Worth Traveling For: Summer at Aspen’s The Little Nell

One can get misty-eyed just thinking about The Little Nell, a five-star, five-diamond hotel in breathtakingly beautiful Aspen, Colorado. I certainly do. 

Aspen, famed for its mountains and unapologetic in its luxury, is a destination that should be on everyone’s list, and The Little Nell is the diamond in the town’s crown. A stay here—and maybe the price too—is something you’ll remember for the rest of your life. A recent renovation and a renewed commitment to sustainability, has solidified The Little Nell as a destination in itself. 

Over-the-top? Perhaps. Sophisticated? Certainly. Worth traveling for? Without a doubt.

The Hotel

Named for the silver mine that once stood on the hotel’s site, The Little Nell is perched as if to reign over the town and mountains. Located at the top of Aspen town and directly on Ajax Mountain (the hotel is Aspen’s only ski-in/ski-out property), The Nell’s position makes it all the more desirable come the first snowfall. But for a summer visit, The Nell’s location is ideal for heading off into the mountains or walking into town before or after a day’s adventure. 

The crowd here is decidedly nipped and tucked, but there is also an old-school luxury in the air that recalls a nostalgic past glory of travel, exploration, and the great outdoors. It’s The Nell’s attention to detail and the professionality of the staff that truly stand out, and, one might argue, are some of the greatest in the world. From valet parking to room service to the concierge, the staff at The Little Nell make their guests feel like they’ve arrived at their well-deserved home in the mountains. 

Photo by Rachel Havel

The Rooms

The Nell’s 92-guest rooms all come with a view—whether that be of Ajax, the Continental Divide, downtown, or the hotel courtyard. While truly every view in Aspen is beautiful, from The Little Nell they seem glorious, and most rooms come with balconies from which to take it all in. Each room, regardless of size, is equipped with a fireplace, something worth making use of regardless of the weather. The standard rooms are generously sized and were renovated in 2017 in a style that is a little urban, a little mountainous, and decidedly Aspen. For guests truly needing to spread out, six luxury suites are on offer. 

Small thoughtful gifts like Supergoop sunscreens (Aspen has an altitude of 8,000 feet so the air here is decidedly thin) and a silver aspen leaf ornament, await you in the room and make check-in feel like a homecoming. Twice-daily suite service and additional daily gifts left at the bedside, are memorable touches. A healthy selection of newspapers are available for door delivery each morning and a mini bar complimentary stocked with drinks, granola bars, and (mercifully), hydration packets, is replenished constantly. At The Little Nell, it’s the details that make all the difference. 

Photo courtesy of The Little Nell
Photo by Shawn O’Connor

The Restaurants

Food and wine are taken as seriously at The Little Nell as skiing is in the town of Aspen. Over the years The Nell has endeavored to establish itself as a culinary destination and its two restaurants, Element 47 and Ajax Tavern, are testaments to that work. Ajax, so named for Aspen’s mountain, is the more relaxed of the two and offers classic dishes for après-anything and is a popular end of day spot for hotel guests and Aspen locals. Element 47, named for the periodic table’s 47th element (silver), is The Nell’s take on fine dining and presents a prix-fixed menu of seasonal modern Colorado cuisine. Element 47 is a Wine Spectator Award-winning restaurant (the only restaurant awarded in Aspen) and concentrates on approachable but refined dishes sourced from local farms and ranches. The highlight is the wagyu beef which comes from nearby Emma Farms. 

The Nell’s wine program is Burgundy-focused and boasts a collection of over 20,000 bottles ranging in price from $33 to $48,000. As eleven Master Sommeliers have come through The Little Nell, you’ll be wise to leave your wine selection up to them. 

For exclusive dining experiences The Nell offers The Wine Bar and the Board Room, both available for private wine tastings and dinners. 

Photo courtesy of Gibeon Photography
Photo by Jamie Fletcher

What Else

You may not want to leave The Little Nell at all, and with a heated pool, gym, and spa offering a menu of massages, you would be excused for staying put. But if the mountains call to you, The Nell arranges group and private excursions ranging from mountain biking to star gazing to fly fishing. Live music and outdoor movies run weekly during the summer. 

It’s clear The Nell is conscious of its role among the physical landscape of Aspen and is committed to running an environmentally-conscious operation. Guests are given the option of contributing a nightly donation of $2 to The Nell’s Environmental Foundation of which the proceeds are matched each year by the Aspen Skiing Company. Small but meaningful decisions like laundering bed linens and towels every three days, rather than daily, providing Aspen tap water throughout the property, adding electric vehicle charging stations at valet service, and powering the largest suite on property with a 5,000-watt solar panel, put The Nell’s beliefs into action. In 2011 The Nell was awarded the Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association’s Hospitality Green Award.

The Nell is family-friendly and while you may want to luxuriate poolside, it does seem to be the center of activity for the ten and under set. Not surprising given the amount of lap dogs found in Aspen, The Little Nell is pet friendly and even offers a menu of high-quality epicurean delights for four-legged visitors. 

Photo by Steve Goff
Photo by Chris Council and Emily Chaplin

Life Beyond the Hotel

Skip over Aspen’s store fronts of high-end real estate, clothing, and jewelry and head to the gallery space of Guadalupe Laiz. The Argentinian photographer’s incredible large-scale wildlife photographs are on display and you’ll likely recognize her striking series on the wild horses of Iceland (306 S. Mill Street). If you’re a Hunter S. Thompson fan, or even remotely counterculture-interested, head to Fat City Gallery (529 E. Cooper Avenue) for rotating exhibits on Thompson and his compatriots. 

The complexity and richness of summer activities in Aspen are too numerous to list here, but for some nearby hikes head to the trails at Independence and Lost Man Lakes. The latter offers a longer, less-trafficked loop. Follow either hike with a visit to the ghostly ruins of the old mining town of Independence. Ashcroft, another of the area’s ghost towns, offers a window into the silver-mad days of a more wild west. Follow the visit with lunch at Pine Creek Cookhouse (11399 Castle Creek Road), for a fixe-prix menu with stunning mountain views. The trailheads to Cathedral Lake and American Lake are nearby.

A visit to the Maroon Bells is obligatory while in Aspen and an evening hike on the 3 1/2 mile trail to the Bell’s Crater Lake is a wonderful way to enjoy the area. It’s also when the wildlife come out—deer, fox, geese, marmots, and if you’re lucky, moose. Reserve either shuttle tickets or parking passes ($10) in advance. 

For pre-hike sustenance, head to Butcher Block (424 S Spring Street), an old-school Aspen deli without pretension. End the day at J. Bar (330 E Main Street), the 1890s saloon in Hotel Jerome that serves elevated American bar classics.

If you’re lucky to be in town at the same time as the Aspen Music Festival (July and August), book yourself a seat under the famed tent. And for something completely different, make the short drive to Snowmass for the weekly rodeo where couture and cowboy boots are both equally welcome.

Photo by Steve Goff

How Do I Get There

Aspen is serviced by a small airport immediately outside of town. You’ll want to rent a car upon arrival. Otherwise, it’s a three+ hour drive from Denver that winds through some legendary scenery. Stop while crossing Independence Pass and marvel at the views along the Continental Divide. 

seven mile miracle oahu
The Culture-ist