Autumn Leaf Peeping below the Maroon Bells

As the crisp air of autumn settles into Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley, Colorado's ever-classic Maroon Bells put on a stunning display. Go for a hike under the canopy of golden aspen that make this autumn scene so magical.

By: John Lloyd
October 5, 2016

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Ah, the Maroon Bells. One of the iconic landscapes of the region. While unofficially recognized as the most photographed scene in the country, one trip to Maroon Lake in the early morning and you can quickly confirm it for yourself. Dozens of photographers lining the shore of the lake, at times shoulder to shoulder in hopes of catching just the right moment. 

After taking in the view from a distance, take a short trek beneath the hillside of aspen you have been admiring this whole time and watch it take on a richer meaning.

Recently recent inquiries from folks asking for advice on this area here is a bit of an overview to get you started:

From the town of Aspen, head up Maroon Creek Rd to the Maroon Bells Scenic Area. There is a mandatory shuttle during the day, but the road is open to passenger vehicles before/after hours. For fees and hours check here.

The Maroon-Snowmass Trail, which takes you to Crater Lake begins right from the parking area. Follow the paths a short distance out to Maroon Lake and behold one of the most-popular (and most-photographed) scenes in the country.

Taking in this view, you are also looking at your trail that weaves its way up valley, obscured by the canopy. Walk the shore of the lake to enjoy the view, then make your way to the main trail which is set back just a bit further from the waters' edge. Follow this around the right side of the lake, following signs for Crater Lake. From an intersection with numerous signs and area info, the trail ducks into the woods, wrapping you in a golden glow that filters through the shimmering aspen leaves.

This area is ripe with photographic opportunities all along the trail; different mountains reveal themselves through gaps in the treetops and at other times all you see is yellow in every direction. 

Continue up valley for almost 2 miles before you encounter Crater Lake. While it is closer to the Bells than Maroon Lake, the water is much more shallow and I would say the view doesn't compare to what you have already seen. So enjoy the trail as far as your legs and curiosity care to take you and then head back the way you came for this out-and-back excursion. 

Especially on morning hikes, the light can be quite nice in this downhill direction, though some cloud cover makes this area a winner at any time of day.

If you are looking to extend your hike, check out the Scenic Loop Trail. It makes a nice addition without putting you further from the trailhead and includes even more great views along meandering trails. 

Extra credit: turn this hike into an overnight. There are about a dozen numbered campsites out past Crater Lake available on a first come basis. 

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

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.