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The scenic Maroon Bells area, with its twin 14,000-foot-plus wine-colored peaks, surrounding wildflower meadows, aspen groves and pristine lakes is at the top of the “must see” list for many Aspen summer visitors. Afterall, the Maroon Bells are the most photographed mountains in North America. From simply enjoying a packed lunch at the picnic area to hiking the scenic shorter trails near Maroon Lake to longer overnight backpacking trips, there are many ways to appreciate the scenery.
This year visiting the Maroon Bells is a bit different. Due to COVID-19 social distancing requirements and the need to safely manage demand, reservations are required to access the Maroon Bells area by vehicle or by RFTA shuttle. From June 28 through October 11, visitors must use the shuttle service between the hours of 8am and 5pm. To visit outside of those hours you must make a reservation to park at the area. If you are feeling energetic, you can also ride a bike up Maroon Creek Road to Maroon Lake (please refer to the biking information below).
Visiting by Shuttle
Visiting by Shuttle
The protocols have changed from previous years to help make your visit enjoyable while keeping everyone healthy and safe. Shuttle capacity is limited and masks are required. The round-trip shuttle fare from Aspen Highlands to the scenic area costs $15.95 per person. Shuttle drivers deliver a fascinating narrative of geological, historical, and biological information as you travel through the Maroon Creek Valley. Here are some helpful tips to know before your visit:
Bring the essentials. No food or drink is available at the scenic area, so pack your snacks and water. Remember sunscreen, rain gear, and a warm layer. Afternoon rains are possible, as well as shuttle delays.
Dogs are allowed on the shuttle and must be on a leash. Dogs are not allowed on the scenic loop trail around Maroon Lake.
Plan to catch the shuttle back down to Aspen Highlands before 3:00pm. Since later shuttles are likely to be more crowded, getting back earlier helps to maintain social distancing.
Arriving at Aspen Highlands
Park at the Aspen Highlands parking deck or take the Castle/Maroon RFTA bus from Rubey Park. Parking is free for the first 30 minutes then costs range from $10 for up to 3 hours to $30 for 8+ hours.
Walk upstairs from the deck and show the attendant your shuttle reservation ticket.
All passengers (except children under 2 years of age) must wear face coverings while boarding and riding the bus.
Maintain appropriate social distance when boarding the bus.
While You Visit
The bathrooms located at the shuttle drop-off are closed for the 2020 season, so plan to use the restroom at Aspen Highlands or at the Maroon Bells day-use parking lot, located down from the shuttle drop-off.
Cell service is not available at the Maroon Bells scenic area. In case of an emergency, seek out Forest Service personnel.
Scout out sheltered areas where you can stay dry in case of rain. Keep your rain gear and warm clothes handy.
Keep an eye on the time. Try to take a return shuttle before 3:00pm, if you can.
Personal Vehicle Reservation
Personal Vehicle Reservation
Should you plan to visit the Maroon Bells scenic area outside of shuttle operation times, you can reserve a parking space for vehicles up to 20 feet for $10. America the Beautiful and the Maroon Bells Annual Pass are accepted. Be sure to make your reservations in advance. Various permits include:
Sunrise Parking Permit: 12am–7:30am
Early Start Permit: 12am–4:30pm
Day Visit: 8am–4:30pm (you must arrive between 7:30am and 8:00am and depart by 4:30pm)
Evening Visit: 5pm–midnight
Midnight to Midnight: Midnight to noon
2-Night Parking: 6am–6pm (60 hours)
Cancellations & Rescheduling
At least a 48-hour notice is required for cancellations and rescheduling of shuttle or parking reservations. You will not be refunded if you cancel inside of 48 hours or do not show. If you reschedule inside of 48 hours you will need to rebook at full price.
Note to Crested Butte Hikers and Four Pass Loop Backpackers
Long distance hikers and backpackers are advised to plan ahead for their return to Aspen. Since bus capacity is limited, downhill travelers from the Maroon Lake area will be allowed to ride the shuttle on a space available basis. More space is available in the morning, midday, and early afternoon hours prior to 3pm. Shuttle reservations are not necessary for travel from Maroon Lake to Aspen Highlands. For backpacking and trail condition questions, you can contact the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District at 970-963-2266. The office is open Monday through Friday 8am–4:30pm, excluding federal holidays.
Plan ahead and reserve your visit to the remarkable Maroon Bells scenic area. For Maroon Bells reservation questions, please call 970-930-6442 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author
Susan Linden has been wordsmithing as an advertising copywriter, feature writer, and storyteller since her college days. She left the whirlwind corporate world to live in the mountains and spends as much time as she can hiking, biking, and skiing in them. Working, playing, and raising a family in the Roaring Fork Valley for the last 30 years gives Susan a unique insider’s perspective to share.