GETTING THERE: United offers connecting service from D.C. to Aspen/Pitkin County Airport, with round-trip fares from $350. Free buses to Aspen run past the airport on State Highway 82. If you plan to camp and/or explore the area, though, you'll need to rent a car. You might save money by flying to Denver, renting a car and driving the roughly 31/2 hours to Aspen. Many major airlines fly from D.C. to Denver; round-trip fares begin at $173, with restrictions.
WHERE TO STAY: You can save lots of money by camping in one of the Aspen Ranger District's eight campgrounds in the White River National Forest. The closest spot to Aspen is Difficult Campground ($15 per night), about five miles southeast of town. Reservations: 877-444-6777, www.reserveusa.com. For general campground info: Aspen Ranger District, 970-925-3445.
Getting a bed in Aspen isn't cheap. Less expensive options include the St. Moritz Lodge & Condominiums (334 W. Hyman Ave., 800-817-2069, www.stmoritzlodge.com), with a heated pool, comfortable lobby and hostel-style bunks for $36 per person; doubles with shared bath begin at $88. Mountain Chalet (333 E. Durant Ave., 800-321-7813, www.mountainchaletaspen.com; doubles from $85) has similar amenities. The Tyrolean Lodge (200 W. Main St., 888-220-3809, www.tyroleanlodge.com; doubles from $95-$120) is decorated with old ski equipment and all but one room has a kitchenette. (Rates quoted are for high summer; they drop in fall, then rise again for winter ski season.)
WHERE TO EAT: Aspen has plenty of good places that won't break the bank. A local favorite for Mexican food and margaritas is La Cocina (308 E. Hopkins Ave.), where wrought-iron furniture and arched doorways create a pleasant atmosphere. Entrees start at $8.95. Eat a relaxing breakfast at the Main Street Bakery & Cafe (201 E. Main St.), with entrees from $5.25. For steak and other hearty fare, check out Little Annie's Eating House (517 E. Hyman Ave.), where the chandeliers are made of wagon wheels and entrees and sandwiches start at $6.95.
* The Aspen Music Festival and School (970-925-9042, www.aspenmusicfestival.com) offers at least one free concert for most days of its duration (June 22-Aug. 22 this year). Also, the classical music festival never charges for sitting on the lawn outside Benedict Music Tent, a great place for a picnic. When they're not free, tickets start at $10.
* Jazz Aspen Snowmass (970-920- 4996, www.jazzaspen.com) presents the Snowmass Summer of Free Music, which runs through Aug. 26 this year. Shows take place under a ski lift at Snowmass Village, a few miles west of Aspen, and feature many music styles. Concerts are normally on Thursdays but also take place some Saturdays and Wednesdays.
* Free outdoor movies are shown at both Snowmass Village and Aspen Highlands (an offshoot of Aspen's primary resort, southwest of town). Aspen Highlands presents its films on Tuesdays through Aug. 31; Snowmass's shows are on Fridays, plus a few extra shows on other days. Details: www.stayaspensnowmass.com/p-summer-activities-movies.php.
* The Aspen Art Museum (590 N. Mill St., 970-925-8050, www.aspenartmuseum.org) has free admission on Fridays -- otherwise it's $5 -- and free tours and refreshments most Thursdays from 5 to 7 p.m. Downtown is also teeming with commercial art galleries with great window-shopping.
* For aspiring fly fishermen, the Taylor Creek Fly Shop inside Aspen Sports (408 E. Cooper Ave., 970-920-1128, www.aspensports.com) has free casting lessons every day at noon in Aspen's Wagner Park, across the street from the store.
* The Aspen Institute (1000 N. Third St., 970-925-7010, www.aspeninstitute.org) has free lectures by distinguished scholars, religious leaders, political commentators and others during its Summer Speaker Series, which runs through Aug. 19. Lectures normally take place on Tuesday evenings.
* If you enjoy unraveling the mysteries of the universe, the Aspen Center for Physics (700 W. Gillespie St., 970-925- 2585, www.aspenphys.org) offers free lectures through Aug. 18. Topics include "Einstein in the Stars."
INFORMATION: Aspen Chamber Resort Association, 800-670-0792, www.aspenchamber.org.
-- Ben Brazil