hiking Maroon Bells Loop, Colorado

trip report by besthike editor Rick McCharles

• 28mi (45.1km)
• moderate difficulty
• free backcountry permit
• 4 passes all higher than 12,000ft

For years I’ve wanted to get to this, one of the most photographed idyls in the Rockies.

Maroon Lake

The Maroon Bells is a mountain in the Elk Mountains that consists of two peaks, South Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak, separated by about a third of a mile.

… about 12 miles southwest of Aspen. Both peaks are counted as fourteeners …

The Maroon Bells 4 Pass Loop starts here, high at 9580ft (2920m), mostly above the treeline.

The wildflowers were still quite good mid-August.

Maroon Bells 4 Passes Hike

As usual in late afternoon in the Rockies, weather was iffy.

Maroon Bells 4 Passes Hike

It was an emergency tent site I finally found just at dark. Happily, next morning dawned brilliantly clear:

morning from the tent - Maroon Bells 4 Passes Hike

Early morning I crossed pass #1: West Maroon.

Maroon Bells 4 Passes Hike

En route to Pass #2: Frigid Air:

Maroon Bells 4 Passes Hike

The trails are fantastic, … aside from one much cursed section I called THE QUAGMIRE. Once you reach the biggest waterfall on the Crystal river, the track disappears into a bog of mud and fallen trees.

Who’s responsible?

Here I am cleaning my shoes (deliberately) on a creek crossing.

Maroon Bells 4 Passes Hike

When I met an oncoming hiker who had heard about THE QUAGMIRE, he decided to bushwhack on the opposite side of Crystal river. It couldn’t possibly be worse.

See the next high pass?

Maroon Bells 4 Passes Hike

That’s #3, Trail Rider.

It was a long, exhausting climb. Yet gorgeous.

Maroon Bells 4 Passes Hike

Hikers on Trail Rider pass:

Maroon Bells 4 Passes Hike

The vistas of Snowmass Lake on the other side were all that was keeping me going.

Maroon Bells 4 Passes Hike

Tenting is super popular at Snowmass. I decided to carry on until dusk, approaching the 4th and final pass. …

Next morning I was up at first light, first human at pass #4 Buckskin. It was just me and the mountain goats.

mountain goat - Maroon Bells 4 Passes Hike

I’ll always remember the big open vistas of the Maroon Bells. And the wildflowers.

Maroon Bells 4 Passes Hike

Highly recommended. One of the best hikes in the world.

Rick at Maroon Lake, Colorado

see the rest of my photos

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17 thoughts on “hiking Maroon Bells Loop, Colorado

  1. Pingback: hiking the Maroon Bells « RickMcCharles.com

  2. Fantastic. The wild flowers are so amazing. That is the one reason why I love to hike and explore, to see such colorful flowers makes me so thankful for the great things we are experiencing right now, the wonderful Mother Nature.

  3. G’day guys. Love the photos Rick. This hike looks amazing. My wife and I are travelling to the US departing Melbourne, Australia on the 20th Sept for 6 weeks where we plan to do a number of hikes. I had seen photo’s of the Maroon Bells years ago and after viewing this trip report we now plan to hike it. We may not however get to hike it before early – mid Oct. Is this too late? I have the Lonley Planet guidebook, “Hiking in the USA” as we also intend to hike through Yosemite, the Grand Tetons and the Grand Canyon. Is there any wading through rivers/creeks along the way? Will ‘The Quagmire’ be passable in Oct? Your comments would be appreciated. Regards. Steve (Melbourne).

    • Well …

      Save the USA S.W. for the end of your trip. Those are great in October.

      There will be snow almost everywhere in the Rockies, … UNLESS you get very lucky. Hiking in the snow can be fantastic, though. It’s far better than rain.

      Be prepared for COLD. End of August I was already sleeping in 2 down bags plus wearing a full hood down parka.

      Likely you will get some Rockies hiking. Then flee for the fantastic hikes in the S.W.

      Lonely Planet is by far the best “starting point”. I use it to decide where to go, then try to get local information from tourist information or “gear shops” for each hike.

  4. Gorgeous! I’ve been into the area there but haven’t hiked the loop. It looks like I have to put this on my “to-do” list very soon, maybe 2011. Did you track your elevation? Just curious.

  5. Great report. I was there in July. Our team did not make it because it never stopped raining. But the area and trails was perfect. We will try aain in a few years.

  6. Would love your opinion on hiking this trail with 13yr and 15 yr old boys and two border collie dogs (one is 9 yrs old). Do you think this is doable?
    Thanks for your opinion and love your photos
    “The Wildcrew”

      • Thanks for the input! Talked to the Aspen Ranger today and he said Mid-June would be a great time to be there this year. Looks like we have a plan. I hope we get some awesome photos like yours!

    • Went there in July with my 9 year old lab….. had to wheelbarrow her out… Don’t recommend taking older dogs on this type of hike due to high altitude and strenuous effort needed to get over passes.

      • Oh wow, sorry to hear it was tough on your dog;
        We started the hike on Father’s Day, 2012 and got over the first two passes going clockwise. After the second pass, it was our 3 yr old dog that had problems with her feet because they weren’t tough enough. It was hot and dry so the passes were pretty painful. We just couldn’t take her across another pass, so we exited the wilderness opposite of where we started and ended up at a trailhead over near Marble. Wow, that was another experience just getting out of there and back to Aspen to get the car (Hitchhiking with four people, backpacks and two dogs) but we had to take care of the pup. Will definitely do the loop again and finish it next time just without the dogs. Surprisingly, the 9 yr old dog didn’t have problems. Neither one of the dogs wanted to stop. They loved it!

  7. Loved the hike, felt like the first pass was the toughest however that could have been adjusting to the altitude. Amazing scenery and got to deal with a bear in the middle of the night just short of Buck Skin pass. Unfortunetly I dropped my camera on top of Maroon Bells pass while taking pictures so yours are a great reminder of the amazing scenery I witnessed.

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