Travel Between Vail and Aspen-A Scenic Colorado Road Trip Guide

Ah, the call of the open road! It’s especially irresistible in Colorado, where every turn reveals a new panorama of snow-capped peaks and lush valleys. If you’re dreaming about a road trip from Vail to Aspen, you’re in for a spectacular journey. We’ll guide you through this remarkable route, sharing essential tips, highlighting stunning stopovers, and revealing a bit of local culture along the way.

Preparing for Your Trip

Whether you’re a seasoned road-tripper or a first-timer, proper preparation is key to enjoying your journey from Vail to Aspen. First, pack according to Colorado’s unpredictable weather. Layered clothing, sturdy shoes, and a good jacket are must-haves. Consider bringing a cooler for drinks and snacks, and don’t forget your camera!

The best time to embark on this trip is between May and October, as the scenic Independence Pass is open during these months. However, if you’re a ski enthusiast, winter might be your season of choice. Just remember, road conditions can be challenging during winter months, and the pass closes due to heavy snowfall.

Starting Point-Denver

Denver, the Mile-High City, is often the gateway for those aiming to reach Vail or Aspen. It’s worth spending a day or two exploring this vibrant city. Between its burgeoning arts scene, historic architecture, and excellent cuisine, Denver has something for everyone.

When you’re ready to hit the road, the trip from Denver to Vail is around 100 miles and takes approximately two hours. The most straightforward route is via I-70 W. It’s an enticing drive with towering mountains and sprawling landscapes capturing your attention at every bend.

Exploring Vail

As you roll into Vail, you’ll be enchanted by its Alpine-style architecture and vibrant mountain scenery. Known worldwide for its ski resort, Vail is equally charming off-season, with great hiking, mountain biking, and cultural events.

Here’s a fun fact about Vail: it was developed as the base village for Vail Ski Resort, which is the third-largest single-mountain ski resort in the U.S. Whether you’re a skier or not, a trip on the gondola is a must. The views from the top are just astounding.

Related Content: What makes living in Vail?

The Drive from Vail to Aspen

The journey from Vail to Aspen is where your road trip really hits its stride. The most direct route takes you over the Continental Divide via the Independence Pass, offering jaw-dropping views. This stretch is about 102 miles and should take around 2.5 hours.

A quick word of caution: Independence Pass climbs to over 12,000 feet and includes narrow, winding sections. Make sure you’re comfortable driving in these conditions, and always check the road status before you set off.

The pass is also home to an interesting slice of Colorado history. Named because it was discovered on Independence Day, it was once a vital route for early miners. Today, it’s a much-loved scenic route taking you through historic towns and majestic landscapes.

Soaking in the Beauty of Aspen


Aspen, originally a mining town, has evolved into a premier ski destination. But there’s more to Aspen than skiing. From its vibrant arts scene to its historic landmarks, Aspen is full of character.

One must-visit is the Maroon Bells. Just 10 miles west of Aspen, these twin peaks are said to be the most photographed spot in North America. If you’re visiting in the fall, you’re in for a treat as the surrounding aspen trees turn stunning gold.

Feeling hungry after your journey? Aspen is renowned for its culinary scene. Whether you’re looking for elegant fine dining or hearty mountain fare, you’ll find it here. One hidden gem you should try is the White House Tavern, housed in a historic 1800s-era building.

Making the Most of Your Colorado Road Trip

Traveling between Vail and Aspen is about more than just getting from point A to point B. It’s about immersing yourself in the beauty of Colorado, uncovering its history, and making memories that will last a lifetime.

Make sure to take your time and enjoy the journey. Stop often to soak in the views, explore the small towns along the route, and sample local cuisine. Don’t forget to check out local events in Vail and Aspen, which often host music festivals, art shows, and outdoor sporting events.

Top Attractions to Visit Between Vail and Aspen

Navigating your way from Vail to Aspen, you’ll be delighted to discover that the journey is as thrilling as the destinations. This scenic route features an array of landmarks and attractions that are not to be missed. Here’s our pick of the top spots to make your road trip even more memorable.


About an hour’s drive from Vail, the historic town of Leadville awaits. Known as North America’s highest incorporated city, Leadville is a charming town rich in history. A stroll down Harrison Avenue, the main street, feels like a step back in time with its preserved Victorian-era architecture. Don’t miss the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum, which offers fascinating insights into the mining history of the area.

Twin Lakes

As you continue on your journey from Leadville, the picturesque village of Twin Lakes emerges. Nestled at the base of Mt. Elbert, Colorado’s highest peak, Twin Lakes is home to Colorado’s largest glacial lakes. Here, you can enjoy fishing, boating, or just relaxing by the water’s edge. The panoramic views of the surrounding mountains reflected on the lake’s surface are simply stunning.

Independence Ghost Town

Just off Highway 82 before you ascend Independence Pass, you’ll find the Independence Ghost Town. This abandoned mining town dates back to 1879 and offers a peek into Colorado’s gold rush era. Take a self-guided tour of the remaining cabins and structures while soaking up the history.

Top Hotels in Vail

Independence Pass

The crown jewel of the route between Vail and Aspen, Independence Pass is a high mountain pass that provides breathtaking views of the Rocky Mountains. Stop at the viewing areas along the way for fantastic photo opportunities and a chance to stretch your legs. Remember, the pass reaches an elevation of over 12,000 feet, so dress warmly even in summer!

Aspen Independence Pass

The Grottos Trail

After your descent from Independence Pass and before reaching Aspen, consider a quick detour to The Grottos Trail. This easy, family-friendly hike takes you past unusual rock formations, cascading waterfalls, and beautiful ice caves. It’s especially refreshing in summer.

Maroon Bells

Just outside Aspen, you’ll find the Maroon Bells, two of the most photographed mountains in North America. Whether mirrored in Maroon Lake, set against a clear blue sky, or showcasing stunning fall colors, these peaks offer some of the most iconic views in Colorado. There are numerous trails available for hiking, ranging from easy to challenging.

Each of these attractions contributes to the magic of the journey between Vail and Aspen, making it more than just a drive but an adventure packed with awe-inspiring views, rich history, and plenty of opportunities for exploration.

Final Words

Embarking on a road trip from Vail to Aspen promises adventure, stunning landscapes, and an insight into Colorado’s rich history. With careful planning and an explorer’s spirit, you’re sure to create unforgettable memories. So, why wait? Pack your bags, rev up the engine, and set off on your Colorado road trip adventure. Safe travels!

Know we’d love to hear about your experiences on the road between Vail and Aspen. Share your stories, tips, or favorite spots in the comments. And, if you found this guide helpful, feel free to share it with other fellow road-trippers. Happy traveling!

Here we also have a complete guide for where to go either Vail or Aspen.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the distance between Vail and Aspen?

The distance between Vail and Aspen is approximately 102 miles via the most direct route over the Independence Pass.

How long does it take to drive from Vail to Aspen?

The drive from Vail to Aspen typically takes around 2.5 hours without stops. However, with sightseeing and breaks, it can easily turn into a full day’s adventure.

Are there shuttle services between Vail and Aspen?

Yes, there are several shuttle services offering transport between Vail and Aspen. Eddie Limo could be a good option if you prefer not to drive, particularly in winter when road conditions can be challenging.

Can you travel between Vail and Aspen in winter?

While you can travel between Vail and Aspen in winter, keep in mind that the Independence Pass is closed from around November to late May due to snow. During this period, the trip requires a detour that approximately doubles the driving time.

What are some good places to eat along the route from Vail to Aspen?

There are many great places to eat along the route. In Vail, check out Sweet Basil for modern American cuisine. In Leadville, try Tennessee Pass Cafe for local dishes. Once in Aspen, be sure to visit the White House Tavern for their renowned burgers.

Are there any gas stations between Vail and Aspen?

There are a few gas stations along the way, but they can be spread out. It’s a good idea to start your journey with a full tank of gas. Also, remember to check your vehicle thoroughly before starting – this is a mountain drive with limited services en route.

Are there any camping sites between Vail and Aspen?

Yes, there are several campsites between Vail and Aspen. Some popular options include the Gore Creek Campground in Vail, Twin Lakes Roadhouse Lodge and Cabins in Twin Lakes, and Difficult Campground near Aspen.