Aspen is a playground for the active traveler. No matter how many times I visit, I always set aside time to bike to Maroon Bells. Rent a bike from the Hub, a cycling store in town, and be sure to bring a water bottle and even some snacks for energy. The 11-mile ride from downtown will have your quads (and lungs) burning as you slowly make your way uphill. The steady climb makes about a 1,630-foot elevation gain. The views at the top are worth your efforts. The Maroon Bells and Maroon Lake are one of the most photographed areas in North America. On a sunny day the lake takes on magical turquoise and green hues.
Relief comes on the ride back to town, which is all an easy coast downhill. Couch potatoes can opt to take a bus to the top.
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Moonrise at the Maroon Bells
The Maroon Bells can be one of the most crowded and crazy places to try to take photos in Colorado. I think it carries the distinction of being the most photographed mountain in all of North America.
If you decide to go for sunrise photos during peak fall colors, you are met with busloads of tourists snapping pictures from the lake. If peak colors fall on a weekend you need to get there an hour or more before sunrise just to get a position on the shore. Basically, it's not a fun experience. Fortunately there is another way, and you get even better photos out of the trip. Go to the Maroon Bells at night for moonrise.
You need to figure out the best time to go by looking at a moon calendar and go between the day after the full moon until the moon is at about 50 percent (about a week or so after a full moon). Download an app for your phone that tells you moonrise times and phases so you can show up at the correct time. Put your camera into manual, crank up the ISO to 1600-2000. Set the camera to expose for 25 seconds and the f-stop as low as it will go.
In all my years of photography up there I have never seen anyone while I was shooting photos at moonrise. Its a truly incredible view and something that should not be missed. You have the place to yourself.
This is from a location that is pretty hard to get to but the images in the link are all from the lake. The walk from the parking lot to the lake is only a few hundred yards on a smooth dirt path.
The month of September is perhaps the most spectacular time of year in Colorado, when the Aspen trees light up the mountains with their vibrant yellow leaves.
One of my favorite places to enjoy the change of seasons is in Aspen at the wildly beautiful Maroon Bells. Depending on the year, the pinnacle of color appears between the second and fourth weeks of September. (The above photo was taken on September 22, which -- lucky for us -- was the height of the change that year.)
I've heard rumor that Maroon Bells is the most photographed peak in North America, which wouldn't surprise me in the least. Though the spot has been traversed by thousands of travelers before me and will be again by thousands after me, this place has a way of making you feel as though you've discovered it for the first time. The postcard-worthy views are pristine, and the trails surprisingly unaffected by the nature-loving visitors that explore here year-round.
We can call this my happy place.
To find this view, begin your trek at Maroon Lake at the base of the mountain and follow the trailhead to Crater Lake. Be warned that as of September 2012 the lake was dried up, but the hike is worthwhile nonetheless, offering sweeping vistas and an energizing climb.
If you're visiting in the summer, you'll be required to take a bus to access the trailhead. After Labor Day, though, you can drive into the park.