By Christine Benedetti
Visiting the Maroon Bells is at the top of most summer visitors’ bucket lists and people are certainly checking it off; last summer a record 320,000 people passed through the gateway to the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness area.

The hype is real, as the wilderness area is among the most picturesque in the country and provides access to some epic outdoor adventures. But there are several factors to consider when planning your trip.

Getting There

It’s best to take the bus, and the majority of the time, it’s your only option. From June 9 to October 8, between the hours of 8am - 5pm, the Maroon Bells can only be accessed by public bus ($8/person).

The wilderness area is approximately 10 miles from downtown Aspen, 8 miles from the Aspen Highlands Visitor Center and 5 miles from the Forest Service gate on Maroon Creek Road.
Maroon Bells, Aspen Snowmass
Maroon Bells, Aspen Snowmass

Parking & Fees

The Maroon Bells bus departs from the Aspen Highlands Visitor Center. Parking is available, but limited, from the center. On weekdays, it’s $5 for 0-3 hours, $10 for 3-8 hours and $20/day; on weekends it’s $10 for 0-3 hours, $15 for 3-8 hours and $25/day. A free bus also runs from Aspen to Aspen Highlands, labeled the Castle/Maroon bus. It leaves every 20 minutes on the hour.

Private vehicles can drive up to the Bells before 8am and after 5pm. Each vehicle must pay $10 by cash or check only, and there is no guarantee that there is parking once cars reach the Maroon Bells, as the lot often fills up early with overnight hikers. However, overnight parking is extremely limited.

Aspen Skiing Co. also offers a Sightseeing Package ($35), which includes up to three days of gondola and chairlift rides, a Maroon Bells bus ticket, $10 lunch credit and $5 Limelight Lounge credit, along with 20% off bike rentals and downhill clinics through Four Mountain Sports.

Note: Maroon Creek Road is also a popular cycling route, and bicycles can access the Maroon Bells at any time for no fee. The 9-mile route climbs nearly 1,600 feet.

Outdoor Opportunities

Maroon Lake sits in the natural amphitheater below the towering 14,000-foot Maroon Bells. There is a 1.7-mile nature loop that goes around the lake. Another popular hike is the 1.8-mile hike (3.6 miles roundtrip) to Crater Lake. Both of the these trails are heavily trafficked.

The scenic area is also the starting point for the popular 11-mile hike to Crested Butte; the Four-Pass Loop (a 26-mile trail that crosses four passes over 12,000 feet); numerous opportunities for day hikes; and the trailhead to three fourteeners, all of which require mountaineering knowledge, equipment and experience to summit. Unfortunately,severe accidents are common place on the high-altitude routes of these peaks.

Wilderness Tips

Reminder: This is a wilderness area. That means:

• Stay on designated trails.
• Mountain bikes and all mechanized vehicles are prohibited on the trails and within the boundaries of the wilderness area.
• Do not approach or engage with wildlife.
• Dress appropriately and come prepared; weather changes quickly and often in the Rocky Mountains.
• There is no cell phone service.
• Dogs must be leashed and pick up their waste.
• Littering is prohibited and all trash must be packed out.

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