I was recently up in the Aspen area for a fishing trip up the Fryingpan. I decided to get up extra early one morning and hike to the Maroon Bells. I beat the sunrise hoping to see the light hit the mountain tops and while I didn’t quite get what I was hoping for, what I did see was worth the trip. On the drive in, seeing the sunrise hit the mountains is really awesome. The mountains turn a warm shade of orange against the deep blue/purple of the early morning sky. Unfortunately the clouds rolled in soon after so by the time I was hiking everything was muted by cloud cover.
Driving up to the Maroon Bells has a lot of restrictions based on dates, times, and the number of people in your vehicle. Generally you have to take a bus up but getting there before 8am meant for $10 I could drive right up to the trail head. The parking lot was surprisingly full at 6am when I got up there. There are a few trails heading off into different directions but if you want to hike up to crater lake, the primary trail is well marked and fairly obvious.
There were quite a few people there talking, taking photos, and hiking so it wasn’t quite the peaceful early morning hike I had expected. It was very pretty nonetheless. There’s a very easy trail that brings you to the lowest lake. This is where most people hang out. Hiking around that lake and further on brings you to crater lake a few miles later. There aren’t many views on the trail itself, though walking through the mature aspens is quite nice and I imagine it would be beautiful when the leaves turn.
Toward the top the trail gets a bit more rocky and uneven, but in general the whole hike is fairly easy. When I got to crater lake, I was one of the first hikers there, though there are campsites around the lake so there were a few people already there having their camp breakfasts and packing up. In general the reward for such a short hike is pretty great and the toughest part is getting up before dawn. I imagine going in later in the day would be quite crowded and maybe still worth it if you don’t mind all the people.