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.
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.
As usual in late afternoon in the Rockies, weather was iffy.
It was an emergency tent site I finally found just at dark. Happily, next morning dawned brilliantly clear:
Early morning I crossed pass #1: West Maroon.
En route to Pass #2: Frigid Air:
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.
Here I am cleaning my shoes (deliberately) on a creek crossing.
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?
That’s #3, Trail Rider.
It was a long, exhausting climb. Yet gorgeous.
Hikers on Trail Rider pass:
The vistas of Snowmass Lake on the other side were all that was keeping me going.
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.
I’ll always remember the big open vistas of the Maroon Bells. And the wildflowers.
Highly recommended. One of the best hikes in the world.