melt means the flow moves at a much more rapid pace and the depth of the rivers becomes greater. It's not uncommon to see the Roaring Fork River overflowing her natural banks toward the end of May and beginning of June.
This increase in water and flow makes for great river rafting. Multiple outfitters in the Aspen and Roaring Fork Valley area can create various excursions to fit any group's desires. The more experienced may opt for a trip through the class IV Slaughterhouse portion of the Roaring Fork while families and beginners may prefer the class II rapids of the Lower Roaring Fork near Carbondale.
While hard-core locals have been on their mountain bikes for a few weeks, more civilized enthusiasts have waited until the end of May, waiting for drier trails and popular trails to open to the public.
Sky Mountain Park near the Aspen airport has a wide network of connecting trails with mellow climbing, great descents, and spectacular views. Sky Mountain officially opened May 16, 2018 and will only keep getting better.
A bit higher in elevation is the network of trails through the Hunter Creek Valley. Due to the elevation, these don't lose their snow until slightly later in the year, but they are usually are fairly dry -- perhaps a bit muddy, but at least snow-free -- by Memorial Day weekend. For a full mapping of mountain bike trails in the area, visit aspentrailfinder.com.
As to be expected, there are a plethora of golf courses in the Roaring Fork Valley. Some are private but many are public, and both types of courses boast the same views of the Maroon Bells, Aspen Highlands, and the greater valley.
The Aspen Golf Club is public and arguably the best-located course in the valley. A mere two miles outside of the downtown core, Aspen Golf Club has a driving range, a full 18-hole course, and a multitude of clinics and learning opportunities for adults as well as the renowned Aspen Junior Golf program for kids.
Other public options in the valley include the River Valley Ranch Golf Club in Carbondale and the par-three, nine-hole Ranch at Roaring Fork course in Carbondale. If you happen to know a member, the Roaring Fork Club in Basalt boasts a pristine Jack Nicklaus designed course, and the Maroon Creek Club in Aspen is one of the most recognized courses in the state.