If you've seen anyone's attempt at Ansel Adams-style travel photographs of Colorado's mountains, then you've seen the Maroon Bells, which are the highlights of a 300-square mile golden wilderness area made of glacial valleys, intrepid mountains – and the meadows, creeks, and forests that surround them. Just a short drive southwest of Aspen, the two celebrated peaks, which reflect in the glacial lake at their bases, reside in the Rockies' Elk Mountains. Measuring over 14,000 feet tall, they're pretty dangerous to climb, composed of unstable mudstone as opposed to the granite and limestone of other Rockies peaks. But that's what gives the Bells their subtle maroon color, which can be seen from a distance, especially in summer, even if they still enjoy a covering of snow on the warmest days of the year.
For hikers, we recommend the 1.5-mile Maroon Lake Scenic Trail, which will take you into an Aspen tree forest and past the rushing creek, where you might see deer and curious marmots. For unadulterated views of the bells, you can hike the longer Maroon Creek trails. More experienced hikers may go for the Crater Lake trail, which is longer and more taxing, but we once saw elk here, and our cameras returned home full. There are over 100 miles of footpaths around the bells, and it's impossible to explore all of them in a day, but it's a fantastic day trip from anything in and around Aspen – the music festival, rodeo, great river rafting, and celebrated restaurants. Just don't only take black-and-white pictures hoping to trick your friends into thinking you've become a celebrated nature photographer. The colors, especially in summer, are what bring this wondrous natural area to life, and there's no need to add levels of purported art to a classic.
More Information: The Maroon Bells are open for the season as of April 20, 2012. For travel information from Aspen, Snowmass, or Downvalley, visit stayaspensnowmass.com.