Wheelhouse Journey

Visiting Maroon Bells in Aspen

by Nov 15, 2018Travel

Visiting Maroon Bells - looking towards the peaks from Maroon Lake

On My Bucket List For Years – Visiting Maroon Bells

Visiting Maroon Bells in Aspen, Colorado has been on my bucket list for years. Ever since I saw online photos and started to take my photography more seriously, I knew I had to go. Add to that, the fact that I had never even seen fall foliage in the state known as “Colorful Colorado”. So when we planned our visit to Aspen, we made sure to time it with peak fall color season. Like many of you who want to see the “most photographed peaks in North America” during the fall, I was a little nervous about overcrowding. After all, I didn’t want my experience to be about avoiding the other leaf peepers. I wanted to immerse myself in nature and to have an amazing experience.

Getting to Maroon Bells

Fortunately there are a few options to get to the Maroon Bells and can be done in any combination of ways. Below are a few tips in order to help take the stress out of visiting Maroon Bells from downtown Aspen. However, before reading on it’s important to know that there are restricted times for driving into the Maroon Bells recreation area. Visit the Aspen Snowmass website for more details.

With all the different options available, I opted for perhaps the best one to get me to and from the park without having to deal with parking and driving restrictions.

Free City Bus from Aspen to Aspen Highlands

The first step in visiting Maroon Bells by bus is to take the FREE “Castle Maroon 3” bus from Rubey Park bus station in downtown Aspen to Aspen Highlands Ski Resort. The bus leaves every 20 minutes starting around 8 am, which is when I left the city. At that time during the weekday, I was one of only a few people on it. The bus route will take around 20 minutes, stopping at numerous places along the way to pick up other riders. Stay on it until you’ve reached the Aspen Highlands; it’ll be clear when you do.

Purchase a Pass into the Park

Once you get to Aspen Highlands Ski Resort, you will need to buy an $8 pass to get from there to the Maroon Bells. While the ski resort does sell passes, I chose to buy my pass at the Rubey Park bus station in Aspen the previous day. Some online articles mention passes can be purchased at Four Mountain Sports, however when I walked into the store to ask for a pass, they just pointed me to the bus station. So save yourself some time and get them at Rubey Park.

Aspen Highlands to the Maroon Bells

With a pass in hand, you will wait outside the resort (a short walk from where you were dropped off) for the bus to Maroon Bells. There are many city buses that stop along the sidewalk, so make sure you get on the right bus. In addition, there will be signs for where to wait.

Once on the bus, you will be driven through a glacial valley with tall peaks on each side. Groves of beautifully colored aspens will dot the landscape. It is truly a stunning ride! Depending on the feistiness of your bus driver, you may even get a hilarious and historical narrative of the area! 

After 15 minutes or so, you will arrive at the bus stop where you can start your hike(s). I noted that the time was around 9 am after all the transportation stops. Before your hike, take a few moments to take it all in. It’s so beautiful!

Hiking in the Maroon Bells

In the fall, the Crater Lake Trail is a must-do. While only a short 3.6 mile round-trip hike, the views of the Maroon Bells peaks and surrounding aspen trees are breathtaking. A few noteworthy descriptions to the views from other hikers I passed: wow, stunning, intoxicating.

Visiting Maroon Bells - aspen trees lining the trail to Crater Lake
Visiting Maroon Bells - surrounding peaks on the trail to Crater Lake
Visiting Maroon Bells - view of Maroon Bells peaks on the trail to Crater Lake
Visiting Maroon Bells - Crater Lake

After completing the Crater Lake Trail, take your time and walk the Maroon Lake Scenic Trail. At only 1.0 miles, this hike will take you around the lake and through tall aspens. On the south side of the trail, find a rock to sit on, have lunch and watch the Maroon Bells. 

Visiting Maroon Bells - looking towards Maroon Lake from the Scenic trail
Visiting Maroon Bells - stream alongside the Scenic trail
Visiting Maroon Bells - crossing the stream on the Scenic trail
Visiting Maroon Bells - view of fall foliage on the Scenic trail
Visiting Maroon Bells - view of aspens along the Scenic trail

Returning to Aspen

After spending the day enjoying the beautiful fall colors, returning to downtown is just as easy. A bus leaves the parking area of Maroon Bells every 20 minutes and returns to Aspen Highlands. From there, wait for the city bus to take you back to Rubey Park.

Worthwhile Notes About Visiting Maroon Bells

Taking the bus system all the way into the park is not the only option. You can also drive to the Aspen Highlands, where there will be a parking area. On the weekends, I’m sure this is busy. Go early on a weekday if you can and expect to pay anywhere from $5 – $10 for parking.

If you decide to drive all the way into the park, be aware of driving time restrictions. Entrance is allowed before 8 am and after 5 pm and there is a $10 fee. 

Dogs are allowed on the bus from Aspen Highlands to Maroon Bells, but not on the city bus. If you want to take your dog with you, the best option is to park at Aspen Highlands and then take the bus – or drive into the park.

Enjoy This Amazing Place!

While visiting Maroon Bells may seem daunting to first-timers, I found it was relatively easy when I got the right information. I hope this guide has helped you, but most of all motivated you to see for yourself, the wonder of the Maroon Bells!

Visiting Maroon Bells - looking towards the peaks from the visitor center area


Eric is a freelance engineer, self-taught web developer, photographer & adventurer. He loves the outdoors and exploring the country with his wife and pup.


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