Winter Adventures: Exploring the Maroon Bells
Updated: Dec 17, 2021
As a native Arizonan, snow used to both excite me and terrify me. The thought of being cold, wet, and shivering while the wind blows the cold air towards my face used to illicit a strong “no thank you”. However, in the past few years I have expanded my horizons, forced myself out in the cold, and in turn, have found a new love and appreciation for cold, blustery adventures.
At first glance, a snow adventure seems a lot more dangerous to undertake and a lot more difficult to plan and execute! However, with the proper gear (and by that I mean warm clothes), and a sense of adventure, you can explore places with a whole new lens during the winter months.
The Maroon Bells are one of Colorado’s most popular spots, in fact, the Bells are two of the most photographed mountains in all of North America. Located just outside of Aspen, they draw tourists, adventurers, families, photographers, and all kinds of onlookers during the summer season. In fact, due to the popularity in the summer and fall reservations are required and all visitors must use a shuttle to get to the bells to limit vehicle traffic (and parking congestion).
Anyone who knows me knows I abhor crowds, so visiting during the busy season just doesn’t appeal to me. That’s where winter adventures really can help you explore and see places with solitude! Because the Bells are logistically a little trickier to get to in the winter, the crowds truly disappear!
Since Maroon Creek Road closes in the winter, your first hurdle to getting to the Bells is figuring out how to get there. From the winter road closure area to the Maroon Lake parking lot and scenic view it’s approximately 6.6 miles each way and around 1,400 elevation gain. You can either snowshoe in, cross-country ski, ride bikes, or snowmobile. We opted to rent some e-bikes from Ride Aspen to get to the Bells.
The road, covered in snowpack, was such a fun adventure to bike. We weaved in and out of the valley, surrounded by snowy trees and stunning views. Word to the wise, though, it’s not an easy ride! The road can get a bit slippery!
Once we arrived at the Maroon Lake trailhead and scenic viewpoint, we locked up the bikes and started the real fun. There are two trails I would recommend for winter adventures, the Maroon Bells Scenic Loop (1.9 miles) or the Crater Lake Trail (3.8 miles).
While this viewpoint is normally packed we had it to ourselves. There were a few snowmobile tour groups that showed up, but they didn’t stay long. As we headed down by the lake, no one was there and it was clear from the snow we were the first and only ones there to explore around the lake that day.
We started out on the scenic loop since it was lightly snowing and we didn’t bring our snowshoes (big mistake)! We spent a lot of time post-holing, sinking about knee-high, since no one else had been on the trail. While the trekking was pretty exhausting, the views were outstanding. The quiet calm and stillness of a forest covered in snow never ceases to take my breath away.
As we made our way around the loop we encountered areas of the lake that hadn’t yet frozen. West Maroon Creek steadily and beautifully carried the frigid water along its waterway as we admired the Bells from our path.
After we finished the loop, we returned to the bikes, unlocked them, and headed back down. The bike going downhill was much more fun (and slightly more terrifying) as we sped down the snowy road.
While it was super chilly the day we visited the Bells, I was pretty warm due to layering and good gear! As always, for winter adventures I recommend some good gloves, a heavy wool beanie, a base layer and a shell layer, and amazing footwear. Some of the gear I recommend is below!
In order to enjoy this adventure I recommend starting your biking at 9:00 a.m. That gives you plenty of time to get to Maroon Lake with any picture stops along the road. Once you get to the lake, you’ll have time to lock up the bikes and start your hike! Since you’ll either be walking on snowpack or snowshoeing, it take a bit longer than normal to get around so plan a bit more time for the adventure. Plus, you’ll want to enjoy the scenic views (and take some time to warm up) along the way!
I’d recommend heading back to the bikes no later than 2:00 p.m. It usually gets dark around 5:00 p.m. in the winter so you want to give yourself enough time to get back to your bikes and head back down the road to your car.
If you have any questions about this adventure, feel free to drop a comment below!