The Maroon Bells Wilderness area includes a 30 mile section of the Elk Mountains, which although steep and high in elevation are a relatively narrow range, and split by many ravines so the backcountry is quite easy to access. The wilderness is served by over a dozen trailheads and crossed by 100 miles of footpaths; no location is more than 3 miles from a trail. The three main approach roads are on the north side of the mountains (see map
), all starting near Aspen - FR 102
up Castle Creek, Owl Creek Road
to Snowmass Village, and (by far the most used), FR 125
along Maroon Creek. These last two start just west of Aspen town center, branching off Highway 82 at a recently-built roundabout. Maroon Creek Road first passes a mile of luxurious houses and guest lodges (Aspen Highlands Village
) then enters unspoilt woodland - part of the White River National Forest
, which extends all across the Maroon Bells Wilderness. The road runs alongside the creek for several miles, and past the USFS entrance station where the fees are collected. But private vehicles can only drive the road in spring/fall as in summer demand is too high and parking insufficient, so all visitors have to travel by shuttlebus, starting at the village. The buses run between 9 am and 5 pm, departing every 20 to 30 minutes.
After the entrance station road FR 125 passes three campsites, and the trailhead for the lesser used path up East Maroon Creek (the East Wilderness Portal), before ending at the sizeable parking area for the West Wilderness Portal, at elevation 9,560 feet. Maroon Lake and the famous view of the Maroon Bells are then just a short distance away through a patch of trees - 90% of visitors just walk a few hundred feet around the edge of the lake, to take the famous photograph. The second most popular option is the 0.75 mile Scenic Loop Trail
, which starts at the far side of the lake and follows the creek upstream, visiting cascades, a beaver pond and several larger waterfalls. Rather fewer people take the Maroon Creek Trail
, a 3.2 mile route that parallels the stream back down to the East Portal. But the main path, leading deep into the backcountry, is TR 1975
to Crater Lake
Although Maroon Bells are the most well known summits in view, they are still over 3 miles away; other red hills are much closer, lining both sides of the valley and rising to 12,760 feet (Sievers Mountain
) just to the north. The higher peaks bear some snow all year, and massive falls in winter close the access road for several months. The lower slopes also have much exposed rock, plus a mixture of spruce, fir, aspen, bushes and grass, and so take on pleasing yellow-red tints when the leaves turn in fall. Maroon Lake is pretty but quite shallow, its east edge bordered a thick mat of driftwood, and the north end partly filled by verdant green weed. A bridge crosses the inlet stream, at the start of the scenic loop, and the main trail runs along the north side, though the south shore is steeper and less accessible.
Map of Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness (central area)