Living with multiple sclerosis, Learning to make the world accessible, Loving life with all of its challenges

Travel Accessible Lifestyle Adventures Review

Exploring the Accessibility of Aspen, Colorado

Aspen, Colorado. Snow capped mountain tops. World class skiing. High end shopping. Playground for the Hollywood elite. Those are the images that many associate with this jewel of a town nestled in the Colorado Rockies. But handicap accessible, affordable, wheelchair friendly, road trip with the dogs? That’s not often the first thing that comes to mind when people hear Aspen, but that’s exactly what we found when we loaded the scooter and the dogs into the car and hit I-70 to explore.

A beautiful town to take the wheel chair or scooter out for a roll

We ascended on Aspen on one of Colorado’s famous fall, late October, days. A sky full of sun, temperatures floating mid-60’s and spots of trees holding on to those gorgeous golden leaves the town is named for. Perfect day to see how the scooter handles Aspen sidewalk traffic!

Click on this link to view our Youtube Video of our Handicap Accessible Exploration of Aspen

Dre being a rebel on the scooter!
Dre being a rebel on the scooter!

It’s true, the charm of mountain towns is found in the quaint buildings and streets constructed during mining booms and frozen in time. While this allows a nostalgic trip through history, it also is a stark reminder that ADA accessibility regulations have not always been in place. While towns have certainly worked on adapting old buildings, streets and sidewalks, the level of accessibility in different mountain towns can vary greatly.

We were pleased to find that Aspen is not only a town that has maintained its historic charm, but has also worked to create an easily accessible experience on a variety of levels. This is not to say that there still aren’t areas that are difficult or in some cases impossible to access, but there are plenty of options for people using wheelchairs or scooters.

Lined with wide and well maintained sidewalks, the main shopping and historic areas were easy for Dre’s scooter to manage and wide enough for us to walk side by side as we perused the local wares. Landscaped with the natural foliage Aspen is so famous for and tucked at the base of the ski mountain, the town itself is a piece of art, worthy of a day stroll.

It is important to note here that not every business is handicap accessible. While the main areas and shopping centers have been modified for accessibility, a number of the smaller shops housed in the old historic homes still have large cement steps leading to them, which makes getting in and out of them difficult if you have limited mobility and impossible if you are confined to a wheelchair. However, there are plenty of accessible options and this shouldn’t hinder an enjoyable visit.

Accessible Adventures – What to do in Aspen?

There is no shortage of activities in Aspen, for both the able bodied and disabled. The Aspen Chamber of Commerce offers an exhaustive list, including Challenge Aspen, which offer a lengthy list of adventures to handicapped visitors for every season.

With this being our first trip to Aspen, we were excited to simply explore and get a feel for things. Famous for exclusive shopping and galleries, Aspen certainly didn’t disappoint in this area. However, we were pleasantly surprised to find a number of thriving local shops that offer reasonably priced shopping. If you’re looking for mainstream, keep driving, as Aspen strongly supports small business and those big super stores just aren’t around.

Enjoying a night cap at the Hotel Jerome in Aspen
Enjoying a night cap at the Hotel Jerome in Aspen

And if you’re a history buff, you’re going to love this! The historical downtown area is more expansive than many other mountain towns we’ve visited. Getting in and out to examine many of the more prominent historical buildings was easily accessible and people were welcoming and excited to have us take a look. A highlight for us was a trip through the Hotel Jerome. A classic hotel that has maintained a delicious taste of wild west history in a positively gorgeous building.

And of course, accessing the great outdoors

Once you’ve had enough shopping it’s time to get out and explore that Aspen scenery. Once again, the city of Aspen delivers, and in all of the ways that mother nature intended. The handicap accessible Rio Grande Trail is an easy roll down Mill Street. Running along the Rio Grande River, the trail runs for miles (literally, you can make it all the way down to Glenwood Canyon). Lined with trees, filled with the sounds of wildlife and running rapids, the trail is a scenic escape. Not only was it an exploration of nature for Dre on his scooter, but we were also able to get the dogs out and about, on leash, of course.

Pups getting a sky box view of Aspen on the Sunnyside Trail
Pups getting a sky box view of Aspen on the Sunnyside Trail

The trail also leads to a number of other more challenging hiking trails that aren’t handicap accessible, but gave Amy and the dogs nice hiking options while Dre was resting to save up energy.

And while we thrilled with exploring Aspen proper, the highlight of our trip still came on a twenty minute drive out of town with a visit to the Maroon Bells. The most photographed mountains in America, these peaks do not do disappoint. But as is the truth of all pictures, the photographs don’t do the majesty of these mountains justice. Driving a winding road through acres of aspen groves, the landscape opens up around a final turn and the peaks of the Bells split the sky. It would seem there is no wrong angle, bad weather condition, or poor lighting that could take away the magic of the natural wonder of this place.

Dre and the Dogs checking out the handicap accessibility at Maroon Bells
Dre and the Dogs checking out the handicap accessibility at Maroon Bells

A mile and a half easy loop follows the edge of  Maroon Lake at the base of the mountains. Handicap parking is right at the trail head and Dre was able to take his scooter for a closer look. This park also allows dogs on leash, which made it a full family adventure! There is a ten dollar entrance fee to the park and if you definitely check visitor regulations. Going during peak season (late spring to early fall), requires parking further down and taking a shuttle. From our research it appears those with valid handicap permits are allowed to take their own vehicle to the parking lot, but definitely read up on the access depending on your visit date. Arriving in late fall, we were able to pay our fee at the station, driving right up and avoid many crowds.

All this and it’s dog friendly?

Yes, Aspen loves their dogs. One of our main incentives to make it to Aspen was a deal we found at the Molly Gibson Lodge. An affordable and dog friendly hotel. They also worked with us to ensure we had not only one of their dog

Handicap Accessible and Dog Friendly Molly Gibson Lodge!
Handicap Accessible and Dog Friendly Molly Gibson Lodge!

friendly rooms but also one of their handicap accessible rooms. The property does have a lot of stairs, but we were able to have a room right off the pool and hot tub area with simple and easy street access. They also offer an outstanding morning breakfast, but be aware that there are steps to get to the breakfast dining room. You may need some assistance in getting a breakfast back to your room if you don’t have someone to get it for you. Given their great service I’m pretty sure someone would bring it to you if necessary. You also want to check and see if the accommodations their rooms offer meet all needs you might have.

Not only did the dogs love staying at the Molly Gibson Lodge, they loved hiking the ski mountain, the Sunny Side Trail, walking along the Rio Grande Trail, touring Maroon Bells, and getting treats from the bellman at the Hotel Jerome when they walked by. So is Aspen dog friendly? Our pups give three resounding paws yes.

And it’s really affordable?

This is Aspen, known for the rich and famous, right? It might be, but that doesn’t mean it’s out of reach for the average traveler. Here’s the key, though. We went during shoulder season, or as locals calls it, mud season in the mountains. This is our favorite time to visit the mountains because you miss the crowds and yes, things are often much more reasonably priced. However, you really need to do research before mud season traveling. Typically some adventures and activities as well as certain local stores and restaurants are closed during this time. We were unable to take a trip up the Gondola as it was closed, and there wasn’t quite the plethora of outdoor activities available.

Having traveled through many other mountain towns during shoulder season, our experience was that Aspen had a little more open in the way of activities, dining and shopping, and was worth the visit. We also got blessed with yes, that gorgeous Colorado weather. If you’re a Colorado native you already know to be prepared for any weather pretty much any time, but keep it in the front of your mind for mud season. We went from a day of sunshine and hoodies to waking up with a layer of snow, which just reminded us why we love this state of ours so much!

There was simply too much great in Aspen to fit all in one blog. Depending on your needs, interests, activity level… you should easily find something to love in Aspen. If you enjoy mountains, history, shopping, and the great outdoors, do a little research, and go enjoy this spectacular diamond that still shines in Colorado’s mining mountains.

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