Shoulder season, the cooler autumnal days from October through Thanksgiving, are traditionally quiet ones as ski resorts ramp up for the peak winter season. Not this year. With work from home mandates extended and remote school nixing the need for families to stay at home, outdoor enthusiasts are decamping to buzzy mountain towns, swapping the monotony of life at sea level for the chance to splice the work day with alpine adventures. Not only can one hike, bike, fly fish and rock climb well into late October, the weather is sublime. Crisp, clear mornings become sun soaked afternoons framed by reddish gold foliage.
At altitude, the pandemic feels less intrusive. Though strict mask ordinances are in place, fresh air and swaths of wide, open spaces make social distancing feel more natural. In fact, when hiking, cycling, or dining outside, it is possible to forget all about COVID 19.
Here, we explore extended stays (or, suspended reality) in Aspen, Park City or Jackson Hole
Aspen is the It Girl of the Rocky Mountains. Speckled with posh eateries, five star hotels and shops like Moncler and Dior, this alpine bolthole feels plucked from a Slim Aarons photograph (the shutterbug did, in fact, shoot there in the 1960s). But, the swank is but a soupçon of what the town has to offer. With Aspen as home base, you have the entire Roaring Fork Valley and White River National Forest as your playground.
Though most cultural events have been axed due to the pandemic, you can still get a whiff of Aspen’s hallmark sophistication as you swan about the many galleries and see and be seen eateries like Bosq, Casa Tua, and Element 47. Exciting news: The indie Filmfest will actually unfold in person October 15-21.
With 2500 miles of maintained trails, there is an outing for everyone. For moderate hikes, Hunter Creek Trail, Sunnyside, and Smuggler Mountain Road will bring on the schvitz and supply stunning views of the snow-capped Elk Mountain range.
Go steeper and you’ll be rewarded with alpine lakes and dreamy meadows laced in fiery gold and orange foliage. Best bets: Cathedral Lake, American Lake, Lost Man, Capitol Lake
Hard core hikers will want to conquer one of the famed 14,000 foot peaks, North and South Maroon Bells, Pyramid Peak, Capitol Peak, Castle Peak, La Plata Peak, among others. This type of endeavor requires unwavering vim and vigor. Find a partner or hire a pro from Aspen Alpine Guides who will bring the gear (helmet, harness, ropes, anchors) and lunch. Wilderness buffs can also tap into backcountry options such as Four Pass Loop, a multi-day hike crossing high mountain passes and Snowmass Lake , a 17-mile one way hike at 12,500 ft. elevation.
Recently awarded gold level status by the International Mountain Biking Association, Aspen’s 300+ miles of singletrack biking trails range from steep inclines to relatively flat terrain. Downhill desperados can test their skills at Snowmass Bike Park where riders ascend by gondola and whiz down through the trees on green, blue or black trails decked in full body gear.
The Roaring Fork Valley boasts some of the country’s best trout-fishing rivers and streams. Outfitters like Aspen Trout Guides can organize a DIY day of angling or guide (ask for John Dietsch, who supervised scenes and served as Brad Pitt’s double in the film A River Runs through it) to impart skills like reading the water and casting techniques.
This compound of 140 privately owned condos at the base of Aspen Mountain is a cozy home away from home (even better; there is housekeeping!) with two pools, hot tubs, tennis courts, and a complimentary shuttle service to run you around town.
One bedroom rates start at $165/night
From basic to opulent, this pool of centrally located rental condos include 24 hour service, housekeeping, concierge services, and airport transfers.
One bedroom rates start at $240/night
For the residential version of Aspen’s premier five-star hotel, book a private 2,3 or 4 bedroom condo, and enjoy all of the hotel amenities plus access to a rooftop pool & water garden, gym and yoga studio.
Starting rate for a two-bedroom residence is $3,329/night
There is a reason that Sundance, Robert Redford’s indie film festival, is held at Park City every year. The town oozes an alluring blend of cowboy cool meets sports’ hippie, even during a raging pandemic.
Fall may be subdued, but, thanks to an abundance of outdoor dining options, Main Street and environs are still lively. Late afternoons are particularly spirited as still-geared-up locals and tourists toast their alpine achievements at outdoor spots like Wasatch Brew Pub, Boneyard, Blind Dog, and Tekila. Later, dine al fresco in the shadow of the Wasatch Mountain range: Riverhorse on Main and Courchevel Bistro for fine dining; Handle, Fletchers, Silver Star Cafe and 350 Main for low key, mountain-inspired menus.
Mellow meander? Thigh burner? With 400 miles of trails, you can gauge your energy level and design your day accordingly. PC Hill Trail, McPolin Trail and Rambler, are scenic, easy-to-manage treks while more challenging hikes like Bloods Lake, Silver Lake Trail, Lofty Lakes Loop feature an alpine lake reveal. Day long, high altitude climbs like Lake Blanche, Mid Mountain Trail and Wasatch Crest involve switchbacks through aspen trees and deliver insanely glorious views along with wildlife encounters. For a guided excursion, book through White Pine Touring.
For something more spiritual, Park City Yoga Adventures offers custom sunset hikes coupled with yoga on a mountain peak. Also on offer, hiking coupled with paddleboard yoga inside the Homestead Crater, a 10,000 year old geothermal cave filled with 96 degree mineral water.
Park City's biking system, which also has a gold-level designation by the International Mountain Bicycling Association offers smooth, picturesque trails and bike parks with ramps, pump tracks and wall rides.
Fly fishing is available year round on three blue-ribbon rivers —the Weber, the Provo and the Green. Park City Outfitters can organize your outing.
A variety of condo and private home rentals can be sourced through Park City Lodging
Rates start at $100/night
To socially distance in style, book The Lodge at Blue Sky, a swanky 46 room property (Earth Suites and Creek Houses have private entrances) set on 3500 acres of wilderness in Wanship, twenty minutes north of Park City. Here, enjoy customized programming like heli-hiking and biking (with rustic picnic lunch, natch), horse riding, fly fishing and dining al fresco at the standout restaurant helmed by chef Galen Zamarra.
Rates start at $1699/night
With or without snow, Jackson Hole’s famously steep terrain is paradise to adventurers. Fall visitors have another perk: the opportunity to explore Yellowstone National Park (which is a little over an hour away) without the summer crowds. Stay in historic Jackson, known for its robust food scene, or in away-from-it-all-feeling Teton Village, a cluster of lodging, shops, and eateries at the base of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. At both, you have access to 3,000+ acres of hiking and Grand Teton National Park where wildlife sightings are plentiful, particularly during fall’s elk mating season.
Hikes range from casual, scenic ones like Wildflower Trail or the lovely Laurence S. Rockefeller Preserve, a 1,160 acre refuge with a gentle 2 mile trail through aspen groves leading to Phelps Lake. Adrenaline junkies will gravitate towards switchback-filled Amphitheatre Lake or the Teton Crest Trail, a multi-day, 40 mile hike around the rim connecting Bridger -Teton and Grand Teton National Park.
For mountain bikers, there is an extensive network of alpine cross country trails, a 65 mile paved system for road bikers connecting Jackson to Teton Village and Grand Teton National Park and downhill trails at Teton Pass.
Anglers will find manna in the bounty of “cutty’s”, or fine-spotted cutthroat trout in The Snake River, and Fish Creek. Grand Fishing Adventures offers full or half day guided outings.
Other standout activities: Via Ferrata—a rock -climbing experience (fixed to a rope so no risk of falling) inspired by bouldering in Italy’s Dolomite Mountains, a scenic float on The Snake River where you’ll spy wildlife like osprey, bald eagles and migrating elk, horseback riding at a dude ranch, and wildlife safaris in Yellowstone and/or Grand Teton National Park
Use Jackson Hole Resort Lodging to book a condo with full kitchen at multiple price points rates start at $139/night)
More luxurious options can be found through The Clear Creek Group. Pricing upon request.