Explore the Maroon Bells & Snowmass Wilderness

Maroon-Snowmass Trailhead

The Maroon Bells are probably the most famous mountains in all of Colorado. The iconic picture of the bells from Maroon lake is a must for any landscape photographer. The Bells offer access to 3 classic 14ers of the Elk range: South and North Maroon as well as Pyramid Peak as well as backpacking the famous 4 Pass Loop.

The beautiful and iconic Maroon Bells-Snowmass wilderness is home to some of the most amazing scenery and adventures to be had in all of Colorado. It is world famous for the Maroon Bells, two challenging 14ers just outside of Aspen Colorado. The third 14er, Pyramid Peak is also considered a classic hike and all serve as sentinels to an wonderfully scenic wilderness area. If you're making a quick stop in the area, be sure to hit Maroon Lake where you'll get the iconic vistas of the Bells. While the lake will get you the best bang for buck, there is so much more to see and you'd be missing a great deal of wonderful scenery and adventures if you stopped here.

Here are just some of the many adventures to be had by venturing forth past the parking lot and into the wilderness. The 14ers in the area are famous but also can be very dangerous (they have all claimed lives) and the specific routes and information for each are beyond the scope of this report - be sure to do your own throrough research before taking any of these on.

Maroon Lake Located only a few hundred yards from the parking area, this is the location of millions of photographs showing the Maroon Bells and their reflections in all of their beauty. A trail does circle the lake, which can be scenic from all angles but it the shoreline closest to the parking lot that will be packed with photographers in the fall.

Crater Lake A 3.6 miles roundtrip with ~500 feet of elevation gain. The hike to crater lake is a pleasant one and although perhaps not as grand as its lower neighbor Maroon lake, is a beautiful destination in its own right. This is a popular spot to enjoy the views en route to more ambitious objectives further up the trail. It is also a popular camping area in the summer (although late in 2014 due to black bear activity camping has been closed in the area, check for current regulations).

Pyramid Peak This is a fairly popular but potentially dangerous 14er that should be attempted with caution. It is 8.25 miles round-trip with 4,500 feet of elevation gain. Loose rock, route-finding, a couple class 4 moves, and steep loose slopes are part of the hike. However, it can be very enjoyable if one possesses the skills and confidence to navigate on its difficult terrain.

North Maroon This is considered the more difficult of the maroon bells to climb with a round-trip distance of 9.25 miles, 4,500 feet of elevation gain, and a class 4 rating. To complete this climb requires lots of patience and route-finding skills. As one climbs the northeast ridge there are areas of loose rock with several class 4 moves.

South Maroon South Maroon or Maroon Peak is one of the most dramatic and aesthetically pleasing 14ers in Colorado. It is also can be very dangerous and careful route-finding, patience, and good weather are essential to make the summit. It is 12 miles round-trip with 4,800 feet of elevation gain and is considered class 3+ hiking.

Bells Traverse Considered one the classic 14er traverses in Colorado, this traverse has a deserved reputation as dangerous and amazing. To complete the traverse it is 9.5 miles round-trip with 4,850 feet of gain. The traverse is considered low class 5 climbing and proper climbing gear/expertise should be used.

Willow Lake A beautiful lake nestled amongst the elk mountains just east of Buckskin Pass (near Willow Pass). The scenery along the entire trail is beautiful and the lake is considered a gem of the elk range. The hike is 12.4 miles round-trip with 2,250 feet of net elevation gain (there is more cumulative gain) and can be done as a day hike or overnight trip.

4 Pass Loop This loop hike is considered one the great backpacking trips in all of Colorado (if not the greatest). It is often spread out over 2-4 days and involves cresting 4 passes, each competing for the most amazing view award. In total it is 26.8 miles from start to finish (both ends are at Maroon Lake) with 8,115 feet of elevation change. The passes include Buckskin, Trail Rider, Frigid Air, and West Maroon. Both Buckskin and West Maroon passes are also commonly done as long day hikes. Along the way there are some designated campsites and if one follows wilderness guidelines, there are many other areas where one can set up camp along the way. Most of the route is above treeline so be aware of weather (especially summer thunderstorms).

Pack List

The gear list would depend on your activity level, from a camera and the clothes on your back to multi-day mountain climbing gear.

  • Day Hiking Gear: camera, water, snack, map, compass, proper clothes, sunscreen
  • Backpacking Gear: camera, water, food, tent, bear canister, sleeping bag, tripod for night photography, proper clothes, map, compass, understanding of wilderness regulations.
  • Please keep in mind all of these areas are within the wilderness boundary and additional regulations apply.
  • Please research these regulations prior to any trip into a wilderness area.
  • Also be aware this can be a popular area for Black Bears and additional restrictions/closures may apply.
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Activities Cycling, Snowboarding, Chillin, Camping, Fishing, Photography, Running, Skiing, Snowshoeing, Backpacking, Hiking, Rock Climbing
Skill Level Beginner
Season Year Round
Features
Bathrooms
Dog Friendly
Easy Parking
Family Friendly
Forest
Lake
Picnic Area
Scenic
Wildflowers
Wildlife

Reviews

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Overall rating: 

A Must for Any Landscape Photographer

It was cool to see what are probably the most famous mountains in all of Colorado. The iconic picture of the bells from Maroon lake is a must for any landscape photographer.

Amazing

This is another spot that is uber popular and can get crazy crowded. Perfect time to go: early morning, weekday, fall. I've had the hike and lake all to myself a few times, but it involved arriving before sunrise and on weekdays. It's truly amazing at anytime of year. Fall is the best, just breathtaking. Make sure you pass Maroon Lake to Crater Lake on your hike. So much to see and photograph and just take in. It's the most photographed site in Colorado for a reason. If you can get it to yourself, it's heaven. Not a hard hike at all (unless you keep going to summit, but that's an entirely different article). Big time beauty all around. It's the tops.

Lived up to the hype

This little adventure was everything I expected, seemed unreal walking up to the shore of the lake. Came during "off season" in early May. Definitely recommended, avoid the crowds, and still get some color from the Aspens just blooming.


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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