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The dreamy resort town of Aspen, high up in the mountains of Colorado, is filled with impeccable ski runs and an abundance of opulence. I headed to Aspen last month to stand beside by sorority little as she said “I do” at the summit of one of these mountains! It was a gorgeous wedding filled with three days of amazing festivities and bonding moments, including hiking Maroon Bells.
Aspen is dripping in wealth – the J.Crew in town didn’t even have a sale section! ;) I was thoroughly spoiled the entire week! While the Prince couldn’t join me on this trip due to the impending German elections (he worked daily on one of the campaigns), I am dreaming of the day that we can return together and enjoy these Colorado luxury homes together (aren’t these villas dreamy?!). Aspen has everything Peter loves – ski resorts, hiking trails, delicious food, and yummy beer!
Hiking Maroon Bells in Aspen, Colorado was on the top of my list. Fun fact: the Maroon Bells are the most photographed mountains in all of North America! To be honest, I’m not a hiker at all! Yet my hiking posts on Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia and Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, Scotland continue to bring steady traffic to my blog (which always makes me laugh!). One of the best parts about Maroon Bells are the multitude of trails. I opted for the leisure 1.5 mile hike around the lake. Some of the other bridesmaids and groomsmen chose to hike to Crater Lake. The 3.5 mile Crater Lake Trail is considered a moderate trek. There is also a more strenuous route to Willow Lake that usually requires camping overnight.
Don’t be fooled by the beauty of the Maroon Bells – they are appropriately nicknamed “The Deadly Bells” after the mountains saw eight people die in five separate instances in 1965. While most of the Rocky Mountains are formed from granite and limestone, the Maroon Bells are formed from mudstone – a notoriously soft and weak rock. While this mudstone has given the Maroon Bells its distinctive maroon tone, it is also responsible for an unusually high amount of deaths and injuries.
The best part of hiking Maroon Bells is the stunning scenery from all directions. I actually had my back to the infamous mountains while photographing the clouds drifting across the peaks of these beauties! Having visited in mid-September, the aspen trees were really showing off for us (I mean, look at those yellow leaves!). According to the locals, the peak color weekend for aspens was a week later (so around September 23rd). However, I really don’t think these colors disappointed anyone.
The first picture above is of most of the bridesmaids and the beautiful bride, Audrey (left of me in the picture). Also, Elise is the one in the pink jacket. You know those people you meet and instantly know you’ll stay friends with for the rest of your life? Yup, that’s kind of like Elise to me. And we may or may not have already planned a joint wedding in a German castle (sorry boys but you don’t really get any input!). Anyways, Elise and I decided to take the leisure hike together while the others went on the 3.5-mile hike. The bride, Audrey, is crazy athletic and she and her *now* husband love competing in triathlons in their free time (who does that?!). Let’s just say that the first hike we were supposed to take was considered “easy” by Audrey and quite difficult by everyone else!
One of the most important things to remember when traveling to Aspen, Maroon Bells, or really anywhere in the Rocky Mountains is the altitude difference! I was quite naïve initially and thought that I would be totally fine. I mean, a difference of almost 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) really isn’t *that* much. Think again. Guys, it was brutal. Even just walking up a slight incline for a block caused me to be out of breath. Also, your skin dries out extremely quickly and you get dehydrated much faster! Don’t underestimate the power of the altitude!
Getting to Maroon Bells is actually quite simple! If you’re planning to be there before 8 am or after 5 pm between mid-June and early October, you can drive all the way to the starting point of the hikes (Maroon Lake) for $10. Between 8 am and 5pm, you have to take public transportation there. However, I’d highly recommend the public transportation regardless because the driver tells you facts about the scenery, history, and landscape of the area along the way (our driver was particular hilarious and I wish I remembered his name!).
Here’s how to get to the Maroon Bells:
- From Aspen, catch the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s (RFTA) free bus (Castle/Maroon Bells line) from Rubey Park Transit Center in downtown Aspen to Aspen Highlands. Alternatively, you can drive and park your car at Aspen Highlands for $5 (weekdays) or $10 (weekends).
- Buy your ticket for the bus from Aspen Highlands to Maroon Bells at the Aspen Highlands Ski Area. The free bus from downtown Aspen will drop you right in front of the building (you will also catch the bus to Maroon Bells from this exact spot). Tickets are $8.
- There might be a line for the bus to Maroon Bells so definitely be quick! I think the bus only carries around 40 people (you’re not allowed to stand inside the bus).
- The buses between Aspen Highlands and Maroon Bells run every 10 to 20 minutes.
- Once you get to Maroon Bells, you will be dropped right at the trail heads on Maroon Lake.
- HYDRATE!!! Seriously, I can’t emphasize this enough, especially with the high altitude.
- Make sure to wear layers and bring sunscreen. The change in altitude can make it much colder at Maroon Bells than downtown Aspen. However, the sun is much stronger there and you’re more likely to get burnt at such a high altitude.
- The best time of day to visit Maroon Bells is the morning during sunrise and the best time of year to visit Maroon Bells is in mid- to late-September when the leaves are at peak color.
- Once again, don’t push yourself too much! The altitude will really affect you. I can’t emphasize that enough.
- Look out for signage – the trails are pretty well marked.
- This article is a great overview on the Maroon Bells and this article gives precise details on the trails and transportation