Summit the Maroon Bells: Colorado’s Iconic Twin Peaks
The Maroon Bells are perhaps the most iconic peaks in Colorado. Located in the Elk Mountains near Aspen, these twin summits are beloved by hikers and photographers alike.
The Maroon Bells offer a challenging but rewarding hike with stunning views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. If you’re up for a challenge, summiting the Maroon Bells is a must-do Colorado adventure.
The Maroon Valley mountains and lakes were created by over 300 million years of geological activity, including sedimentation, uplift, and erosion by wind, water, and ice. The U.S. Forest Service believes that the mountains got their maroon color from the weathering of hematite- a mineral containing iron. Similarly, Maroon Lake was formed in a basin created by Ice Age glaciers.
Getting back to conquesting the Maroon Bells. Here’s everything you need to know about trekking to the top of the Maroon Bells.
When to go
The best time to hike the Maroon Bells is in the summer or fall when the weather is mild and there is less snow on the ground. However, the Maroon Bells can be hiked year-round, conditions permitting.
If you’re planning a winter hike, be sure to check the weather forecast and avalanche conditions before heading out.
How to get there
The Maroon Bells are located in the White River National Forest, about 10 miles from Aspen. The easiest way to get there is by car, although you can also take a bus from Aspen or Snowmass Village.
There is a large parking area at the Maroon Bells trailhead, but it often fills up early in the day during peak season. If you can’t find a spot, you may have to park further down the road and walk to the trailhead.
The area around the natural landmark is restricted during summer and fall because so many people visit during those times. Autumn, in particular, is beautiful, with the Maroon Bells being surrounded by clouds and blue skies speckled with Aspen groves that have turned golden.
You might also want to consider booking your Aspen airport transportation in advance, so you don’t have to worry about parking at the trailhead.
The Maroon Bells hike is about 7 miles round trip, with an elevation gain of about 3,000 feet. The trail is well-marked and relatively easy to follow. However, it is steep in places and can be challenging for inexperienced hikers. Some of the most appreciated hikes are:
1. Maroon Lake Scenic Trail
This short and scenic 1-mile hike starts at the parking area and loops around the lake; it’s also worth keeping an eye out for the beaver pond on your walk.
2. Maroon Creek Trail
Beginning at Maroon Lake, this 3.2-mile one-way trail is excellent for wildlife spotting of animals such as mule deer, red fox, bighorn sheep, porcupines, and a variety of birds while traveling through alpine meadows, aspen forests, and rocky slopes.
3. Crater Lake Trail
With a challenging and rewarding 3.6-mile round-trip, this hike is perfect for hikers looking to take in views of beautiful Aspen woodlands and Crater Lake. Be sure to start at the Deadly Bells Kiosk from Maroon Lake Trail, and come prepared for a rocky ascent with cooler temperatures which may also include thunderstorms.
Allow yourself plenty of time to complete the hike, and take breaks as needed. The views from the top are well worth the effort!
4. Maroon Bells Camping
If you’re looking for breathtaking views of aspen groves, wildflower meadows and spruce and fir forests, look no further than Silver Bell Campground. Situated on the banks of Maroon Creek at 8,460 feet in the White River National Forest, this campground offers 14 tent sites and easy access to excellent trout fishing in Maroon Creek.
Visiting in the Winter
You can’t drive to Maroon Creek Road in the cold months, but you can cross-country ski, snowshoe, or snowmobile there. T-Lazy-7 Ranch takes visitors on a beautiful snowmobiling tour of the area that includes sights like the stunning Maroon Bells amid wintery meadows and aspen groves.
Anchored by a reflective lake and two giant snow-striped mountaintops named Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak is a blissful panorama that changes colors with the seasons.
What to bring
Be sure to pack plenty of water, snacks, and a first-aid kit. Hiking boots or shoes with good traction, and layers of clothing that can be added or removed as needed, are also essential.
In summer, sunscreen and insect repellent are a must. And in winter, be sure to bring warm clothing, gloves, a hat, and traction devices for your shoes or boots.
A camera is also a good idea, so you can capture the incredible views from the top of the Maroon Bells.
Tips for a successful hike
Start early, this will help you avoid the crowds and the heat of the day.
Grab the Right Gear
While it’s not necessary to have a lot of gear for hiking, some equipment can make your hikes more enjoyable.
If you’re planning on making hiking a regular activity, here are some items that may improve your experience.
CamelBak is not only lighter than most other hydration brands, but its design also motivates users to drink more water throughout the day.
Hiking shirt and pants
When you’re at an REI or Columbia, the salespeople will attempt to sell you hiking clothes. The practical side of your brain is probably telling you not to listen. But don’t worry–hiking gear is designed to be breathable while also being able to withstand different weather conditions (to some degree).
This type of clothing insulates against cold temperatures and allows sweat and rain to dry quickly. Buy your hiking shoes after getting fitted at a store like REI. You’ll want to feel comfortable in these shoes since you’ll be wearing them for hours on end, so make sure to try them on before purchasing.
Hiking socks are vital to a comfortable hike. Wear one pair while the other dries out.
The night and morning before your hike, be sure to eat well. Dinner with lots of protein and carbohydrates will give you the energy you need for the next day. For breakfast, make sure to have something filling so that you can band on an empty stomach.
You’ll be using a lot more energy than usual walking uphill, so it’s important to fuel up beforehand!
Because the weather is so unpredictable in Colorado, it’s important to wear layers when hiking. The temperature can drop significantly as you climb higher into the mountains, so even on a warm day, be sure to pack a fleece or light jacket. In fact, it’s never a bad idea to carry a waterproof jacket that doubles as a windbreaker, pants, beanie, and gloves — especially when hiking at higher altitudes.
Check the Weather
Colorado weather is notoriously changeable, so it’s always best to be prepared for anything. Even if the forecast doesn’t show rain, afternoon thunderstorms are common in summer, so throwing a rain jacket in your backpack is never a bad idea. Keep an eye out for storm clouds while you’re hiking, and double-check the weather right before you head out.
That way, if conditions look like they might take a turn for the worse, you can turn around early rather than being caught off guard miles from home.
Appropriate Daypack is Imperative
Hiking backpacks come in all shapes and sizes, but daypacks are the smallest and most versatile. Perfect for short or long hikes, make sure to choose a daypack that speaks to your personal style and preference.
An essential for any nature-goer, be sure to bring a First Aid Kit on your hike in case of injury. Before you go on your next hike, buy or create a small first-aid kit to take with you. Your daypack should have a designated pouch for this which includes supplies such as moleskin (to prevent blisters), bandages and band-aids of various sizes, tweezers, gauze roll, antiseptic towelettes, antibiotic cream, multi-use tool, ibuprofen.
Never underestimate the power of the sun in Colorado – always bring a hat and sunglasses! Also, don’t forget to pack a daypack with everything else you’ll need.
Be Aware of the Symptoms of Altitude Sickness
Signs of altitude sickness are but are not limited to headache, feeling and being sick, dizziness, tiredness, loss of appetite, and shortness of breath. It’s nothing to be ashamed of if you need to set your sights lower or ask for help. If you’re flying in from a place with a significantly higher altitude, bring some canned oxygen along — it might just put your mind at ease.
If you’re feeling ill, drink more water before taking ibuprofen. Ibuprofen will only hide the problem; consuming H2O might fix it.
Bring a flashlight, some snacks, a compass, a first-aid kit, and a detailed map on every hike—you never know when you might get lost.
Take your time: The Maroon Bells are a challenging hike, so don’t try to rush it. Enjoy the views and take plenty of breaks.
Be prepared: Be sure to pack everything you need, and check the weather forecast before you go. And to make your trip even more pleasureble, don’t forget to book in advance a trustworthy service from a luxury transportation company.