With its snow striped mountaintops surrounded by golden aspens, Maroon Bells is perhaps the most photographed mountains in the Rockies. Visiting the Maroon Bells in Colorado had been on my wishlist for a while and on a recent college reunion trip, I convinced my friends to make the 2 plus hour drive from Breckenridge to Aspen. It didn’t really take a lot of convincing – I just had to forward a few photos of the very photogenic Bell and they were on board. The red mudstone layers give the mountains their unique maroon coloring and its name. When the light is right, the peaks reflect in the lake, and this image is on prints and postcards for sale at most gift shops in Colorado. 10 miles from Aspen up Maroon Creek Road, the Maroon Bells put on quite a show in Fall, when the aspen groves turn shades of yellow and gold. Many visitors come to Aspen to take the pictures, sunrise is a popular time when the rising sun hits the east facing peaks. We were there in May just when the park was opening for the season and had most of the trails to ourselves. The blissful panorama of the reflective lake along with Peaks engulfed in shades of spring green was a sight to behold. It seems like regardless of the season, the views were at Maroon Bells Colorado are breathtaking – it is not to be missed during a visit to Colorado! It is sure to be a highlight of your trip….
More than 300 million years of geologic activity, including sedimentation, uplift and erosion by wind, water and ice, are credited to the creation of Maroon Valley. According to the US Forest Service, the mountains received their distinctive maroon coloring from the weathering of hematite, an iron-bearing mineral, while Maroon Lake occupies a basin that was sculpted by Ice-Age glaciers. Glaciers cut valleys and lakes, like Maroon Lake and Crater Lake. The Maroon Bells are considered Colorado Fourteeners with North Maroon at 14,014′ and the summit of South Maroon Peak at 14,156′. They are called “the bells” because the shape of the mountains resemble church bells. The surrounding Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness area was one of the first US Wilderness areas established in 1964.
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Hiking at Maroon Bells
The most popular viewpoint of the Maroon Bells are from the shores of Maroon Lake, a pristine alpine lake. Hiking at the relatively easy trails is the best way to enjoy them. Here are three easy hiking trails at Maroon Bells with rewarding views – allow for plenty of time to enjoy the scenery and dress in warm layers. If you coming from flat land like me, give yourself enough time to get acclimated to the altitude before hiking. Keep in mind that climbing the Maroon Bells is fatal since the Mudstone is very fragile, causing loose rock on the climbing routes – these twin peaks are rightfully known as the “Deadly Bells.”
Maroon Lake Scenic Trail
This easy 1-mile round-trip trek starts at the parking area and follows the circumference of the lake; keep an eye out for the active beaver pond. The trail follows the lake to the far side and meanders along the creek flowing into the lake. This is a great place for pictures and picnics. Miles one way: 1.3. Elevation: 9,500 ft. – 10,000 ft. Perfect for families with little kids.
Maroon Creek Trail
Start at the outlet of Maroon Lake and travel along Maroon Creek to encounter alpine meadows, aspen forests and rocky slopes. This 3.2-mile one-way trail is an excellent place to spot wildlife such as mule deer, red fox, bighorn sheep, porcupines and a variety of birds.
Crater Lake Trail
This 3.6-mile round-trip trail rewards hikers with breathtaking vistas of bushy Aspen woodlands and Crater Lake. Start at the Maroon Bells Kiosk from Maroon Lake Trail and be prepared for a steep and rocky ascent, cooler temperatures. The Maroon-Snowmass Trail climbs through the Aspens to the lake. The left trail or the scenic trail follows a river and crosses two bridges, then climbs steeply to meet with the Maroon-Snowmass Trail.
Photos by Arun, John Dhanraj and Panneer
We spent our entire day at the foot of these imposing bells and only left when the sun was about to set and it was time for dinner – reminiscing our college days together and catching up with each others lives and of course taking lots of photos. The only thing grander than the vistas were the memories we made together!
Getting to the Maroon Bells
We drove from Breckenridge to Aspen via I-70 to Highway 82 through Glenwood Springs. We were visiting on a Friday in May and were able to drive all the way to parking lot at the Maroon Bells Trailhead. Because the natural landmark is so popular, there is restricted access to the area during the popular summer and fall months. Autumn is an especially beautiful time to visit, when the Maroon Bells are cradled by golden-hued aspen groves. It is a popular spot for leaf peepers and the best way to see the Maroon Bells is to take the public bus operated by the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA) and visit mid-week when there are fewer crowds. The bus operates between 8am to 5pm from mid-June through early October. More information here
In Late-Spring: From when Maroon Creek road opens, which is historically mid-May, and until mid-June (when the shuttle bus service starts) you are allowed to drive the road from 8am-5pm. You still have to pay the access fee.
From about the mid-June until early October, you can drive Maroon Creek road to the Maroon Bells trailhead before 8am and after 5pm. There is a $10 fee for driving the road, which–especially in Autumn–is one of the more beautiful drives in the country. From 8am to 5pm, visitors must take a 10-15-minute shuttle bus ride to the trailhead from the Maroon Bell parking lot
Early October to Mid-November: You can drive Maroon Creek road to the trailhead any day and any time of the week. Again, the access fee applies.
Maroon Bells During the Winter Months: Maroon Creek road is closed during the winter months, beginning in mid-November. Until the road reopens around mid-May of each year, the trailhead is only accessible by hiking in, cross-country skis, or via snowmobile tours.
Having made this trip, I still couldn’t scratch it off my list, would love to make it back to Maroon Bells in Fall to see it in all its golden glory!