Colorado Hike : Maroon Bells

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They say that the Maroon Bells, those two mountain peaks in the photo above, are the most photographed and famous scene in Colorado. I had never been, so we made it one of our small adventures over the Fourth of July weekend.

The area is breathtaking in summer. Wildflowers are blooming everywhere you look. In early July there was still some snow on the mountains, reminding you just how high you are, yet it’s melting quickly, so the streams are roaring adding an element of excitement to every bridge crossing. And as if it couldn’t get any better, there were signs of beavers and a couple of moose!

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Maroon lake was created by glacial deposits, but there are also some busy beavers on the lake working to build up the dam. We followed the Maroon Lake Scenic Trail along the lake, over the roaring Maroon Creek, through an aspen grove, and around to a small active beaver pond.

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liveseasoned_summer2014_maroonbells8_wmWe were standing at the pond, taking in the tranquil scene, when all of a sudden someone realized that we were looking right at a moose! Can you see him in the lower center of the photo below, to the left of the pond? This was my first moose sighting and I was ecstatic, the other members of my party – not so much. Apparently, moose are extremely dangerous. So much to my chagrin, we turned around and headed back the way we came.

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Wildflowers were blooming all along the trail, but particularly in the riparian and shrubland areas around the lake. We visited just at the beginning of the blooming season, but if you want to see everything in peak bloom, schedule your visit for late July into August.

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When I got back to the house and was identifying plants, I couldn’t believe that we saw the most poisonous plant in North America. A piece of the water hemlock’s root the size of a marble can kill an adult in 15 minutes! Even more frightening, children have died while playing with the hollowed out stem, using it as a peashooter and such. Crazy!

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Walking along the Scenic trail, you get a fantastic view of the beaver’s home. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any beavers, but just being close to their dam and home was fun. Fun fact from Calder: beavers can get up to 150 pounds!

From this vantage point, you can also look back towards the dam and see the crowds along the shore. The photo below is the mountain version of those beach paintings/photos where everyone is just a colored speck in the sand grassland, isn’t it?

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As we were driving back down into town, we noticed a group of cars pulled off to the side of the road. There was another moose! This one was far enough away that no one was in danger, so I hopped out and took a few more photos. Two moose in one day, I was a happy camper.

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Before you go:

  • The Scenic Trail was an easy hike with a few steep spots, but overall there was relatively little elevation gain. Waterproof shoes with good traction are recommended as there were muddy areas.
  • Wild at Heart is a fantastic resource if you’re planning a visit. It’s a field guide to the plants, birds, and mammals of the Rockies, with a particular focus on the Aspen-Snowmass area. I know that it’s out of print and not available on Amazon, but I’m pretty sure you can still pick it up in some of the shops around Aspen and Snowmass (I just received my copy as a birthday present, so it’s out there!).

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Getting there:

  • Traffic is restricted from mid-June through September
  • The site is open to all traffic from 7:00am-9:00am and 5:00pm-7:00pm
  • With a few exceptions, all visitors are required to take a bus from 9:00am-5:00pm. You catch the bus in Aspen Highlands Village (where you can park for free). The pass fee is $6/adult, $3/child.
  • Cars with children under 2, disabled passengers, or groups of 11 or more are allowed through from 9:00am-5:00pm if they pay a $10 fee.
  • You can also drive up if you are camping in the area
  • For detailed information see this site.

 

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