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The Most Beautiful Day: Maroon Bells Hike

October 14, 2013

I recently experienced one of the most beautiful days of my life.  Along with a few friends, I ventured out to Aspen for a hike to see the fall colors in the Maroon Bells Wilderness.

Maroon Bells

Yep, that’s real – not a single edit or filter involved.

The Maroon Bells, which you can see in the photo above, are the most photographed peaks in America.  Their name comes from their bell shape and the dark red color of the rocks.

Maroon Bells

These famous peaks are also a major tourist attraction, and to begin our hike we had to park at the Aspen Highlands ski area and take a bus to the wilderness access because the road up is closed to vehicle traffic during the summer.  On the day we visited, it was apparently even busier than usual with busloads of tourists dropped off at the lake every few minutes.  I would have preferred to take in the scenery without so much company, but it couldn’t be helped.

Maroon Bells Wilderness

Maroon Bells Hike

We hiked the Crater Lake trail, a fairly easy 2-mile trek up to another lake in a hanging valley below the peaks of the Maroon Bells.  The scenery was made even more stunning by the snow that fell the day before our hike, leaving the mountains covered in a dusting of white.  We started out meandering through a blaze of aspens.

Crater Lake hike Maroon Bells

The trail wasn’t very steep, and the most difficult part was the footing that day, the snow having left the rocky, uneven surface extra slippery and muddy.  As we climbed higher, snow packed the trail and prior foot traffic had made it slippery.  I was pretty proud of myself for making it through without falling.  After hiking through the aspens for a while, we emerged into a high clearing.

Crater Lake hike Maroon Bells

The crowds on the trail weren’t as thick as they’d been by Maroon Lake, the shuttle drop-off where most tourists wander around and take pictures, then head on their way.  However, this was still the most crowded hiking trail I’ve ever explored.  It was annoying getting caught behind slower-moving groups, but well worth it for the views.  We timed the changing leaves perfectly, and the fresh snow set the fall colors off.  We re-entered the trees briefly on the way to the lake.

Crater Lake Hike

Finally, we came around a bend to views of another stunning alpine lake.

Crater Lake Maroon Bells

Someone had decided to race up the trail and was basking in the sun near the lake by the time the rest of us arrived.

Crater Lake nap

It was the perfect spot for that sort of thing.  I wished we’d thought to pack a picnic to eat in the sunshine on the shore.  Instead, we settled for skipping rocks and simply staring at our surroundings in awe.

Crater Lake Maroon Bells

Skipping rocks on Crater Lake

Crater Lake Hike

We hiked around and beyond the lake briefly, relieved to finally leave the crowds behind.

Crater Lake hike

At that point, a helicopter passed over us flying low and continued to make passes over the hanging valley where we were hiking.  We assumed the worst, that it was a rescue mission searching for a lost hiker, but I haven’t found anything in the news since our hike so I’m hopeful that it was just a training exercise.

Helicopter Maroon Bells

After hiking around for a little while, we turned around so as not to get stuck behind a mule train on the way down.  No joke.  The walk down was a little less crowded and every bit as beautiful.

Crater Lake Trail

Back down at Maroon Lake, we spent some time at the far end, away from the crowds.

Maroon Lake

Maroon Lake

I mean, seriously – can you believe these views?!

Maroon Lake

Maroon Lake

Following our hike, we headed into Aspen for lunch at CP Burger – the Summit Burger was SO GOOD – and a little wandering around.  Aspen is one of my favorite towns anywhere, and I always enjoy the opportunity to spend a little time there, especially on a day this lovely.  We wandered through the farmer’s market and I made the acquaintance of this little alpaca:

Aspen Alpaca

That’s all.  So, tell me – what’s the most beautiful day you can remember experiencing?

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. MikeW permalink
    October 14, 2013 8:21 am

    the Bells are dusted and iced, with the Aspen still in color…beautiful day.

    • October 14, 2013 9:22 am

      It truly was! We had a few more almost like it in my neck of the woods, but last night’s storm finally knocked off most of the aspen leaves. Time to get ready for winter!

      • MikeW permalink
        October 14, 2013 9:59 am

        Yep. Hail storm at like 8am in North Denver Metro today. The Gales of November preceded by the Hails of October.

  2. October 14, 2013 2:40 pm

    Wow! I need to do this hike one day! beautiful!

  3. October 14, 2013 6:39 pm

    I can’t wait to visit maroon bells!!! Lovely hike!!! I just moved to CO 3 months ago and did Pikes Peak (first mountain I went atop).!

  4. October 14, 2013 10:40 pm

    What beautiful pictures! That looks like a wonderful hike. I think the most beautiful day I have experienced was hiking in Bariloche, Argentina. A little ski resort town up in the mountains. It was gorgeous!

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  1. My “Peaks” of 2013 – Year in Review | Peaks and Passports

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