Hiking Maroon Bells and Window Shopping in Aspen

There were so many great backdrops for photos on the Crater Lake Trail
There were so many great backdrops for photos on the Crater Lake Trail

For Day 3 of our Colorado adventure, we drove the little more than two hours to Aspen from Breckenridge. We’ve always been curious about Aspen but unwilling to make the drive in winter conditions, so this trip seemed like the perfect time to check it out.

Independence Pass

Jessie over at GoBreck (who has become our unofficial travel guide for this trip to Breckenridge – thank you, Jessie!) suggested we take Independence Pass over to Aspen, so we did. Best advice all trip so far!

Only accessible from around Memorial Day to sometime in October or November, you take I-70 West from Breckenridge a few miles to the exit for Copper Mountain. From there, you follow CO-91 S past Leadville and then take CO-82 W up to the top of the Continental Divide and down the other side into Aspen.

The drive is absolutely gorgeous, and there are multiple points to pull off and admire the views. Probably the best place to stop is at the very top, but be prepared for it to be a little bit chilly. We were able to snag some great photos from the top (click to enlarge):

For those of you who are like me and always connected, this trip will force you to disconnect. I lost cell phone service just a few miles off I-70, picked it up for only a few miles through Leadville, and didn’t get it back until we reached Aspen. So, sit back and enjoy the scenery.

Maroon Bells

My friend Alicia, who is from Colorado, tipped me off to the Maroon Bells, some of the most photographed peaks in Colorado. You can access the Maroon Bells on your own before 8 a.m. or after 5 p.m., but between those hours you must purchase a $6 bus pass from Four Mountain Sports at Aspen Highlands and ride the bus out to reduce the impact on the land from so many visitors each year.

The Maroon Bells are spectacular and parts of the area feel more Utah than Colorado. Walk a mere 100 yards from where the bus stops and you’ll get this magnificent view:

View of the Maroon Bells about 100 yards from where the bus drops you off
View of the Maroon Bells about 100 yards from where the bus drops you off

You have three different options for hiking once you get to Maroon Bells. There’s an easy hike around the lake that’s fairly flat and short (1-mile round-trip) – you can see it on the left side of the lake in the image below. If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, like we were, try the Crater Lake Trail. This 3.6-mile round-trip hike takes you around the backside of the lake, where we got a great photo, and back to Crater Lake.

Looking back across Maroon Lake (toward where you enter Maroon Bells) from the Crater Lake Trail

Crater Lake itself isn’t all that impressive. It’s really just a pond created from snowmelt. However, the views on the way to the lake and at the lake are amazing.

The Crater Lake trail is described as having a “rocky ascent,” and they’re not lying. It’s not one of those trails where you encounter a rock here and there; the trail is more rock than not. Here’s a look at the trail:

Crater Lake Trail
Crater Lake Trail

Want to take the kids?

For those of you who will have the kids in tow and are wondering if they can do this trail, the answer is maybe. I counted about half a dozen kids on the trail, most who looked to be 10-12. I did spot one particularly young child, so I asked her mom how old she was: five. However, her mom pointed out she’s been hiking since she was old enough to walk.

If your kids aren’t used to hiking (and you don’t want to carry them like I saw one dad doing), I’d say stick to the easy trail around the lake where the buses let you out. If they have some hiking experience, or are athletic and adventurous, they could probably do it. There are plenty of places for the young (and me!) and the old to stop and sit on a rock for awhile to take a break from the hike.

Window shopping in Aspen

After our hike, we headed into Aspen for a late lunch. We grabbed a $10 happy hour pizza from Brunelleschi’s, and then we did a little window shopping and popped into a few local art galleries. Easy town to walk around, and there are plenty of shops and restaurants.

Having spent most of our previous trips in Colorado in Winter Park and Breckenridge, I did notice Aspen has higher-end options (like Louis Vuitton and Ralph Lauren) for shopping. The restaurant prices also seemed a bit steeper. I definitely got the feeling that a different type of traveler frequents Aspen than Winter Park or Breckenridge. Nothing good or bad about that, they just cater to different crowds.

Overall, the day trip over to Aspen was definitely worth it if for no other reason than the access to Maroon Bells. If you have the opportunity to take Independence Pass, do it (although note that it’s generally only open from Memorial Day to sometime in October).

Get the Photo - Continental Divide on Independence Pass

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