National Geographic Adventure Magazine named it one of the top 12 towns to live and play. Men's Journal called it one of the most active towns. Yet, Aspen-bound visitors may drive right by it if they're unaware.Carbondale has moved up the ranks, establishing a reputation that extends far beyond being a bedroom community located 30 miles outside Aspen.The once quiet mountain town now buzzes with outdoor recreation, theater, music, shopping, unique dining and more. And it just so happens that late summer and fall are perfect seasons to explore Carbondale.
With its paved trails through the valley and more technical single-track, Carbondale provides miles of opportunity for cyclists. Families might want to roll along the paved Rio Grande Trail, which follows the Roaring Fork River into Aspen. Red Hill Recreation Area, aka Mushroom Rock, offers trails for riders of all abilities - and it's only a mile from downtown. Look for the parking lot at the base of County Road 107, at the intersection of Highways 82 and 133. Rock climbers test their skills on Redstone boulders, the Narrows and Frying Pan crags. Horse lovers can choose from town carriage rides to wildflower-filled backcountry trips. And hunters stalk mule deer, elk and black bear in Sopris Ranger District and White River National Forest.Surrounded by rivers, Carbondale literally soaks in watery recreation, from rafting to fishing. Portions of the Crystal and Roaring Fork rivers are calm enough for families with young children to float down. Farther down the river, the Roaring Fork becomes an unbridled adventure, as it sweeps rafters down names like Cemetery Rapids, Baptism and Maneater.The Roaring Fork also provides Gold Medal fishing water, specifically in the lower Roaring Fork, between Carbondale and Glenwood Springs. The 14-mile stretch is home to the largest trout in the Roaring Fork, weighing in between 5 and 8 pounds. The Crystal River lives up to its name, with its clean, deep runs, holes and pockets supporting rainbows and browns.Plenty of guides will help you navigate the rivers and lead you to the best fishing spots in the region. Crystal Fly Shop is one of the renowned outfits in Carbondale - so much so, it outgrew its old location last year. By moving to 1087 Highway 133, it has become the biggest and most well-stocked fly fishing shop in the valley. Whether you're a novice or experienced wader or a floater, Crystal Fly Shop (www.crystalflyshop.com) guides will hook you up.Of course, no resort town is complete without a golf course. Three 18-hole and two 9-hole courses are located within 10 miles of Carbondale. River Valley Ranch Golf Course is situated at the foot of the mighty Mount Sopris. Designed for moderate skill levels, it challenges golfers with rolling valleys, wetlands and the banks of the Crystal River. Ironbridge Golf Course sits just north of Carbondale. Golf Digest Magazine rated it a top course in Colorado, with its 7,224 yards designed by Arthur Hills, along tall grasses, quaking Aspens and the Roaring Fork River.
Carbondale brims with art and music.Every first Friday of the month, Carbondale's art community holds special events, from plein air painting to gallery tours and live music at the Performing Arts Center .This fall, Carbondale Arts Council sponsors classes mostly at Third Street Center, a green-build, new community building. Workshops range from bilingual beginning sewing and felt work to painting with acrylics in unusual ways and doll making. Oct. 20-21, Luvera Meyer, author of "Clothing from Hands That Weave," teaches participants how to free-form knit. Other mid- to late-fall classes include sewing wearable art, basket weaving, visual journaling, book binding, lace knitting, steel jewelry making and seasonal decorative folk art. Visit www.carbondalearts.com for more information.Last year, the Performing Arts Center at Third Street, aka PAC3, opened a 365-541 capacity venue to host live music, theater, dance and more.Josh Behrman, who has organized such renowned festivals as the Chili Pepper & Brew Fest, Jamgrass and balloon, music and culinary festivals in Snowmass, helps book talent for PAC3. Tab Benoit performed Sept. 13, and the upcoming lineup includes Leon Redbone (Oct. 10), Bastard Suns with Knockout, No Bueno (Oct. 12), The April Clark Show (Oct. 13), Steve Kimock and friends (Oct. 17) and Caravan of Thieves (Oct. 18). Visit www.pac3carbondale.com for more information.One of the most intimate, down-home venues is Steve's Guitars, where guests bring their own beer and wine and listen to live music Steve books. Just walking into his comfortable venue is an experience: Painted and decked-out guitars hang from the ceiling and walls, giving off an eclectic, artistic feel that's perfect for the grooves that emanate from the musicians on any given night. (www.stevesguitars.net)
One of Carbondale's best-kept secret just may be Avalanche Ranch Hot Springs. With the hot spring pools in Glenwood just down the road, people don't usually associate Carbondale with hot springs, but Avalanche Ranch's allow guests to soak their worries away - without the crowds.The three hot springs, located along a creek, are only open to lodging guests, which makes them all the more special. Approximately 85 gallons a minute pour into the 10,000 gallons of water contained in red sandstone and flagstone tubs, so there's no need for chlorination.But the hot springs aren't the only draw. The ranch itself is quaint and charming: In 1959, the owners moved cabins built in the 1940s to the current location. However, the cabins are anything but primitive; they're updated with mountain dcor, a full kitchen and bath. The land provides views of Mount Sopris, Elephant Mountain and Avalanche Creek, and the main lodge hosts a variety of antiques for purchase. The community lodge is filled with books, games and cozy corners to unwind. For more information, visit www.avalancheranch.com.Though downtown Carbondale is relatively small, its main street packs a punch with shopping (including incredible boutiques and thrift stores) and restaurants, like Phat Thai and Village Smithy. Village Smithy has been a tradition in Carbondale since 1975. During breakfast, it's packed, due to local favorites, like applewood bacon & egg, and the wild mushroom omelet. Lunch options range from Mexican fare to salads, sandwiches and burgers. (www.villagesmithy.com)When Phat Thai opened in Carbondale, plenty of locals swarmed there - and still do. It hails itself as a place where "hole-in-the-wall noodle joint meets casual neighborhood restaurant," but its food hardly qualifies for the description "hole in the wall." The chefs fuse Asian cuisine - particularly inspired by Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam - with "gringo interpretations," according to the owner. Not only is it an organic, environmentally friendly restaurant, but also its food is affordable and tasty (and they can crank the level of spice up or down, according to your palate). To check out the menu, visit www.phatthai.com.