If you find yourself in Aspen with no plans for the night, head to Maroon Lake and take in one of the most iconic views in Colorado by starlight. Set up camp in your car to be the first one on the shores in the morning. Less than an hour from downtown Aspen!

Maybe you've seen the photos a million times before - it's for good reason. Maroon Bells is just stunning. Watching the first rays of sunlight scratch the very top of Maroon Bells and slowly crawl their way down the massive slabs of granite is simply a must for the checklist. Taking in the sunrise is great, no doubt, but you won't be alone. Chances are you will be on the shores of the lake throwing elbows to get prime real estate. To experience this landscape in a different way, choose a clear night (preferably as close to a new moon as possible) and watch the Milky Way traverse the night sky.

To start it off, head out from Aspen on the Maroon Creek Road. There are only a couple of turns to be made and you will easily find yourself at the lake by following the signs. Chances are you will miss the park employees at the gate as they leave for the day at 5 PM. So, you will want to self-administer your day pass fee, which is $10. You'll also want to get an overnight parking pass set up which doesn't cost extra and can be grabbed from boxes in the parking lots. The parking lot you want is not the one at the very top - this will have explicit signs prohibiting car camping. However, there is a lot just beneath this one off of the Maroon Creek Road where overnight camping is allowed. You will likely see other cars here for people that are planning on hiking early or going for the Maroon Bells summit.

If you arrive before nightfall, make yourself comfortable and maybe bring a meal to eat to sustain you through stargazing. Then, wait for the stars to come out. To get to the lake walk a little ways up to the day use lot and you will find a short trail at the other end that will take you to Maroon Lake. From here it's only a 0.3 mile walk. Plop your chair down on the shore and take in the view. If you have hot chocolate, now would be a good time to make it (it's chilly, even in the summer).

The next morning, make sure you get out there well before sunrise to get a good spot. Watch the peaks glow orange and make sure you stay long enough for the sun to hit the water and reflect Maroon Bells perfectly. Cheers!

If you prefer to tent camp, head to the Forest Service Website for more information on the local campgrounds.

Pack List

  • Comfortable car
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad (for extra comfort)
  • Food for midnight snack and breakfast
  • Hot chocolate
  • Water boiler
  • Headlamp
  • Folding chair
  • Warm layers
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RT Distance 0.3 Miles
Elevation Gain 0 Feet
Activities Chillin, Camping, Photography, Hiking
Skill Level Beginner
Season Spring, Summer, Autumn
Trail Type Out-and-Back
Features
Bathrooms
Dog Friendly
Easy Parking
Family Friendly
Groups
Handicap Accessible
Lake
Scenic

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Closest Spot to Maroon Lake

If you're a photographer this is the best way to get an early start for sunrise photography of the Bells. It can get busy in the fall and you'll be competing with over a hundred other photographers for the traditional sunrise. The lot was originally meant for backpackers but use has greatly increased in the past 8 years for photography, so you'll probably have some neighbors for the night. Depending on the time of year, porcupines might be out and looking to munch on things under your car, if there's chicken wire available use it!


Please respect the places you find on The Outbound Collective.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

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