I have been trying to get to the Maroon Bells for years but since they implemented (the much needed) ticketing and shuttle system it seemed a little more complicated to do. The date I wanted was either already sold out, or the times available didn’t fit our schedule.
So I was totally surprised to see open time slots on a holiday weekend let alone the 4th. After some further reading, I saw that entering at 1 pm was cutting it close to do the Crater Lake Hike but we made it work. Read on for details of how to get to the Maroon Bells, what to pack (including a snack) and how to fit in the Crater Lake hike.
Accessing the Maroon Bells Wilderness
Visiting the Maroon Bells is totally doable… with a little planning. Feel free to comment or DM me with any questions too!
- You need a reservation, whether riding the bus or parking you need a reservation. (There are a few caveats read about those here, like getting dropped off before 8 am)
- You most likely need to ride the bus, unless you got a parking pass. Parking passes are HARD to get and sell out months in advance. Ubers/Ridesharing/Taxis cannot drop you off at Maroon Bells.
- You must arrive 15 minutes early to check-in. If you don’t, your spot will most likely be given up to standby passengers. If you are late, however, they try to fit you on a later bus.
- Get in line to exit the Maroon Bells by 4 pm. The last bus out leaves at 5 pm and it took us an hour to get on a bus.
- Dogs are allowed on the bus and in the park, just not on the Scenic Loop Trail.
- Watch out for wildlife – moose, and bears, stay away! Wear sunscreen and pack out what you pack in. Learn more about Leave No Trace best practices here.
How to get to the Maroon Bells
You need a reservation (have I harped on that enough yet) Reservations are required May 14 – October 24, 2021 and are released on a rolling basis, check the website for more information. Tickets cost $16 and are fully refundable up to 48 hours in advance.
Downtown Aspen by Bus
Ride the bus from Ruby Park Transit Center in Aspen to Aspen Highlands, then check in for the Maroon Bells bus.
Parking – If you are staying in Aspen great. If not you can park in the in-town Rio Grande Parking Plaza (details here) parking is free on Sundays. It’s about a 7-minute walk from the parking lot to the bus stop
From the bus stop, it’s a 20-minute ride to Aspen Highlands and you need to check in 15 mins early so plan accordingly. Get all the details here
Drive + Park
The Aspen website says there are listed parking in Aspen Highlands and there are about ~200 spaces. I’m sure it’s packed in the mornings, but at 1 pm on a Sunday it was half full. However, it’s expensive $5 an hour $40 max – give yourself at least 4 + hours if you plan to hike to Crater Lake.
Leaving Maroon Bells
The last bus out of Maroon Bells Wilderness is at 5 pm if you are no on the bus too bad ( this is what we were told). They stress leaving at 4 pm, we got in line at 4 PM and the busses run every 10 mins (essentially non stop) and we got on the bus at 5 so not sure what happened to the other 100 people in line behind us. And there is no cell service. The moral of the story get in line by 4 pm.
Should you bring food to the Maroon Bells?
Should you pack a snack – yes! Our original plan had been to grab food in Aspen then head to the bus, but we got stuck in traffic on the way into Aspen and the sandwich shop I had picked out wasn’t answering the phone so we looped around the u-turn and headed up to Aspen Highlands.
On google, I saw Highland Taqueria but it’s either closed for summer or not there anymore. There is two sit-down restaurants open but Caffe’ Sienna is your spot to grab sandwiches to go. They had about 5 different pre-made sandwiches, salads, and plenty of snacks too.
Bring your sandwich to eat at the lake and snacks for when you wait in line.
What to Pack for the Maroon Bells?
The Maroon Bells are going to be about 10º cooler than Aspen Highlands as you are pretty high up in elevation. My weather app was telling me sunny and low 60s but y’all we were HOT, felt more like high 70s. I was so thankful I wore shorts ha!
Wearing and packing layers is key for hiking. A good rule of thumb is that you want to be a little chilly when you leave the parking lot as you are going to work up a sweat. I honestly really regretted not wearing/packing a swimsuit to take a polar plunge at Crater Lake. Clay had on swim trunks so he could and groups of backpackers were resting and taking dips too.
Water! Bring water. You can fill up at the Visitors Center once you reach the Maroon Bells, but keep in mind that you are in Colorado at a high elevation and you need lots of water. And sunscreen!
Hiking to Crater Lake, Maroon Bells
This trail takes you up close and personal to the Maroon Bells and 1000% worth it. It’s about 3 miles round trip with a steady incline to the lake. The trail is rocky. Like not a nature trail a rocky trail with a few screen fields. I would really recommend hiking boots but Clay did it in chaos. And you will see people in literally everything hiking too.
It took us about an hour to get to the top, we hung out for about 30 then headed back down which took about 30 minutes so all in a little over 2 hours round trip. This is important because we got on the 1 pm shuttle arrived at 1:29 and went straight to the hike getting us in line to leave at 4. So a tight schedule but totally doable.
Anyway, the hike is gorgeous and as I said about what to pack, I was so hot and ready to jump in! So pack a swimsuit and a picnic and enjoy the gorgeous views.
Check out my other Aspen post and my guide to the Roaring Fork Valley here!