Colbert: The majesty of the Maroon Bells
June 30, 2018
Have you ever seen the Tetons of Wyoming? The gray, jagged, ice-sculpted peaks have mesmerized me since I first saw them as a child. The only mountains I've seen that can draw those same comparisons — and awe-inspiring feelings — are in our own backyard.
The Maroon Bells, as well as many of the surrounding peaks, have that Teton-esque vibe about them. Located only a few miles from Aspen, the Bells are among the most popular nature-related tourist attractions in the state, if not the country. In 2017, it was reported more than 300,000 people visited the area for day visits, camping or to venture into the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.
Certainly I've ventured back that way numerous times since I moved to Aspen nearly two years ago. Until last Monday's short hike, I guess it had been close to a year since I had seen those iconic peaks from ground level, as opposed to the equally as impressive views of the mountains from the top of our ski areas.
Maroon and North Maroon peaks are two of Colorado's 54 (or 58?) 14ers, depending on whom you ask. Everyone has a different opinion on what exactly constitutes a 14,000-foot mountain, apparently. They rise majestically above Maroon Lake, which, used as the foreground, helps create those beautiful photos you see all the time.
Getting to the Maroon Bells in the summer is an adventure all its own. We are entering the peak season, where most of those 300,000 people make the trek out there. Unless you go before 8 a.m. or after 5 p.m., you'll have to take the bus from Aspen Highlands, which costs $8 for adults and $6 for children 6 to 16 years of age. There is paid parking at Highlands, but it's a lot smarter to take the free bus from town and avoid what can be a $10 fee on top of your bus fare back to the Bells.
The roughly 25-minute bus ride to the Maroon Bells from Highlands is breathtakingly beautiful, and if you get the right bus driver — all of which also serve as your en route tour guide — you'll get a free concert, most likely a collection of John Denver songs. The bus drops you off only a short walk from Maroon Lake.
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When I went last Monday, we took the 3.6-mile round-trip hike to Crater Lake near the base of the Bells. While it only rises about 500 feet from Maroon Lake to Crater Lake, it's a constant uphill battle, but it's certainly worth it. Unlike Maroon Lake, Crater Lake tends to run dry by the end of the summer.
There are endless other trails and hiking opportunities near the Bells, but keep in mind most of that region is a wilderness area and it's best to be prepared. Black bears, moose and mountain lions are more than common out there, and it's both unsafe (and illegal) to approach the wildlife.
Yet, without venturing too deep into the wild, a trip to the Maroon Bells is more than safe and always worth it. I've been to the Bells many times now, and not once have I been bored by their presence. It can be easy to take for granted that these majestic peaks are literally in our backyard here in Colorado, but it only takes a few seconds of gawking to make you remember why they are so special.
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