6 Ways To Take Full Advantage of Spring in Aspen
March 31, 2021
Anyone who’s ever lived in a mountain town knows that when the snow stops falling in the early days of spring, things start to slow into what feels like a sleepy month of hibernation. Ski resorts close, temperatures start to rise, but summer’s alpine hiking feels like it’s a lifetime away. Places like Aspen — known for summer’s mountain access and winter’s incredible powder — seem to encounter a brief identity crisis in the intermediate season.
But spring in Aspen is no time to wish away. After the skiers leave town and before the summer sightseers arrive, a quiet season of spectacular change unfolds, and you don’t want to miss it.
Check out this list of 6 things to do in Aspen this off-season to make this spring extra special.
#1 Rise Early and Go Birding
Spring is a particularly exciting time for avid bird watchers. With many species returning to the valley during spring migration, birders get a chance to see year-round and seasonal avian residents and those passing through on their way north.
At ACES, we love our birding outings at Hallam Lake and Rock Bottom Ranch. It’s always a great day when you spend the first quiet hours observing nature and the changing of the season.
If you have binoculars and a field guide, they come in handy when trying to identify what you’re seeing and hearing. And don’t forget a hot thermos of coffee to soften the morning chill! Head over to Hallam Lake or Rock Bottom Ranch, and keep any eye (and an ear) out for the following birds:
Rock Bottom Ranch
Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron spotted at Rock Bottom Ranch, photo by Ben Seipel, former ACES Educator
#2 Start a Phenology Journal
There’s nothing more magical than watching spring unravel in the mountains. The transition from the long, snowy winter to the bright and sunny summer isn’t sudden: it’s simultaneously gradual and incredibly fast.
Spring is an excellent time to dive into phenology— the study of the changing seasons. Familiar phenological changes include leaves changing color in the fall, bears waking up from hibernation, and the first spring flowers bursting through the soil.
Don’t let this season slip away without noticing the incredible changes happening in the landscape. And to go a step further in your study of phenology, record your observations with a phenology journal.
Grab a journal, pencil, paints — whatever art supplies you like — and head outside to try your hand at phenology journaling.
You don’t have to be a good artist (or an artist at all) to enjoy field journaling. Think of it like carefully cataloging your observations about the natural world. You can use drawings, numbers, and words — and there’s no wrong way to do it.
A phenology journal is a place to collect not only observations, but thoughts, questions, and explanations about the world around you. It’s a meditative practice that can deepen your naturalist skills — and it can be practiced for a lifetime.
All you need to do is make observations, record them, and repeat! Check out this resource for inspiration and some examples of what your journal could like.
Black Bear Phenology Wheel
#3 Have a Scenic Picnic
When the temperature starts to warm up after a long winter, we’re all itching to get out into the sunshine. What’s better than inhaling the sweet smell of spring?
Even though it might not be time to pull out the shorts and sandals, you can still take advantage of the brightening days with a picnic.
In a mountain town, you’re never far from an incredible view. And in the spring, you’re not often competing with a crowd. Take a picnic — and a jacket, a blanket, and chairs — to a scenic location. Remember, this is spring in the mountains, so it might be wise to wear the winter boots and insulated pants. Regardless of the temperature, a sunny spring picnic will feel like a breath of fresh air.
If the weather’s still chilly, plan ahead with some cold-weather picnic favorites that you can keep warm in a thermos, foil, or insulated bag:
Soup, stew, or chilli
Paninis or other hot, portable sandwiches
Warm quinoa salad
Meat Pies or pasties
Hot chocolate, tea, or apple cider
Check the weather, pack your provisions, and head out for your scenic picnic. If you’re wondering where to go, try one of our favorite scenic spots: the teaching platforms at Hallam Lake or the picnic tables on Cole Island at Rock Bottom Ranch.
Picnic at Hallam Lake Nature Preserve
#4 Go on a Farm Tour at Rock Bottom Ranch
One of the most exciting parts of spring has to be the beginning of the growing season, and the anticipated abundance of fresh fruits, veggies, and herbs. The rich smell of soil is fresh with the promise of a bountiful harvest. And while winter’s rich soups and root vegetable dishes are wonderful, it’s hard to not to eagerly await the return of spring farmers market goodies.
This spring, learn a bit about farming and regenerative agriculture in time to start your summer garden. Head over to ACES’ Rock Bottom Ranch from 9am – 5pm on Fridays to walk around the farm, check out our animals, have a picnic, or buy fresh eggs & select produce! You can also register in advance for a farm tour at 11:00 am, where you can learn about regenerative agriculture practices and sustainability with one of our farm staff.
Rock Bottom Ranch includes land dedicated to sustainable agriculture as well as acres of wetlands, woodlands, ponds, and river bottoms. With the goal of raising food for the local community and protecting the adjacent ecosystem, ACES practices and teaches regenerative agriculture alongside prime bear, elk, and raptor habitat.
When summer arrives, you can find the ranch’s produce at local farmers markets or attend a Farm to Table Dinner.
Photo by Chris Cohen
#5 Get Moving with a Bike Ride
When snow still covers the mountains but the sun has cleared the roads, cycling is the perfect way to enjoy the outdoors. The combination of fresh spring air and fewer crowds make this season ideal for logging miles on your bike.
“As our snowpack begins to melt and mid-day temperatures rise, it’s time to swap skis for a bike. This time of year when the ground is still muddy, my favorite ride is up winding Castle Creek road that offers bilateral views of snow-capped peaks towering over sprouting green aspen forests. As I huff and puff my way up the 13-mile climb, I can’t help but peer up at the mountains and dream of future ski turns in winters to come.” – Chris Lane, ACES CEO
Dust off your own bike, grab a WE-cycle bikeshare, or rent one in town and head off on one of the following routes:
Rio Grande Trail – This rails-to-trails project includes 42 miles of continuous, paved trail for both cyclists and pedestrians. The trail connects Aspen and Glenwood Springs, with plenty of pit stops along the way. Pack snacks, water, and layers for a longer ride, or enjoy a short afternoon pedal.
Town of Aspen – When the snow begins to melt in the valley, one of the best modes of in-town transportation is available once again. Take advantage of the clear pathways and roads before the summer weather brings flocks of people outdoors.
WE-cycle – WE-cycle is the Roaring Fork Valley’s community bikeshare service. With 240 bikes and 46 stations across the Valley — serving Aspen, Basalt, El Jebel, Snowmass and Willits — WE-cycle makes commuting and quick trips across town easy and fun. And it’s FREE!
WE-cycle bikes are available the first week of May! Photo by Eric Wardell Photography
#6 Become a Naturalist with a Spring Scavenger Hunt
Spring is a time of many changes. Snow melts, birds migrate, animals emerge from hibernation, and the sun starts making longer appearances. All of these changes are linked to one another and make for excellent and exciting observations. One of the best ways to witness spring’s arrival is to embark on a “signs of spring” scavenger hunt.
While plants are rather predictable in terms of where you can expect to find them, wildlife can be a little more elusive — so in addition to any animals you’re lucky enough to see, look for wildlife signs, too. Tracks, scat, and antler rubs are just a few clues animals leave of their presence. So put on your naturalist (or detective) hat, grab a field guide, and see what you can find!
Plants and Flowers
Aspen tree catkins
Animals / Animal Signs
Sounds – click to listen!
Pasqueflower, photo by Kamille Winslow, ACES Educator
With powder days behind us and summer not quite within reach, don’t wish away this in-between season. Instead, delight in the incredible changes happening outdoors, and savor the smell of spring in the air. Take a bike ride, enjoy a picnic, or develop your naturalist skills this season. Remember, spring is fleeting — don’t let it get away without enjoying all it has to offer.