The Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, better known as just Maroon Bells, is located near Aspen, Colorado. Although the area features the Elk Mountains and spans the White River and Gunnison National Forests, it’s best known for the extremely popular Maroon Bells Scenic Area.
The fact that the above photo can be taken about 50 yards from the parking lot explains why this area is so popular. That’s also why I’m labeling this as an attraction rather than a trail. It takes zero effort to capture one of the most beautiful natural landmarks in North America on film. That popularity is also what makes getting in and out of Maroon Bells so problematic.
Due to the high demand of visitors, and the low supply of parking spaces, the gate to the park is closed from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. Outside of those times, parking spaces are first-come, first-served. They fill up fast. When the gate is closed, visitors must take the bus from Aspen. There are some exceptions for overnighters, group vans, and cars with child seats (not booster seats).
We wanted to spend the night in the Wilderness and then watch the sunrise over Maroon Lake the next morning, but there was no guarantee we would be able to get one of the 35 overnight parking spaces on Friday night. If the lot was full, where would we sleep? Parking or sleeping in the day-use lot is strictly prohibited. So we camped at a campground on the other side of Independence Pass on Friday night.
We got up at 4:30 am the next day and made it to Maroon Bells by 7:00 am. We paid the $10 parking fee (that grants parking for 5 days) and drove to the scenic area to beat the crowds. The view did not disappoint. We spent the morning doing the out-and-back hike to Crater Lake. While it was certainly beautiful, it was also crowded. I don’t like hiking in a line of strangers.
The next time I’m in the area, I’m going to hike the 35-mile 4-Pass Loop that begins and ends at the Maroon Bells Scenic Area. That way, I’ll push past the crowds and into the wilderness where I can get some solitude and much-needed exercise.
If you plan to use Maroon Bells as a portal to a longer hike, I recommend that you buy this map.
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