While it seems like it should be EASY to visit natural areas that are oh so picture perfect postcard lands, IT OFTEN IS NOT. The Maroon Bells is the perfect example of that complication and I am here to walk you through getting that awesome photo ad having a fantastic time.
Due to overcrowding in the state of Colorado, a lot of local areas have been implementing passes and tickets to visit a variety of locations. This limits the crowds, aids in funding to keep up with demand, and preserves natural areas for years to come. Covid-19 has exacerbated this need and action, but personally I have found it very beneficial to my enjoyment of many areas, most specifically Rocky Mountain National Park.
The Maroon Bells, an iconic and elegant mountain range in the White River National Forest, if you have seen “photos of Colorado” this was likely included. As a result a lot of people want to visit, which can lead to logistical problems to say the least.
There are a few ways to ensure a great time at the Bells, all of which require planning and reservations.
- The easiest means for a quick visit or partial day visit would be to go to Aspen and reserve a shuttle time – available through the summer months. Shuttles are good for daytime visits between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.
- Just make sure you plan ahead on getting back to town as it’s 10 miles each way
- If you are past the summer season, or have a preference, a parking pass is required to drive into the gated area. As you can imagine, sunrise is the most popular time to photograph the Bells, and therefore those passes sell first. Area fee is $10.00 per vehicle.
- My preference, and what we did, was camp in the National Forest for one night. The rates were perfectly reasonable, and a stay included access to the area as much as we wanted. The two campgrounds are Silver Queen and Silver Bell.
- Also, having an America the Beautiful pass meant we didn’t have to pay the additional $10.00 area fee.
Make sure you make whatever reservations you want as soon as they become available! I guarantee that they will sell out, especially on weekends, almost as soon as they are released. For camping, plan on making reservations up to six months in advance! Check all the relevant websites as you are planning and keep your plans flexible to accommodate the slot or dates you get.
There are very few trails right at Maroon Lake, but all of them offer great views and variety for different needs.
What really stood out to me is that the main part of the lake and view point is accessible for a variety of needs. This means many more people can enjoy its beauty! I want to also say, this needs to be the norm!
The two main trails from Maroon Lake are:
- Maroon Bells Scenic Loop – about 2 miles and mostly flat. There is some wash out, but still really enjoyable.
- Crater Lake Trail – This is a popular trail, but rough on the feet. Make sure you have proper hiking boots and good balance.
Things to Remember
- You must have a parking pass to be at the Maroon Bells, especially at sunrise. Rangers WILL check this and issue tickets if you show up via taxi or park without a pass.
- Stay behind the ropes – for the love of god, don’t stand in the fragile ecosystems! I see this too often and it’s devastating to the natural restoration and preservation of an area. Rangers are also likely to yell at you and issue tickets. Also, if you are photographing, this will ruin someone else’s shot. It’s also just a shitty move.
- Be courteous – be mindful to social distancing (covid era), follow any signs and regulations, and any new information being shared.
- Most importantly, be awed as I was. It really is a stunner!