Set along the Roaring Fork River, where it meets the Crystal River, Carbondale is a Rocky mountain oasis, just 30 miles from tony Aspen but surrounded by working ranches, fishing streams, rushing waters, and majestic peaks. If you want to ski, snowboard, bike, hike, kayak, fly fish, rock climb, raft, horseback ride, or kick back in hot springs, this should be your go-to mountain bedroom community. And there's no need to leave, as you'll find farm-to-table dining, hip breweries, and distilleries and super down-to-earth locals.
You'll likely have to wait in line, but you can't start your day without hitting the Village Smithy, which has been feeding people for four decades. It won't be easy to narrow your focus, but the McHuevos (two eggs with mushroom, green onion, homemade salsa, cheddar cheese, and sour cream piled over a bed of hash browns); blueberry corncakes; or the wild mushroom enchiladas with jack cheese are a good place to start. The Goat Kitchen & Bar, with its feta lamb burger topped with gyros meat and mint aioli and wild-caught spicy garlic shrimp atop linguini can help quell your Mediterranean cravings. Chef Mark Fischer brought haute cuisine to Carbondale 20 years ago and continues to dazzle with Town, a daytime bakery and café that morphs into lunch and dinner service for crispy pig ears with blue cheese; roasted bone marrow with oxtail; spinach cavatelli in beef tenderloin Bolognese; and Colorado lamb osso bucco. Fischer flies to the other end of the spectrum with Phat Thai. Don't miss the Malaysian sliders with kewpie sambal; five spice bbq pork spareribs; and the red duck curry with kaffir lime and thai basil. And don't skip the simple, American farm-to-table fare at SILO for food all day, which you can also order at the Marble Distilling Company next door. Get duck eggs over easy for breakfast, a Cubano for lunch, and a sausage and onion flatbread pizza for dinner.
You have access to skiing at Aspen-Snowmass' four mountains — enough to keep you occupied for well over a week in winter or summer. Trailheads abound, but a local favorite is to hike up to Mushroom Rock at Red Hill, where you can also do some badass mountain biking. Speaking of biking, don't miss the 44-mile paved Rio Grande Trail that runs from Aspen to Glenwood Springs. Gold Medal fly fishing is everywhere, Class IV rapids await you, and, of course, Mount Sopris beckons from everywhere you look. After the day's activities, you'll need to settle in with a beer. Lucky for you Roaring Fork Beer Company brews a range of seasonal beers like the AMF Amber, Tangelo IPA, or the Steed Creed Imperial Red. Look for their Grapefruit Extra Pale Ale this summer.
Carbondale has plenty of midrange chain hotels to choose from, but if you want a supercool experience, book in advance at the Distillery Inn. Set atop the Marble Distilling Company, the inn only has five rooms, but each has a fireplace, a balcony or private courtyard, and views of the 12,966-foot Mount Sopris. Did we mention you're sleeping at a distillery? If you want to get out of town, Avalanche Ranch is just 10 miles south of Carbondale and has access to the adjacent Penny Hot Springs (free for guests pretty much 24 hours a day). Book a rustic cabin, a tricked out former wagon, or get a fully equipped cottage or house about five miles away.
Book early to come see the Carbondale Wild West Rodeo. Every Thursday between June 2 and August 18, you can see what life was like in the wild Roaring Fork Valley. Tickets are $10 or $50 for a book of six.