Maroon Bells Hikes: Trail Options for All Skill Levels


Maroon Bells, located just 10 miles west of Aspen, Colorado, attracts over 300,000 visitors each year, making it one of the most photographed landscapes in North America. This stunning wilderness area offers a diverse range of hiking trails suitable for all skill levels, from easy scenic loops to challenging backcountry adventures. The best time to visit Maroon Bells for optimal hiking is between late June and early October when the trails are snow-free and the weather is mild.


  • Maroon Bells is a top hiking destination in Colorado, offering trails for all skill levels.
  • The area is known for its stunning natural beauty, including unique geological features and diverse flora and fauna.
  • The best time to visit is from late June to early October for optimal hiking conditions.

Understanding Maroon Bells

The Geographical and Natural Beauty of Maroon Bells

Maroon Bells is a wilderness area encompassing over 180,000 acres of rugged alpine terrain in the White River National Forest. The centerpiece of this area is the Maroon Bells themselves – two 14,000-foot peaks known for their distinctive maroon color caused by the weathering of iron-rich minerals in the rock. The peaks are reflected in the crystal-clear waters of Maroon Lake, creating an iconic landscape that draws photographers and nature lovers from around the world.

The Flora and Fauna of Maroon Bells

The Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness area is home to a diverse array of plant and animal life. Hikers may encounter wildflowers, aspen groves, and evergreen forests along the trails. The area is also known for its wildlife, including marmots, pikas, mountain goats, and even the occasional moose or black bear. Conservation efforts are in place to protect this delicate ecosystem and ensure visitors can enjoy its natural beauty for generations.

Planning Your Hike

Choosing the Right Trail

Maroon Bells offers a variety of trails to suit different hiking abilities and interests. Some popular options include:

  • Maroon Lake Scenic Loop Trail (1.9 miles, easy): This short, flat trail circles Maroon Lake and offers stunning views of the peaks.
  • Crater Lake Trail (3.6 miles, moderate): This is a scenic hike through the Maroon Bells that leads to a beautiful alpine lake nestled beneath them.
  • Buckskin Pass (8.5 miles, strenuous): A challenging trail that climbs to a high mountain pass, offering panoramic views of the surrounding wilderness.

Preparing for Your Maroon Bells Hike

When hiking in Maroon Bells, it’s essential to come prepared with the right gear and supplies. Some key items to pack include:

  • Sturdy hiking shoes or boots
  • Plenty of water and snacks
  • Sun protection (hat, sunscreen, sunglasses)
  • Rain gear and warm layers (weather can change quickly in the mountains)
  • Map and compass or GPS device

It’s also important to follow Leave No Trace principles to minimize your impact on the environment. This includes packing out all trash, staying on designated trails, and respecting wildlife.

When to Visit

The best time to hike in the Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness is from late June to early October, when the trails are typically snow-free and accessible. However, this is also the busiest time of year, so expect crowds and limited parking. To avoid the crowds, consider visiting on a weekday or arriving early in the morning.

Navigating the Trails

Maroon Lake Scenic Trail

The Maroon Lake Scenic Loop Trail is a must-do for any visitor to Maroon Bells. This easy, 1.9-mile loop offers breathtaking views of the peaks reflected in the lake and opportunities to spot wildlife and wildflowers. The trail is accessible to most hikers, including families with young children.

Crater Lake Trail

The Crater Lake Trail is popular for those seeking a more challenging hike. This 3.6-mile round-trip hike climbs steadily through aspen groves and wildflower-filled meadows before reaching Crater Lake, a serene alpine lake nestled beneath the Maroon Bells. Hikers may spot marmots, pikas, and other wildlife along the way.

Buckskin Pass

Buckskin Pass is a strenuous 8.5-mile hike that rewards adventurous hikers with panoramic views of the Maroon Bells wilderness. The trail climbs steeply through forests and meadows before reaching the high mountain pass, where hikers can take in sweeping vistas of the surrounding peaks and valleys. This trail is best suited for experienced hikers in good physical condition.

Maroon Peak Trail

A very challenging trail best for experienced hikers, the Maroon Peak Trail is a 10.9-mile out-and-back hike that starts at Maroon Lake and covers a wide variety of terrain to the summit of Maroon Peak.

Maroon Creek Trail

The Maroon Creek Trail is a moderate trail, taking about 3 hours to complete the full six miles. However, about halfway, a shuttle bus can take hikers back to base camp to avoid the elevation gain. This trail offers beautiful views of the Maroon Bells and wildlife observation opportunities.

Willow Pass and Willow Lake Trails

The Willow Pass and Willow Lake Trails share a hiking trail for the first 3.75 miles and then split off. Willow Pass is lightly traveled and provides lovely views of the Willow Lake Basin. Willow Lake is also worth exploring, as it is one of the more secluded areas of the Maroon Bells for camping, fishing, and hiking.

Beyond Hiking: Other Activities in the Area

Photography and Nature Observation

Maroon Bells is a paradise for photographers and nature lovers. The iconic view of the peaks reflected in Maroon Lake is a must-capture shot, especially at sunrise when the light is soft and golden. Hikers can also find plenty of opportunities to photograph wildflowers, wildlife, and stunning mountain vistas along the trails.

Picnicking and Relaxation

After a day of hiking, many visitors enjoy picnicking and relaxing by Maroon Lake. There are several designated picnic areas with tables, benches, and plenty of scenic spots to spread out a blanket and enjoy a meal with a view. However, it’s important to follow Leave No Trace principles and pack out all trash to keep the area clean and beautiful.

Backpacking and Overnight Camping

For those searching for a demanding backpacking and camping adventure, look no further than the famous Four Pass Loop, which begins in the Maroon Bells Scenic Area. Its route navigates over four mountain passes, including West Maroon Pass, Frigid Air Pass, Trail Rider Pass, and Buckskin Pass. There is no fee, but all hikers must self-register at the trailhead and carry their permits with them during their visit.

Also starting in the Maroon Bells Scenic Area is a popular 11-mile hike to Crested Butte and the trailhead to multiple fourteeners, including Pyramid Peak, Maroon Peak, and North Maroon Peak.

Conservation and Respect for Nature

The Importance of Trail Etiquette

With over 300,000 visitors each year, it’s crucial that everyone does their part to protect the delicate ecosystem of Maroon Bells. This means following trail etiquette, such as:

  • Staying on designated trails to avoid damaging vegetation
  • Yielding to uphill hikers and stepping aside to let others pass
  • Keeping noise levels down to avoid disturbing wildlife
  • Packing out all trash and leaving no trace of your visit

Supporting Conservation Efforts

Visitors can also support conservation efforts in Maroon Bells by:

  • Volunteering for trail maintenance or restoration projects
  • Donating to organizations that work to protect the wilderness area
  • Educating others about the importance of Leave No Trace principles and responsible outdoor recreation


What is the best time of year to hike Maroon Bells?

The best time to hike Maroon Bells is from late June to early October when the trails are typically snow-free and accessible.

Are there any permits or fees required to hike in Maroon Bells?

Access to the Maroon Bells area requires either an individual shuttle bus ticket or a vehicle access fee of $10.

What should I do if I encounter wildlife on the trail?

If you encounter wildlife on the trail, give them plenty of space, and do not approach or feed them. Make noise to avoid surprising animals, and carry bear spray in case of a close encounter.

Can I bring my dog on the Maroon Bells trails?

Dogs are allowed on the trails but must always be on a leash. Be sure to pack out any waste and bring plenty of water for your furry friend.

How can I contribute to the conservation of Maroon Bells?

Visitors can contribute to conservation efforts by practicing Leave No Trace principles, volunteering for trail maintenance projects, donating to conservation organizations, and educating others about responsible outdoor recreation.

What are some other popular trails near Maroon Bells?

Some popular trails near Maroon Bells include the Hunter Creek Trail in the Hunter Fryingpan Wilderness.


About the author

Shannon Persad

As a seasoned journalist and Colorado native, I bring a deep-rooted connection and comprehensive understanding of Colorado to my work at My appreciation for the state’s rich history, vibrant culture, and pressing environmental issues drives my commitment to exploring its evolving landscape—from the bustling urban centers to the tranquil mountain towns.