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Maroon Bells Hikes: Everything You Need to Know About the Best Trails in Aspen, Colorado

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Maroon Bells, located in the charming town of Aspen, is said to be the most photographed destination in all of Colorado, offering beautiful alpine lakes, 14,000 foot tall snow-capped mountains, and seemingly endless groves of the town’s namesake trees. The best way to explore this wonderland is on foot—and luckily, there are trails for all skill levels here. Here’s everything you need to know about the Maroon Bells hikes, from how to get there to which trail to choose.

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Snowcapped mountains surrounded by golden aspen trees in Aspen, Colorado
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How to get to Maroon Bells Trailhead

Regardless of which of the Maroon Bells hikes you’re doing, you’ll need to get to the trailhead first—which actually is a bit tricker than on most hiking trails.   

The Maroon Bells are located here in the White River National Forest in Aspen, Colorado, which is actually the most visited National Forest in the entire United States! 

Woman standing on a rock in front of a slope covered with aspen trees and the Maroon Bells in the background in Aspen, Colorado

For most of the year, though, you can’t simply drive to the Maroon Bells trailhead—you’ll instead either need to make a vehicle or shuttle reservation, which you can do here

There are LOTS of disappointed reviews on AllTrails about folks who were unable to visit, because they were unaware of this requirement and weren’t able to buy a reservation in time—so don’t let that be you! 

Vehicle Reservations for Maroon Bells 

Vehicle reservations are required from May 15 through October 31, 2024 and cost $10. 

If you’d prefer to drive but the vehicle reservations are all sold out for your desired dates, keep an eye out—30 additional spaces become available 3 days in advance at 8 AM MT. 

Gravel road curving through groves of aspen trees and shrubs in front of mountains in Carbondale, Colorado

Alternatively, if you have a really nice friend that’s willing to drop you off, private vehicles are allowed to drop off passengers between 6 AM and 8 AM. However, these passengers will need to purchase a one-way shuttle back down to Aspen Highlands.

Shuttle Reservations for Maroon Bells 

Vehicle reservations tend to sell out in advance, so alternatively, you can grab the shuttle from the Aspen Highlands Ski Resort from May 24 through October 20, 2024, which costs $16 per person for a roundtrip ride. To be honest, this seemed a wee bit on the pricey side to me, but there’s a nice recorded narration that explains some of the history, flora, and fauna of the area, which I thought was a nice touch! 

Woman holding a ticket for the Maroon Bells shuttle in Aspen, Colorado

If you’re catching the shuttle, you can either park at Aspen Highlands, which costs $8 per hour, with a maximum of $42 per weekday or a maximum of $48 per weekend, or, if you want to save a bit of cash, find cheaper parking in Aspen and ride the free RFTA shuttle to the resort. When my husband, Justin, and I did the Maroon Bells hike, we parked in the Rio Grande Parking Plaza, which costs just $12 for 24 hours.  

The shuttles run every 15 minutes. 

It departs from Aspen Highlands:

  • from May 24 through June 7, 2024 from 8 AM to 3 PM and 
  • from June 8 through October 20, 2024 from 7 AM to 3 PM.
Passengers riding on the Maroon Bells shuttle and taking photos of the Maroon Bells mountains out of the window in Aspen, Colorado

There are shuttles back to Aspen Highlands until 5 PM each evening. When we visited, the rangers were VERY adamant that we needed to show up for the shuttle back to Aspen with plenty of time to spare and that there would be no extra shuttles if the last one was too full to carry all of the hikers or for anyone that accidentally missed it. So I’d definitely recommend getting back to the trailhead to catch the return shuttle sooner versus later! 

Biking to the Maroon Bells Trailhead

Another popular option is to bike, either with a regular bike or an ebike, to the trailhead. From the Aspen Highlands parking lot, it’s about an eight mile climb uphill—so it’s likely best for intermediate or advanced riders (or for those who get a little boost from their e-bikes!). 

Man mountain biking through a dirt path in Aspen, Colorado

Best Maroon Bell Hikes

Once you’re at the trailhead, you’ll have a number of trails to choose from, depending on how challenging of a hike you’re looking for and how much time you have. While we’re highlighting just a handful of the most popular trails in this article, there are TONS of different options that you can explore.

Maroon Bells Scenic Loop Trail


1.9 miles

Elevation gain

160 feet 



Trail map

Couple sitting on a rock and looking at Maroon Bells with a bridge in the background in Aspen, Colorado

This is the most beginner-friendly option amongst the Maroon Bells hikes and is popular with families. 

The trail follows along the northern shore of Maroon Lake—if you get to the trail early enough, its water is usually quite still, providing a perfect reflection of Maroon and North Maroon Peaks towering above.

Once you’re past the lake, you’ll follow along West Maroon Creek and make a loop through a meadow of wildflowers in the summertime and a beautiful forest that turns vibrant golden in the fall, thanks to its plethora of aspen trees. You’ll even get a chance to spot beavers and potentially even moose along the trail. Just always remember to give wildlife plenty of space—moose are actually more dangerous to encounter in the wild than black bears! 

Woman smiling along the Maroon Bells Hike with golden aspens lining the trail in Aspen, Colorado

The trail is relatively flat, but it is quite rocky, so I’d recommend wearing proper hiking boots (this is the pair I use and this is the pair that Justin uses) to provide you with extra traction and support and to be extra careful if it is or has recently rained. 

Crater Lake Trail


3.5 miles

Elevation gain

688 feet



Trail map

Woman hiking up a boulder patch along the Crater Lake Trail with the Maroon Bells in the background in Aspen, Colorado

This trail adds a bit more challenge, with a fairly gradual climb through the forest and, as you near Crater Lake, several rocky boulder fields. 

While you’ll definitely work up a bit of a sweat, you’ll luckily be distracted by the panoramic mountains surrounding you, including some of the most close-up views of maroon cliff sides. These mountains get their unique coloring from oxidized hematite, a mineral with iron in it. 

Crater Lake is a wide pool that forms at the eastern base of the Maroon Bells from snowmelt in late spring through mid-summer each year. However, it dries up by late summer—we had no idea this was a thing when we visited at the beginning of October and were a bit mystified were the “lake” was! 

Woman hiking along the dried Crater Lake with Maroon Bells and golden aspens along the mountain slopes in Aspen, Colorado

Even if Crater Lake is dried up, it’s still 100% worth it to go on this hike, especially in autumn. Beyond enjoying unobstructed views of the Bells, you’ll also get to walk through dense groves of colorful aspen trees.

If you’re up for a slightly longer adventure, consider combining the Crater Lake and Maroon Bells Scenic Loop, which adds about a mile total to your hike. This is exactly what Justin and I did and it felt like we got to see the best of both worlds! 

Tip: It’s common for thunderstorms to roll in out of nowhere, especially in the afternoons, which can be especially dangerous if you’re in some of the wide, open areas along the trail. Check the weather before you hit the trailhead and try to time your hike for the morning, when thunderstorms are less likely.

Willow Lake Trail


13 miles

Elevation gain

3,779 ft



Trail map

Woman looking at a snow-capped mountain along the Maroon Bells Hike with golden aspens in the background in Aspen, Colorado

If you’re looking for one of the more adventurous Maroon Bells hikes, the hike to Willow Lake may be up your alley. 

You’ll follow along most of the same trail as Crater Lake (see above). Keep an eye out for the bulletin board near the lake, though—there’s a junction here that you’ll follow to the right along the Maroon-Snowmass Trail, where the elevation gain gets a LOT more intense. 

Woman walking along the Crater Lake Trail with Maroon Bells and golden aspens in the background in Aspen, Colorado

Along the trail, you’ll climb up Willow Pass, which provides epic views of the Maroon Bells and Pyramid Peak and down into the Willow Lake Basin. Once you climb down the pass, you’ll reach the shores of Willow Lake, which is surrounded by a series of smaller ponds and meadows, bursting with wildflowers in the summertime. 

Much of this trail is exposed to the sun, so remember to bring lots of water (since you’re at higher altitudes, you’ll need even more than you usually would!) and sun protection, including sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat. Additionally, the descent down a rocky scree field is arguably more challenging than the ascent—trekking poles definitely come in clutch on this one. 

Woman hiking up a boulder field with golden aspens with Maroon Bells in the background in Aspen, Colorado

If you’re planning on doing this as a day-hike and you need to take the shuttle to and from the trailhead I’d strongly recommend booking the earliest possible reservation slot to ensure you don’t miss the last bus of the day. 

Alternatively, this is a popular backpacking spot. Just  remember that, since you’re in bear country, you’ll need a bear canister (pssst… if you’re new to backcountry camping, check out our backpacking gear list for beginners) and, for most areas in the Maroon Bells, a backpacking permit, which you can pick up at recreation.gov.

When to Visit the Maroon Bells Hikes

The Maroon Bells are usually readily accessible (you know, but for the whole parking and shuttle reservation thing), from mid-May through late October, when the road to the trailhead is clear of snow and ice. 

Man wearing a backpack hiking along the Maroon Bells Hike with golden aspens lining the trail in Aspen, Colorado

However, the best times to visit Maroon Bells is from late June through July when the meadows will be full of vibrant wildflowers or midSeptember through early October for the best fall foliage. We visited in early October and, having never experienced golden aspens before, were blown away by their beauty! 

The road usually becomes inaccessible, due to heavy snowfall, for the winter season, starting at the end of October or beginning of November. Theoretically, you can still access the Maroon Bells at this time—you’ll just need to snowshoe, cross-country ski, snowmobile, or hike 6.2 miles one-way to them.

Tips for the Maroon Bells hike

Come prepared with water

While there’s bathrooms at the trailhead, there’s no readily available potable water here, so remember to bring plenty with you. Justin and I swear by our comically enormous Nalgene bottles that we take on all of our hikes! 

West Maroon Creek running through a forest with golden aspens and mountains in the background in the Maroon Bells Scenic Area in Aspen, Colorado

If you’re planning on doing Willow Lake or any of the longer trails here, I’d suggest bringing along a water filter, so you can filter as you go. 

Go as early as you can

Heading to the Maroon Bells early has several advantages— you’ll have the best chance of catching a reflection of the mountains on Maroon Lake, you’ll have the best chance of seeing wildlife along the trail, and you’ll have plenty of time to explore without feeling panicked about missing the last shuttle.

Smiling couple sitting on a log a snow-capped Maroon Bells and golden aspens in the background in Aspen, California

If you can swing it, I’d also recommend trying to visit on a weekday. While the vehicle and shuttle reservation system keeps the trail not too terribly crowded, you’ll have a much more peaceful experience if you come on a weekday. 

Bring layers 

The weather is pretty dynamic here and can definitely go from warm to FROSTY at the drop of a hat, especially the higher and higher you climb. I’d wear something cool and breathable, but pack along a few cozy layers, like a puffy jacket or fleece pullover. 

Couple holding hands in front of Maroon Lake with Maroon Bells and golden aspen trees in the background  in Aspen, Colorado

Where to stay near the Maroon Bells

Honestly, there’s so many incredible things to see around Aspen that I’d suggest hanging around for a day or three so that you can explore the area a bit more. 

Camping near Maroon Bells

If you’re up for roughing it, there are a handful of primitive campsites along Maroon Creek Road—Silver Bell, Silver Queen, and East Maroon Portal. While rustic, these campsites are gorgeous and have a pretty huge benefit—you’re not required to get a vehicle or shuttle reservation to park at the Maroon Bells trailhead.

Yellow wildflowers in Maroon Bells in Aspen, Colorado

These campsites tend to book up months out, so if you want to stay here, I’d suggest booking far in advance or trying your luck at one of the first come, first serve spots at the campground!

Hotels near Maroon Bells

If you’re not about that sleeping-on-the-ground life, Aspen has plenty of hotels to choose from. 

The Gant

The Gant manages to be a four-star hotel that’s also quite cozy, with each room offering a fully equipped kitchen, fireplace, and terrace, plus all of the amenities that you need to relax at the end of the day, like a hot tub, pool, and onsite bar.

View overlooking the town of Aspen, Colorado at sunset

Limelight Hotel Aspen

This hotel has an excellent location in downtown Aspen and strikes a good balance of feeling luxurious while still having laid back vibes—which is hard to do in a town as bougie as Aspen. For example, your stay includes a seriously solid breakfast, a complimentary shuttle around Aspen, a heated pool (which feels AMAZING if you’re visiting during the cooler months!), and, of course, an incredibly cozy room, including a gas fireplace, refrigerator, and microwave in each room.

People strolling around downtown Aspen, Colorado in the summertime

St. Moritz Lodge

If you’re looking for lodging that’s a bit more on the affordable end of the spectrum, the St. Moritz Lodge is going to be your best bet.  While slightly on the dated side, the rooms are clean and comfortable and the lodge offers many of the amenities of its more swanky neighbors, like a heated pool, complimentary breakfast and afternoon happy hour, and select rooms with fireplaces and mountain views.

I hope you have a better idea of which Maroon Bell hike is right for you! Do you have any questions about exploring this incredible area? Let me know in the comments below!

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