Any photo of the stacked, cliff banded-pair of Rocky Mountain Peaks framing a pristine mirror-like lake most likely depicts the Maroon Bells. These two Fourteeners (North Maroon and South Maroon) are arguably the most photographed mountains in Colorado. And they capture the majesty and grandeur that Colorado is known for.
Learn everything you need to know about the Maroon Bells before you plan your next trip to Aspen, Colorado.
COVID-19 UPDATE FOR SUMMER 2021: Reservations are required to access Maroon Bells Scenic Area and can be made on AspenChamber.org. Car traffic is restricted during peak summer months between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. During these hours, there is bus service between Aspen Highlands and Maroon Bells Scenic Area. For more information, see our summer 2021 information about Maroon Bells Scenic Area.
Where are the Maroon Bells?
"The Bells" are two peaks, Maroon Peak (South Maroon) and North Maroon Peak, in the Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness. They are located in the Elk Mountains of the White River National Forest, a few miles southwest of Aspen, Colorado, on the border between Pitkin and Gunnison counties. Though not the tallest mountains in Colorado, the Maroon Bells rank among the top 50 highest peaks in North America.
Why "Maroon" Bells?
The "Maroon" Bells get their distinctive color from iron-stained siltstone which looks maroon in the mountain atmosphere. This sedimentary rock is soft and crumbly, unlike the hard granite of many other Colorado mountains. The mineral makes climbing the peaks extremely difficult and dangerous, but not impossible. Geologists estimate that the Maroon Bells began to form 300 million years ago from sediment shed from the Ancestral Rockies.
How Far are the Maroon Bells from Aspen?
The Maroon Bells are about 12 miles south of Aspen; just follow Maroon Creek Road from the Aspen Roundabout. It's proximity makes the City of Aspen a convenient place to stay for travelers who want to experience this awe-inspiring natural wonder and beauty.
When are the Maroon Bells Open?
Each year, Maroon Creek Road opens to the Maroon Bells Scenic Area in late spring or early summer and remains open until mid-October. The opening and closing of Maroon Creek Road is determined by the U.S. Forest Service, as weather conditions (or avalanche debris) can affect the specific dates. If you're interested in visiting Aspen when the Maroon Bells are easily accessible, double-check road access with the Forest Service.
Due to the popularity of the Maroon Bells, once bus service begins in mid-June, you're not permitted to drive from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. You can catch a bus during the day from Aspen Highlands (and you can even bring your dog!).
The Maroon Bells in Summer
Because the Aspen area boasts sunny, mild, and glorious summers (and due to summer breaks from school or work), June, July, and August are the busiest months at the Bells. In addition to the beautiful peaks, the Maroon Bells offer visitors a variety of entertainment in the form of gorgeous fields of wildflowers, ample aspen trees, casual hiking trails, and plenty of local wildlife. You might see moose, deer, bighorn sheep, bears, porcupines, or beavers!
During the summer months, some of the most popular scenic trails include:
- Maroon Creek Trail. Perfect for animal lovers and spectators, this trail is over 3 miles long and features both meadows and rocky terrain.
- Crater Lake Trail. A 3.6-mile trail with gorgeous views of the landscape and Crater Lake, this trail is ideal for experienced hikers and climbers.
- Maroon Lake Scenic Trail. Among the shortest trails near Maroon Bells, this 1 mile-trail boasts fabulous views of the lake and easily accessible from the parking lot.
Can You Visit the Maroon Bells in Winter?
Absolutely. But it may take a little more effort. If you're skilled in cross-country skiing or snowshoeing, you can make it to the Maroon Bells during the winter months. Since Maroon Creek Road is closed to vehicles all winter, you'll need to get there on foot (or bring/rent a snowmobile).
Can You Drive to the Maroon Bells?
Private/personal vehicles can access the Maroon Bells before 8 a.m. and after 5 p.m. (or anytime before or after the Maroon Bells bus runs). Parking is very limited and there is a $10 fee per vehicle. During summer / fall 2020, reservations are required for parking as well, and those can be made at AspenChamber.org.
The easiest way to get to the Maroon Bells is by taking the bus (the only option available from 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. during peak season). You can bus from downtown Aspen and catch the Maroon Bells shuttle from the Aspen Highlands Parking lot, or just park at Highlands and hop on a bus right there.
Can You Camp at the Maroon Bells?
There are three campsites on Maroon Creek Road; however, space is limited at each. If you're planning to visit in the busy summer months, advance reservations are almost always necessary. You'll also need to come prepared with bear-proof containers for your food since wild animals abound.
Can Dogs Go to the Maroon Bells?
Because the Maroon Bells are in an official wilderness area, it's important to discern whether your dog's personality and needs would mesh with such an environment. There may be wildlife and other natural resources that must remain undisturbed during your visit, and some dogs have been known to provoke wildlife. That said, dogs are welcome as long as they're leashed and their waste is picked up and disposed of. The Maroon Bells shuttle also allows dogs onboard.
Can You Swim at the Maroon Bells?
Maroon Lake is easily recognizable as the mirror-like body of water seen in just about every Maroon Bells photo. You can also find high-alpine Crater Lake about a mile and a half down a moderate trail. Swimming is prohibited in both lakes, but there are plenty of other local places where you can swim and float (like the North Star Nature Preserve near Independence Pass).
Can You Fish at the Maroon Bells?
Scenic fishing opportunities are available off of Maroon Lake Trail if you have a Colorado fishing license. Fly fishing is a favorite pastime in this area and fisherman can expect to find plenty of rainbow trout and kokanee salmon in the waters of Crater Lake.
How to Photograph Maroon Bells
It would be remiss to visit the Maroon Bells and not capture your own perfect photo of this breathtaking scene. If you want more than a selfie and would prefer a professional quality image to cherish forever, consider these tips:
- Go at the right time. Sunrise and dusk are the best times to capture Maroon Bells in natural lighting and without all the crowds. Keep in mind the position of the sun, as it will affect the quality of your photo.
- Choose the best shooting location. A lake adds something extra-special to a photo of the already stunning Bells. Most photographers agree that the summer and fall months are the most photographed seasons, so you'll want to arrive early to get a spot at the edge of either Maroon or Crater Lake (the latter if you arrive early enough to tackle the hike first).
- Be prepared for the weather. Even in summer, temperatures can rapidly drop as night begins to fall. Sudden thunderstorms are common, as well. Make sure you have both clothing and equipment that can withstand sudden temperature and weather changes.
Where to Stay Near Maroon Bells
Whether you're looking at them from a distance or getting up close and personal, the Maroon Bells are truly a sight to behold. Staying in Aspen gives you the easiest access to the Bells any time of year. Visit Frias Properties to find available lodging convenient to these natural wonders.