Friday, July 9, 2021

Don't miss this scenic place near Aspen


Maroon color is striking against the golden aspens.

If you plan to visit Aspen, Colorado in the summer or early fall, there’s one place you simply must put on your to-see list. But it’s not as easy to get to as in previous years, so plan ahead and make a reservation as far in advance as you can.

From spring until October (May 14-October 24 this year), visitors crowd into the Maroon Bells Scenic Area, about 12 miles from Aspen, hoping to catch perfect mirrored reflections of the twin peaks on Maroon Lake. It’s a gorgeous sight that will have you clicking picture after picture on your camera.

Reflections of the mountains in the lake.

There’s a $10 fee for driving Maroon Creek road to the Maroon Bells trailhead before 8 a.m. and after 5 pm. Parking is very limited, so most visitors take a 15-minute shuttle bus ride from Aspen Highlands to the trailhead. There is a fee for parking at the lot, and reservations are required, especially since the number of people on each shuttle run is limited. But, don’t let the details discourage you. Whatever it takes, the effort is definitely worth it.

Maroon Bells are two “fourteener” peaks in the Elk Mountains, Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak, each more than 14,000 feet high. Unlike other mountains of the Colorado Rockies, which are composed of granite and limestone, both Maroon peaks are hardened mudstone whose distinctive wine hue gives the peaks their name.

The Maroon Bells themselves are located in the wide Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness of the White River National Forest. The whole Maroon Creek Valley is surrounded by beautiful mountains, and the views are as spectacular as anywhere in the world, especially early morning.

Looking skyward between the trees.
When you arrive, you can simply stroll around to enjoy the indescribable beauty of the area. Walking an easy trail of less than one mile that highlights the iconic calendar-quality mountain reflections and aspen groves or just sitting by the lake can be very relaxing. In early fall, the golden groves shimmer in the sunlight as loose aspen leaves float to the ground.

Another option is to walk the easy three-mile Scenic Loop Trail. Enjoy flowing cascades of Maroon Creek year round, wildflowers in summer, and possible wildlife sightings in early morning or evening.

For the more adventurous, Crater Lake Trail offers a little more challenge. Called a moderate hike, this trail is about 3.6 miles round trip and winds its way through meadows, aspen forest, and scree fields. The trail can be extremely rocky, so be sure to wear sturdy shoes; walking poles can be as asset to help with balance on uneven surfaces.

Crater Lake hike has plenty of uneven surfaces.

Eventually the trail leads to Crater Lake, situated in a basin, which has been somewhat dry on both our visits. But there are incredible views of the Maroon Bells—and lively chipmunks for entertainment—before heading back to Maroon Lake.

More reflections of the twin peaks at Crater Lake

This is one of our favorite hikes because of the jaw-dropping views all around. Just allow enough time to have a snack and rest at Crater Lake before hiking back. Enjoy multiple colors whatever season you are there. 

After returning to the starting point, you’ll want to take a final look at your surroundings (note how the different angle of the sun affects your photos) and then catch the shuttle back to your car. Leave early in the morning (before 8:00 is ideal), and plan on this adventure taking most of a day.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier



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