Maroon Bells Waterfalls

Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness / White River National Forest / Aspen, Colorado, USA

About Maroon Bells Waterfalls


Hiking Distance: 2 miles round trip (Maroon Creek Cascade); 4 miles round trip (Crater Lake)
Suggested Time: 2 hours (Scenic Loop and Maroon Lake); 4.5 hours (Crater Lake, Scenic Loop, and Maroon Lake)

Date first visited: 2020-07-25
Date last visited: 2020-07-25

Waterfall Latitude: 39.09496
Waterfall Longitude: -106.95016

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The Maroon Bells Waterfalls were really my waterfalling excuse to talk about the iconic Maroon Bells near Aspen, Colorado.

The Maroon Bells consisted of a pair of signature 14,000ft peaks backing a well-photographed panorama (especially in the Autumn when the trees would change color) fronted by the reflective Maroon Lake.

Maroon_Bells_283_07252020 - Contextual view of a waterfall dropping before the North Maroon Peak over Crater Lake
Contextual view of a waterfall dropping before the North Maroon Peak over Crater Lake

Although my visit didn’t occur in the Autumn, I did make a late July 2020 visit.

This involved making a booking for a shuttle then doing some day hikes in the half-day I was up in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness (part of the White River National Forest).

It was only when I made my random meander in the Maroon Bells Scenic Area did I start to notice the area’s more subtle beauty, which included a rapids-like cascade near the head of Maroon Lake as well as a tall cascade tumbling below North Maroon Peak at Crater Lake.

Indeed, my hiking in the Maroon Bells Scenic Area pretty much consisted of the 1-mile Maroon Lake Scenic Loop and the 2.8-mile round-trip out-and-back Crater Lake Trail.

Maroon_Bells_186_07252020 - Rapids or a cascade on Maroon Creek as seen within the Maroon Lake Scenic Loop
Rapids or a cascade on Maroon Creek as seen within the Maroon Lake Scenic Loop

This didn’t include the 0.8 miles of hiking along the northern perimeter of Maroon Lake, where I took most of those iconic reflection shots of the Maroon Bells.

That often-photographed stretch went between the shuttle stop and the branching off points for both the Crater Lake and Maroon Lake Scenic Loop Trails.

I also extended my visit slightly at Crater Lake where I happened to notice another hard-to-see gushing waterfall in the Minnehaha Gulch, where I could have gotten closer to it by extending the hike even further up that trail.

Therefore, according to my GPS logs, I wound up hiking around 6.8 miles overall, which further encompassed some extra walking from a bridge washout and going back-and-forth along Maroon Lake to fully experience the views there.

Enabling A Visit To The Maroon Bells

Maroon_Bells_001_iPhone_07252020 - Getting our informative briefing before riding our shuttle up to the Maroon Bells. He went over things like what to do if a moose charges you
Getting our informative briefing before riding our shuttle up to the Maroon Bells. He went over things like what to do if a moose charges you

Typically in the Maroon Bells’ busiest times of the year (i.e. Summer and Fall), they run a mandatory shuttle system between the Aspen Highlands Center and the Maroon Bells Scenic Area in order to manage the traffic and the crowds.

However, when I made my visit in late July 2020, I had to pre-book shuttle tickets due to COVID-19.

Apparently, it was possible to book hard-to-get private vehicle parking passes if the intent was to show up right around sunrise or not even be reliant on the shuttles themselves.

Nevertheless, I found the shuttle system pretty hassle free, and since we were staying in Aspen (roughly 3 miles from the Aspen Highlands Center), my wife dropped me off and picked me up so I didn’t have to stress about parking.

Trail Description of the Northern Shore of Maroon Lake

Maroon_Bells_020_07252020 - The iconic panorama across Maroon Lake towards the twin 14ers peaks of Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak (aka the Maroon Bells)
The iconic panorama across Maroon Lake towards the twin 14ers peaks of Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak (aka the Maroon Bells)

After getting off the shuttle, I followed a concrete path that descended towards the north shore of Maroon Lake.

During this descent, I was pretty much compelled to go further east on the lake (i.e. away from where I was supposed to go for the hikes) so I could experience as much of the reflective panoramas across the lake as possible.

Since I had showed up before 9am, it was still somewhat quiet around the lake so I was afforded the luxury of paying attention to the zig-zagging birds over the lake that never seemed to land and take a breather.

I also tried to compose photos with the many wildflowers blooming by the shore of the lake.

Maroon_Bells_101_07252020 - Examining some of the drooping wildflowers blooming along the north shore of Maroon Lake
Examining some of the drooping wildflowers blooming along the north shore of Maroon Lake

However, after having my fill of these signature panoramas, I then completed the roughly 0.4-mile walk upstream towards the pair of forks in the trail that split into the Maroon Lake Scenic Loop (left) and the Crater Lake Trail (right).

The first trail fork was closer to the level of the lake with some signage and infrastructure so taking the left fork to the Maroon Lake Scenic Loops was a continuation of the shoreline walk until it got to where Maroon Creek spilled into the head of the lake.

The second trail fork was kind of like a last chance to go down by the lake as there was a steeper trail descending from the Crater Lake Trail to the head of Maroon Lake.

Trail Description of the Maroon Lake Scenic Loops

The Maroon Lake Scenic Loop Trail was actually a pair of looping trails beyond Maroon Lake connected by bridges across Maroon Creek thereby forming a figure 8.

Maroon_Bells_221_07252020 - The viewing area at the head of Maroon Lake and at the very bottom of the Maroon Lake Scenic Loop except the lower bridge was washed out so I couldn't do the loop hike clockwise from down here
The viewing area at the head of Maroon Lake and at the very bottom of the Maroon Lake Scenic Loop except the lower bridge was washed out so I couldn’t do the loop hike clockwise from down here

When I made my visit in late July 2020, the lower bridge was washed out so I actually had to hike a little more to fully experience both loops.

Anyways, if I had to do this part of the hike all over again, I would recommend doing both loops in a clockwise manner.

That way you get to face the Maroon Bells in a more open part of the trail so the scenery is always before you instead of having to look over-the-shoulder to see the signature peaks.

Then, once you reach the top end of the upper loop, the trail would then return to the head of Maroon Lake where it’s more overgrown and less interesting.

Maroon_Bells_181_07252020 - Doing the Maroon Lake Scenic Loop in a clockwise manner like these ladies did meant that you get to see the Maroon Bells where the trail was more wide open to see them
Doing the Maroon Lake Scenic Loop in a clockwise manner like these ladies did meant that you get to see the Maroon Bells where the trail was more wide open to see them

In the middle of the two loops was a footbridge right at a series of rapids and small cascades on Maroon Creek.

In my mind, the best view of these rapids and cascades were from the southern banks of Maroon Creek just downstream of that bridge.

This was where I took one of the waterfall photos you see further up on this post.

Trail Description of the Crater Lake Hike

The trail to Crater Lake was very popular largely because it had the right distance to incorporate for a half-day visit in the Maroon Bells Scenic Area.

Maroon_Bells_236_07252020 - Ascending the Crater Lake Trail, which was relentlessly climbing while also jarring on the knees with its uneven rocky surface
Ascending the Crater Lake Trail, which was relentlessly climbing while also jarring on the knees with its uneven rocky surface

It was a straightforward out-and-back trail that gained roughly 600ft in a one-mile stretch though its overall distance was on the order of just under 2 miles.

That said, the modest trail length was surprisingly taxing when you combine the high altitude and the somewhat rough and rocky terrain on the trail.

I also found the hike to be somewhat difficult when I had to breathe through my mask whenever people were passing by, which was quite frequent.

Moreover, most of the climbing stretch of the trail was pretty featureless until the trail finally started to descend in the last quarter-mile towards the mouth of Crater Lake.

Maroon_Bells_269_07252020 - Looking across Crater Lake backed by the signature peaks of the Maroon Bells with the context of the cascade beneath the North Maroon Peak
Looking across Crater Lake backed by the signature peaks of the Maroon Bells with the context of the cascade beneath the North Maroon Peak

Once at the lake, I was able to look across the calm lake backed by the Maroon Bells while also surprising me with a cascade dropping conspicuously beneath the North Maroon Peak from a hanging valley fed by a cirque that the maps call the Sleeping Sexton.

The very first photo on this page was of that very waterfall.

While I explored a little more towards the head of Crater Lake, I managed to catch the U-shaped glacial valley between the Bells and Pyramid Peak, and I also caught a glimpse of a gushing-but-hard-to-see waterfall in the Minnehaha Gulch.

I’m guessing that in order to get a better look at that waterfall, I would have to keep extending the hike uphill at least another half-mile in each direction from the head of Crater Lake.

Maroon_Bells_321_07252020 - Looking towards a hard-to-see gushing cascade in Minnehaha Gulch that was further upstream of Crater Lake
Looking towards a hard-to-see gushing cascade in Minnehaha Gulch that was further upstream of Crater Lake

I also had the option of continuing along the Maroon Creek Trail beyond Crater Lake, which would eventually climb towards both the Maroon Bells as well as reaching the West Maroon Pass right on the border of Pitkin and Gunnison Counties.

Since I didn’t do these trail extensions, I can’t say more about them.

However, needless to say, there were opportunities at seeing even more cascades and waterfalls, which would have further added more content to this page.

So in the end, I managed to do the nearly 7 miles of hiking over a span of 6 hours including the shuttle transit and waiting.

Maroon_Bells_355_07252020 - Returning to Maroon Lake as I was ending my Crater Lake hike and thus ending off my time hiking in the Maroon Bells Scenic Area
Returning to Maroon Lake as I was ending my Crater Lake hike and thus ending off my time hiking in the Maroon Bells Scenic Area

That ought to give you a good idea of what can be reasonably accomplished should you also make a half-day to a full-day visit in the Maroon Bells Scenic Area.

Authorities

The Maroon Bells Scenic Area resides in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness of the White River National Forest near the city of Aspen in Pitkin County and Gunnison County, Colorado. It is administered by the USDA Forest Service. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.

Maroon_Bells_004_07252020 - When my wife dropped me off at the Aspen Highlands Center, I had to show my reservation printout to someone at a shop facing this wide open quad area with some giant chess set
Maroon_Bells_003_07252020 - Looking back across the quad area with the chess set from the front of the shop where I had to redeem my pre-booked shuttle reservation for the Maroon Bells Scenic Area
Maroon_Bells_010_07252020 - Noticing some yellow-bellied marmot that the bus driver spotted while going up to the Maroon Bells Scenic Area
Maroon_Bells_018_07252020 - Descending from the shuttle stop towards the north shore of Maroon Lake
Maroon_Bells_023_07252020 - Looking across Maroon Lake towards the Maroon Bells
Maroon_Bells_027_07252020 - Classic panorama of the Maroon Bells reflected in Maroon Lake
Maroon_Bells_041_07252020 - Context of the trail alongside the north shore of Maroon Lake
Maroon_Bells_093_07252020 - I spent quite a bit of time around Maroon Lake trying to compose all sorts of photos to try to take in the iconic panorama of the Maroon Bells
Maroon_Bells_096_07252020 - Context of some wildflowers blooming by Maroon Lake
Maroon_Bells_116_07252020 - Looking north back towards some craggy red mountains overlooking Maroon Lake (I think is called Stevers Mountain)
Maroon_Bells_122_07252020 - Following the narrowing trail as I was deciding whether to do the Maroon Lake Scenic Loop first or the Crater Lake Trail first
Maroon_Bells_127_07252020 - Looking back towards Maroon Lake as I was hiking up towards both the Maroon Lake Scenic Loop and the Crater Lake Trail
Maroon_Bells_130_07252020 - This was the point where I got to the second trail fork, and I ultimately decided to go left and descend to the Maroon Lake Scenic Loop
Maroon_Bells_135_07252020 - Going alongside the lower part of the Maroon Lake Scenic Loop where the trail skirted around Maroon Creek instead of Maroon Lake
Maroon_Bells_143_07252020 - Hiking alongside Maroon Creek as part of the lower loop of the Maroon Lake Scenic Loop Trail
Maroon_Bells_146_07252020 - Approaching the bridge over Maroon Creek separating the lower and upper loops of the Maroon Lake Scenic Loop Trail
Maroon_Bells_151_07252020 - Hiking the upper loop in a counterclockwise manner alongside Maroon Creek, but in hindsight, I should have done this hike going the other way around
Maroon_Bells_153_07252020 - Looking down at a chick that appeared to be a little lost in the Maroon Lake Scenic Loop Trail
Maroon_Bells_159_07252020 - Looking across Maroon Creek towards some mountains over the Maroon Lake Scenic Loop Trail
Maroon_Bells_169_07252020 - Hiking back towards the bridge to wrap up the upper loop of the Maroon Lake Scenic Loop Trail
Maroon_Bells_182_07252020 - Looking back at a pair of ladies who were hiking the Upper Loop of the Maroon Bells Scenic Loop Trail that better way (i.e. clockwise)
Maroon_Bells_183_07252020 - Approaching the bridge separating the upper and lower loops of the Maroon Lake Scenic Loop Trail
Maroon_Bells_189_07252020 - Descending towards the head of Maroon Lake at the lower end of the lower loop of the Maroon Lake Scenic Loop Trail
Maroon_Bells_194_07252020 - Looking towards the lookout bench at the very bottom of the Maroon Lake Scenic Loop Trail
Maroon_Bells_196_07252020 - Looking towards the broken bridge that must have been washed out not long before I made my visit to the Maroon Bells in late July 2020
Maroon_Bells_213_07252020 - Looking upstream at some rapids from the footbridge between the upper and lower loops of the Maroon Lake Scenic Loop
Maroon_Bells_227_07252020 - Ascending the trail leading up to Crater Lake after rejoining that trail upon finishing the Maroon Lake Scenic Loop Trail
Maroon_Bells_231_07252020 - Continuing to climb up the Crater Lake Trail which had limited scenery due to all the foliage around it
Maroon_Bells_241_07252020 - My first look at a cascade in the distance beneath the North Maroon Peak while on my way to the Crater Lake
Maroon_Bells_242_07252020 - Upon reaching the apex of the Crater Lake hike, I reached a section that was quite rocky though it was much flatter before descending to the lake itself
Maroon_Bells_246_07252020 - Another look at the rocky terrain that the Crater Lake hike went through on the way down to the lake
Maroon_Bells_251_07252020 - Direct look focused on the cascade beneath the North Maroon Peak
Maroon_Bells_252_07252020 - Context of the Maroon Bells with the cascade tumbling beneath it
Maroon_Bells_253_07252020 - Context of the Crater Lake hike as it descended towards the lake itself in the last quarter-mile
Maroon_Bells_256_07252020 - Finally starting to see Crater Lake as the trail descended towards it
Maroon_Bells_262_07252020 - Looking along the north shore of Crater Lake backed by the Maroon Bells started to get some cloud coverage
Maroon_Bells_263_07252020 - Focused look at the cascade beneath the North Maroon Peak as seen from Crater Lake
Maroon_Bells_279_07252020 - Contextual view across Crater Lake towards the Maroon Bells with the cascade tumbling within the panorama
Maroon_Bells_282_07252020 - Another contextual look at the cascade tumbling behind part of Crater Lake with some people chilling out by its shore
Maroon_Bells_285_07252020 - Broad look across Crater Lake towards the Maroon Bells and the cascade in context
Maroon_Bells_295_07252020 - The continuation of the trail going beyond the head of Crater Lake
Maroon_Bells_308_07252020 - Looking across the head of Crater Lake towards the U-shaped valley containing Pyramid Peak
Maroon_Bells_309_07252020 - Another broad look towards the side of North Maroon Creek with the cascade beneath that peak
Maroon_Bells_316_07252020 - Another contextual look at the continuation of the trail beyond Crater Lake with the Maroon Bells and the cascade looming above the scene
Maroon_Bells_323_07252020 - Context of the cascade beneath North Maroon Peak on the left and the waterfall in Minnehaha Gulch on the right
Maroon_Bells_326_07252020 - This was as far as I went beyond Crater Lake, which yielded this view of the U-shaped valley backed by Pyramid Peak before coming back
Maroon_Bells_342_07252020 - Looking at some kind of marmot or rodent sitting on a rock while I was hiking back down the Crater Lake Trail towards the Maroon Bells Scenic Area
Maroon_Bells_360_07252020 - Looking across some kind of mound that might have been caused by beavers while coming back to Maroon Lake at the end of the Crater Lake hike

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The way I reached the Maroon Bells Scenic Area was by pre-booking a shuttle that left from the Aspen Highlands Center. It was a mere 3-mile drive to get from the east side of Aspen to the Aspen Highlands Center.

There are plenty of resources that cover the logistics behind reaching the Maroon Bells. However, the one I used that eventually led me to making my shuttle reservation was from the Aspen Chamber of Commerce.

Maroon_Bells_008_07252020 - Looking across the shuttle stops fronting the Aspen Highlands Center
Looking across the shuttle stops fronting the Aspen Highlands Center

As for reaching Aspen, it’s a popular ski resort town so you can route to this town using your favorite routing app or software.

For context, Aspen was about 41 miles (under an hour drive) south of Glenwood Springs, 127 miles (over 2 hours drive) southeast of Grand Junction, 171 miles (3.5 hours drive) northeast of Ouray, 198 miles (about 3.5 hours drive) southwest of Denver, about 242 miles (about 5.5 hours drive) north of Durango, 238 miles (over over 3.5 hours drive) east of Moab, Utah, and 465 miles (over 8 hours drive) north of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

More deliberate downstream to upstream sweep of Maroon Creek ending with panning down with the cascade beneath the bridge


Back and forth sweep of Maroon Creek at a couple of different spots downstream of where the rapids under the bridge is


Downstream to upstream sweep from the bridge between the scenic loops then showing the surrounding peaks


Miscellaneous 360 degree sweep showing the mountains including the Maroon Bells and a cascade beneath it. This was from an elevated opening at the apex of the trail to Crater Lake


Left to right sweep from the avalanche zone looking across Crater Lake before focusing on the waterfall beneath the Maroon Bells


Partial view of the cascade under Maroon Bells and panning towards a larger side waterfall that was obstructed before ending off in the direction of Crater Lake


Broad sweep of a revegetation area from beyond Crater Lake

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Tagged with: aspen, colorado, maroon bells, snowmass wilderness, white river national forest, maroon creek valley, crater lake



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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
Read More About Johnny | A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls.