Basalt and the Roaring Fork Valley
With lots to explore, Basalt offers a great home base and a lively community of its own.
The Roaring Fork Valley beckons many by way of its rivers, mountains, and people. Maybe partly inspired by the lyrics of the late local John Denver’s Rocky Mountain High, or the images of Colorado’s most photographed treasure, the Maroon Bells – Basalt has a draw of its own.
The most central community in the Roaring Fork Valley, Basalt is a mere 18 miles to Aspen where locals and urbanites alike flock for world-class skiing and riding. Just 20 miles North is Glenwood Springs home of the renowned hot springs for soaking and plenty of attractions for a family adventure. Then there are the storied towns of Woody Creek and Carbondale sandwiched in between. But at the core of it all, with its own special character and lure, Basalt is the perfect basecamp to explore down and up valley treasures, while offering a wide variety of activities, art, cultural experiences, and culinary indulgences.
Basalt will keep you mesmerized
No matter how you travel, your journey will end in bliss as you pull into a beautiful cabin right on the Fryingpan River. The kids jump out of the car and you are all equally and instantly enamored with the flowing water, the wood-burning stove, and their own sleeping loft. This actual cabin exists – a beautifully restored gem originally built in 1896 by Colorado Midland Railroad workers. Although other cabin options are available to further off the grid - with just a casual one-minute walk to the heart of downtown Basalt, options like this historic home base are easy for families to explore Basalt – even though its setting might make you not want to leave it.
Day Trip to Basalt
The true beauty is that the call of the wild doesn’t have to be your thing to enjoy Basalt – so if you want to day-trip it out to remote gems, but not lodge there, choose from Basalt’s more traditional downtown lodging options with modern creature comforts like daily breakfast, in-room kitchenettes, and WiFi – plenty of options to hit on what your family is looking for.
Once you’ve settled in to whichever lodging option you choose, Basalt has plenty to explore no matter the season. Rock Bottom Ranch — part of the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies — (commonly known by locals as “ACES”) is a mere four miles out of town and is the perfect destination by bicycle. If your bikes didn’t make the trip with you, WeCycle is the local hourly bike rental program, and 2017 marks the company’s second year of bike rentals in Basalt. So, hop on a bicycle and pedal the Rio Grande trail to Rock Bottom Ranch (you can drive too, of course). Catch a daily farmyard tour and learn where much of the food you eat in the valley comes from. Collecting warm eggs freshly laid is something at which even the most ardent city-slicker will marvel. Follow that up with a picnic under the beautiful old-growth trees and explore the nature trails on the grounds.
Another event you can pedal to by bike if you time it right is Crown Mountain Park’s Summerfest, held annually in June - a weekend-long event packed with activities perfect for families. And if you’re here when Summerfest is not, enjoy Crown Mountain Park’s open space for some great activity with the kids. From the playground to the 1-mile paved loop track to the dirt paths that meander along the river – it’s a great picnic spot to tie in some family time too, including a dog-friendly benefit for Fido. Aside from Crown Mountain Park, family time can be found at Basalt’s family-friendly outdoor feature films under the stars, or Summer concert series alternating between downtown Lion’s Park or Triangle Park in Willits Town Center.
When the sun starts to lower in the sky, jump back on the bikes to Willits Town Center, at the edge of the Willits neighborhood positioned in between downtown Basalt and Rock Bottom Ranch. There are fountains for little ones to do some splishing and splashing in the summer months, Bookbinder's bookstore with unique treasures for all ages, shopping opportunities for Mom, and an abundance of dining options including K’Gen Asian Cuisine, El Korita for Mexican food and kid-friendly Sure Thing Burger…and new for Summer 2017 – Mezzaluna and Capitol Creek Brewery, all with outdoor dining options. Finish up the day with a top-it-yourself frozen yogurt at Mauka then pop over to Whole Foods for breakfast supplies so the morning can be spent casting fishing rods and sipping coffee while the sun comes up and warms the day.
River Life in Basalt
Fishing is a way of life in Basalt. The Fryingpan and Roaring Fork Rivers come together right in town and the Gold Medal waters provide ample fishing all year round. Winter has fewer crowds and some of the biggest fish are caught then. Spring, summer, and fall provide different fishing opportunities such as dry fly fishing and summer float trips. For those looking to spend some romantic time with a partner, fishing could be the ticket. While it may not seem like the most romantic activity in the world, the natural surrounding beauty and stillness that you’ll experience will have you thinking differently once you get over the somewhat unattractive rubber waders.
There are other ways to get out on the river, too. In addition to the many options of whitewater rafting outfitters in the valley, Basalt’s newest opportunity to catch some adventure on the river comes with the installation of a Whitewater Park just down from its fire station on Two Rivers Road. Kayakers and paddleboarders can enjoy two thrilling features 150 feet apart for a flawlessly steady current in one easy-to-get-to location!
Once you’ve swapped paddles, fishing waders, and polarized sunglasses for dinner casual attire, head down to the heart of Basalt for multiple dining options. Tempranillo Restaurant features over 100 hand-selected wines, chef Javier Gonzalez-Bringas, a native of Madrid, will create the perfect plate to complement your chosen wine and fill your hunger after a day on the river. Once the sun goes down, the dual fireplaces will have you warm and cozy while you indulge in fresh pastas and carefully prepared meats. If you’re in the mood for something a little heartier, nobody serves up warm comfort food like Heather’s Savory Pies. With multiple pot pies to choose from and live music most nights to enjoy, Heather’s will warm you up from the inside out and outside in. And to top it off, you also have the pleasure of experiencing Basalt’s newest downtown additions – Free Range Kitchen & Wine Bar for locally-farmed dishes and Hacienda Jalisco where you’ll find authentic Mexican fare!
Visit the Farmers' Market
The next morning, put a boost in your leisurely stroll downtown where the weekly Basalt Farmer’s Market livens up the town on Sundays from June 18th through October 1st. Kids' activities including face painting and crafts will be on hand to keep the kids from wandering while you listen to the live music and shop for lunch and dinner makings. Fresh, local produce (maybe even say hi to some of the farmers you met at Rock Bottom Ranch), fresh eggs, local meats and cheeses, freshly baked bread, and more will get you feeling inspired in the kitchen.
If you need some adventures to work up your appetite take some time meandering through Basalt and stop at its various historical markers. If you’re in Basalt in early June, the annual Motors on Midland historic car show is an annual Summer kick-off with street vendors and plenty of community convening. But, no matter what time of year, Basalt offers beautiful scenery and a chance to re-imagine the town as it was over 100 years ago. Originally inhabited by the Ute tribe, Basalt slowly gave way to homesteaders with mining claims and served as the valleys train depot. Settled in the 1800s and officially incorporated in 1901, Basalt (named for the basaltic rock formation of Black Mountain, now known as Basalt Mountain) has plenty to keep even the most curious history buff intrigued and the 18 stops on the Basalt Historical Walking Tour — 12 of which have signs with photos and explanations — will leave you with a closer feeling to the unique town and a few more trivia facts to store away for the car ride. Maps can be found at the Basalt Chamber of Commerce Caboose on Midland Ave.
While you wander for historical purposes, don’t let today’s highlights of Basalt go unnoticed. Basalt plays host to many art galleries and shops - and currently even a 5-part life-size art structure installation peppered throughout the town. One of Basalt’s premiere art establishments for over 20 years, The Art Base aims to provide a base of operations for local artists as well as exhibitions, education and events. Weekly classes for kids and adults can be found throughout the year, no experience needed!
If you’re looking for more adventurous activities, no trip to Basalt, adventurous or not, would be complete without a trip to Ruedi Reservoir. The drive is 15 miles outside of town and the scenery is stunning and worth it. Babbling river noises paired with yellows, oranges and reds of the surrounding Aspen trees in the fall will ensure you cruise with the windows down to snap photos. Rent an inflatable stand-up paddle board in the warmer months from Shaboomee.com, (or buy one from Bristlecone Mountain Sports and take it home with you) and explore from your board the 102,000-acre feet of water that the Ruedi Reservoir stores. You’ll see other water sport enthusiasts including water skiers, kayakers, boaters, and fishermen on the reservoir while others will be camping at the Mollie B White River Campground. For the more adventurous and exercise inclined, the Ruedi Trail, starting just north of the reservoir, travels eight miles round trip and reaches the top of Red Table Mountain. It gains just over 3,000 feet of vertical but the picnic views looking over the reservoir are outstanding.
Local Trail Systems
When the sun is out in the winter, it’s hard not to brave the colder temperatures and let some physical exertion warm you up. The Aspen Snowmass Nordic Trail System has over 60 miles of interconnected trails between Aspen, Snowmass, and Basalt. The two zones in Basalt are both rated green circles (easiest) making them perfect for beginners or those trying to slow down while visiting the mountains. The Basalt High School trails are across highway 82 from downtown Basalt and easily connect with the Roaring Fork Club trails via the Rio Grande Trail. The trails are kept groomed during the heart of the winter – weather-dependent.
When the trails dry out, mountain biking is also a favorite with locals and visitors alike and Basalt has a remarkable trail system. Basalt Mountain Trail, Arbaney Kittle Trail, the BLM Road Trails, and Prince Creek Trails are some of the favorites in the area. They vary in difficulty and some are also great for hiking. Trail maps with brief to extensive descriptions are all available, along with plenty of other gear, clothing and water bottles for your trek at Bristlecone Mountain Sports. Consulting AspenTrailFinder.com will also help determine what best suits your needs with maps and difficulty levels explained.
With all the fishing, paddleboarding, biking and hiking, your body will likely need a respite so set aside a day to treat it. If a ride to local Hot Springs in Carbondale or Glenwood Springs is not on the Agenda, Fahrenheit Body Spa right in Basalt offers massage, infrared saunas and yoga.
Any way you choose to enjoy your time in Basalt – one thing’s for certain, the memories will last a lot longer than the trip back home. So unplug from your everyday, dip your toes in the water, put a few miles on the bike, bring the family together – it’s here the adventures begin and the memories will never end!
Stay: Dallenbach Ranch on the frying pan for that authentic family Basalt river getaway.
Do: Aspen Ice Karting at Kodiak Ski Lake in the winter and Aspen Dirt Bike School in the summer. Crown Mountain Park — A mix of sports-oriented park facilities and Family-oriented park amenities with BMX, open fields and other programs and activities for kids.
See: Swinging Bridge – This cable suspended bridge over the Frying Pan River offers a great view of trout as well as access to Basalt Elementary and Middle Schools. It’s the site of the original bridge into town and part of the history tour.
Eat: Riverside Grill – Right on the river, Riverside Grill offers burgers, billiards and brilliant outdoor dining.
Stay: Basalt Mountain Inn lets you walk to dining, art galleries and more.
Do: Movies in the Park. Lions Park hosts outdoor movies July and August. Second Friday Art Walks. All year round, art galleries open on the second Friday evening of the month with new exhibits and open house refreshments.
See: Charcoal Kilns. Before the Midland Railroad created what is now Basalt, Aspen Silver Company built these kilns to refine charcoal. A halfway house was set up here as well and the community was called Fryingpan. They were built in the early 1880s and are the first real structures of what is now Basalt. They are also part of the history tour.
Eat: Smoke Modern BBQ – some of the best pulled pork in the valley, be sure to top it with Smoke’s unique smokin’ slaw and start with the warm cornbread muffins and cane syrup butter.
Stay: Lodge at River’s Edge is a great get-a-way-from-it-all just on the outskirts of town.
Do: Summer Concert Series. Wednesdays in the summer feature live music from 6-8:00pm rotating between Triangle Park in Willits and Lions Park downtown. Kayak the Roaring Fork or the Fryingpan River with one of the many outfits in the valley.
See: Fall colors. Leaf Peeping is prime in the fall from mid-September to mid-October and Basalt offers many locations for viewing the bright and changing colors of the Aspen trees.
Eat: Tempranillo is the call for romantic dining in Basalt, but the Brick Pony Pub right downtown offers a great alternative with delicious food and local atmosphere.
by Nicole Birkhold