The Maroon Bells Hike is the literal postcard of the State of Colorado. It’s actually what you see on many of the advertisements for the state. I actually saw and learned about it the first time behind the desk at a hotel I was checking into. And I knew I had to visit.
The trouble with it being so picture or err… poster perfect is that it’s almost one of those super popular places that many people try to visit during the summer. It’s definitely one of those Colorado must-do’s even with the popularity and hopefully this post will help you in planning your travel to this beautiful site.
Located in the Aspen Snowmass area, Maroon Bells is a must for those passing through the area.
How to Visit Maroon Bells, Passes, Buses, Etc.
Due to the popularity of Maroon bells, you need to make a reservation these days.
While Maroon bells is “technically” open year-round, the road does close from November to April. Outside of that time you need to travel to Maroon Bells (walk, x-country ski, bike, snowmobile) from T Lazy 7 Ranch which is about 7 miles from the site.
From May 15 – May 25, and October 23 – October 31st you can drive to the parking lot that is near the Maroon Bells trailhead.
From May 26 – October 22 during peak hours there is a shuttle bus that that you must take. There is still an option to drive to the parking lot but you must arrive before 8am or after a 5pm.
Either way you pick a specific time-slot for your visit. There are Day, Evening, Overnight, and Full Day (midnight to midnight).
The General Price of entrance to Maroon Bells is $10 per vehicle. This allows you to park at the lot near the maroon bells.
For those taking the shuttle the price is $16 for adults; $10 children (round trip). or $10 per person for one way. Parking options near the shuttle are also a fee.
Important Note: If you have an American the Beautiful, Access Pass, or Maroon Bell Pass the parking price is free. I love that the National Park pass works here as well. You can book this from the same site with the option for (Pass Holders)
Marron Bell Hikes
Maroon bell is incredibly scenic and some of the best hikes in the state are at your finger tips. If you don’t want to, or can’t hike, you can still enjoy some of the scenery near the start of the trails. However, there are hikes that can meet all different desires and skill levels. We’ll cover a few of the main trails in the region here. You can also hike up to Pyramid Peak from this area, one of the Colorado 14ers.
Maroon Bells Scenic Loop
Length: 1.9 miles Elevation Gain: 160 feet Difficulty: Easy Type: Loop Avg. Time: 1 hr.
This is definitely the easiest and trail that the vast majority of folks will do at Maroon Bells, and for good reason. This gives you the views that make those postcards so famous from the area. If you do any trail, this is the one to do. You’ll get great views of Pyramid Peak and Maroon Peak from the trail. The trail heads along the north side of Maroon Lake and continues in a loop. You can cross the bridge and also go the east or west loop.
This is the one trail dogs are not allowed due to animal habitat protection. FYI: There was a bridge out in May 2022, which necessitated going a bit through the trees and hopping over the stream.
Crater Lake Trail
Length: 3.5 miles Elevation Gain: 688 feet Difficulty: Moderate Type: Out & Back Avg. Time: 2 hrs.
The second most popular of the trails in the area, the hike to Crater Lake gives you a moderate hike out to another beautiful scenic lake. This will also give you a slightly closer view of the peaks as well as slightly smaller crowds (at least in comparison to the scenic loop). Definitely worth a trip if you want a bit more of a hike and has a great payoff.
This is a good choice if you come with a pup, as dogs are allowed on this trail (on leash). You’ll see the trailhead at the start of Maroon Lake. It’ll eventually diverge away from the scenic loop and run parallel for a bit before heading towards the lake.
Willow Lake Trail
Length: 11.6 miles Elevation Gain: 3,779 feet Difficulty: Hard Type: Out & Back Avg. Time: 8 hrs.
There are several ways to get to Willow Lake, but from here you can continue the past Crater Lake to make it all the way to Willow Lake. This will take you considerably more time and more elevation. It’s beautiful, scenic and a great challenge, but be prepared for the extra time and difficult. You’ll also top out at about 12,700 feet at Willow Pass.
Note: If you are taking the shuttle, you need to really budget your time to get there and back. Also there can be lots of snow even late in the season. Late July/August are the best in terms of trail conditions.
I still need to try more of the other trails at Maroon Bells. However, there are many different trails available at the trailheads including Pyramid Peak (7.2 miles; 7 hrs.), Maroon Peak Trail (10.9 miles; 9 hrs), Four Pass Loop (25.7 miles; 16 hrs), Thomas Lake Trail (7.8 miles; 4 hrs.). There is also the Crested Butte to Aspen Hike (Point to Point or a very long Out & Back) as well as several several multi-day hikes as well. There is definitely more coordination and transportation planning needed for those. If anyone wants to do any with me, do let me know!
Other Tips for Visiting
- Be sure to be on-time for your schedule time slot. Due to popularity, you’ll need to be in and out during the times you are slotted.
- It’s even more important to be early for your shuttle. As the shuttle will leave without you, and you may be denied boarding a later shuttle.
- Return Shuttles are First Come – First Serve until 5pm. Be sure to pay attention to the time as it is possible to miss the last shuttle back.
- Make sure you Acclimate to the Elevation. Denver is at over 5,000 feet, Aspen at 8000 feet, Maroon Lake at 9,585 feet. If you are coming from close to sea level (like DC or other parts of the east coast for instance), you’ll want to spend a couple days perhaps in Denver before visiting.
- Pay attention and respect signs of Altitude Sickness. I tend to forget now that I live in Colorado, but know the signs of Altitude sickness (headaches, dizziness, vomiting) and if you are experiencing somewhat severe forms descend in elevation. Hiking, especially more strenuous ones will increase altitude sickness as well.
- Things to Bring
- Sunscreen (the sun feels more intense at elevation)
- Lots of Water
- A good daypack
- Solid walking or hiking boots (I like trail shoes or hiking boots myself)
- Clothing Layers (It’s not uncommon to feel hot and cold regularly on the hike)
- Raincoat (Weather can shift and change often in Colorado)
- Make sure people know your itinerary. This is particularly important if you are doing a longer hike or one that is less frequented. There is also no cell phone service near Maroon Bells. You want people to know where to look for you in the event of trouble.
Where to Stay
Maroon Bells’ location close to Aspen and Snowmass Village give access to a large amount of lodging options for the hikes. Aspen can be quite expensive however, but there are some cheaper options if you are ok staying further away (such as Glenwood Springs) or even some camping options in the area (such as in the Maroon Bells area).
Camping near Maroon Bells
There is Camping in the White River National Forest along the road to Maroon Bells. These sites all require reservation on Recreation.gov. Book early if you want to go, There are 3 locations with 23 campsites between them. Several of the sites are first-come first-serve so you may get lucky.
Silver Bar – 4 primitive campsites available at this small site. Sites are about $15 a night. Sites do fill out months ahead of time
Silver Bell – 14 sites available on the banks of Maroon Creek. The site is at an elevation of 8,460 feet, so evenings can be pretty cool. Sites are about $15 a night.
Silver Queen Campground – 5 Sites available near Maroon Creek. The site is at an elevation of 8,460 feet, so evenings can be pretty cool. Sites are about $15 a night.
Hotels Near Maroon Bells
Aspen is one of my favorite mountain towns, it really feels pretty idyllic and I love the downtown area as well. It feels very walkable if you are in that area. Late Spring is great for savings and Summer prices are at least more affordable then the pricey winter skiing prices.
Situated really close to downtown Aspen, this is a great option for a “reasonably priced” Aspen hotel that also has a great location. The rooms are fine and the location is perfect. [Check Prices of Tyrolean Lodge]
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A Hyatt property located in Snowmass Village. The property is beautiful and the service is great. However, Snowmass is definitely more of a winter destination. I prefer to be walking distance to more things though, but its a great place if you want a very comfortable room, lovely views, and don’t mind being further from downtown Aspen. [Check Prices of Stonebridge Inn]
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Located further away (about an hour) in Glenwood Springs. I really like the town of Glenwood Springs, and you can also go and spend some time in the hot springs after your hikes. I like the location of Hotel Denver as its located in the heart of downtown Glenwood Springs. There are a lot of great options for food, shopping, and coffee in the town. [Check Prices of Hotel Denver]
When to Visit Maroon Bells
While it is possible to visit Maroon Bells year round, for most people mid-May to mid-October when the roads are open is when you’ll likely visit.
I prefer to visit early or late in the season. I find it easiest to get tickets to visit as well as lower crowds. Spring can be tough early for some of the hikes as there will still be snow on the ground.
Summer is the best in terms of having access to the maximum amount of the area. All of the trails will be open late summer and you’ll be able to access the peaks if that is on your itinerary.
Early in the morning is great, and tends to be less crowded. Most people just don’t want to get up early, and this is a good rule for many nature places. Sunset is also great, and can be less crowded often as well too. I would recommend if you come late in the day to stick to the area around Maroon Lake and the Scenic Loop. You don’t want to be stuck out somewhere in the dark.
Autumn is great for fall colors especially.
Getting to Maroon Bells
Maroon Bells is located south of Aspen, Colorado between Aspen and Snowmass Village. Take Colorado 82, turn onto Maroon Creek Road. Maroon Bells trailhead is about 9.5 miles from the turn-off.
From May to October you’ll need to make a reservation to visit Maroon Bells and Remember during peak season you’ll need to take a shuttle to the trailhead. If you are taking the shuttle, there is parking available at the Aspen Highlands Parking Garage.
The nearest airport to Aspen Colorado is the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport (ASE). Located within minutes of Aspen-Snowmass (about 10 minutes from Aspen downtown), it does accommodate major airlines such as United, Delta, and American Airlines. There are direct flights from several major cities including Houston, Los Angeles, and Chicago.
The closest major airport to Aspen however is Denver International Airport (DIA). This is about 4 hours driving from Denver Airport to Aspen. There are also connecting flights from DIA to ASE.