Our trip to Aspen, Colorado
And then there’s Aspen, Colorado … A place we were warned not to go to by Americans. And by many fellow travelers. ‘Because it’s expensive, overrated and busy. Overrun with rich people and their massive houses and without space for the budget traveler.’ That’s what we were told by various people. And yet we still wanted to go. Why? It was just a gut feeling. By now, after almost 14 years of traveling together, we’ve learned that those gut feelings sometimes do have a meaning. In this case, listening was the right decision. So off we went. We’d heard great stories about seeing and hiking to Maroon Bells, so we just did not want to let the opportunity pass for a visit to those famous mountains.
Arrival in Aspen was impressive, there’s no doubt about that. We came from Mueller State Park and drove over Independence Pass, which had just been opened the weekend before. It’s among the highest mountain passes in the US (at 3.687 m above sealevel) and well known for its natural beauty. Thick layers of snow still covered most of the land and from being in flip flop weather back in Denver 24 hours earlier, we drove right into the cold and snow. Even our head started aching for a bit as we reached the high altitude, where we stopped for a quick walk through the snow, the first snow of this trip! On the way down into Aspen we visited the Ice Caves and made a short hike there. There still was quite a bit of snow left so I’m not sure if the hike was as good as we though it should have been, but it was a nice little stop nonetheless.
We found that affordable accommodation is hard to find, especially in Aspen. We didn’t find a campsite we liked as we didn’t want to be stuck between RV’s so we decided to treat ourselves to a hotel instead. We booked the St. Moritz Lodge which proved to be a good choice. It was not too expensive and the staff was very friendly. It was also pretty close to downtown Aspen as well, so we think it was pretty good value for money. Alternatively, check more price and availability for your stay in Aspen here.
Biking to Maroon Bells
We just had one free day in Aspen so we planned on biking and hiking to Maroon Bells, which are the most photographed mountain peaks in the United States. While planning, we came across this site which we found incredibly useful. It tells you all about when the road is open, how to get there and also about the fee you will have to pay. However, we were somewhat confused if we could make it over to Maroon Bells because of snow conditions. Various sources told us that the road up there would be open but that the hiking trails would still be closed, others told us that we’d end up in knee deep snow and another guy told us there should be no problem at all and we should just get out there. In order not to get too disappointed if hiking wouldn’t be possible, we decided to rent bikes and cycle up to Maroon Bells so we’d still get some exercise. This is what we read about it in Lonely Planet:
According to the Aspen cycling gurus, the most iconic road-bike ride in Aspen is the ride to Maroon Bells, mainly because it climbs a lung-wrenching 11 miles to the foot of one of the most picturesque wilderness areas in the Rockies. Most folks drive it or take the bus but if you crave sweet, beautiful pain, let your quads sing.
We found ourselves a bike shop in downtown Aspen and started cycling around 10 am. Cycling through downtown was fun yet strange because in The Netherlands we are used to having bike lanes everywhere, here in Aspen however we had no idea if we should share the road with the other traffic (mainly buses and trucks) or cycle on the pavement (our choice). Once we were out of town we hit the mountain road leading up to Maroon Bells. Martijn is a skillful cyclist and had no difficulty whatsoever with it but for me (who is just cycling to work daily and occasionally takes a spinning class at the gym) it was hard work. It was hot, the sun was burning on my skin and my legs were killing me after going nowhere but up for two hours. Each time I got around another corner I was hoping to see Maroon Bells within view. Finally, they came into sight and not much later, we were there. Getting to the parking lot at the end of the road lot was heaven and I felt super accomplished that I made it all the way up.
Hiking to Maroon Bells
We were a bit afraid we’d see herds of people but actually it wasn’t too bad. After cooling down and drowning ourselves in water, we locked our bikes and started hiking to Maroon Bells. We didn’t see any snow at all and asked people about the trail conditions but as it turned out, there was barely any snow left, just a few patches here and there. This made us realize that nobody in town really knew about the situation so we were happy we listened to our gut feeling instead. From the parking lot it’s a short trek only along the shores of the lake towards the best view. We’d recommend hiking all the way up to Crater Lake for an even better view of the mountains. We just loved it and the hike wasn’t too hard. There was a bit of snow left here and there but if you are in good shape, you can definitely do that. It’s a 5 km (3.5 mile) return hike. There weren’t too many people up there so early June is perfect for hiking and it turned out to be the most rewarding view. Hiking to Maroon Bells is a must if you are visiting Aspen!
Oh yes, we would have loved to linger here a bit longer but we needed to get back to town to bring back our bikes. Easy ride, in our case, the only way was down this time! Just before closing time we delivered our bikes back to the shop and when the old man behind the counter asked me, I couldn’t help but smile and say ‘well, that as one hell of a sweet ride’.
Maroon Bells are among the most photographed mountains in all of North America. Therefore it will get crowded in the summer and after the road up to the mountains has opened (usually somewhere mid-May) it will only be open for a month or so for motorized vehicles. After this, the only option to get here is by non-motorized vehicle or by bus. Check this site for more information and timetables.
Hiking to Maroon Bells is easy. We did the Crater Lake hike, a moderate 1.8 mile long walk (one way). It will probably take you about 1.5 hours to get up there from the parking lot. It’s the perfect place for a lunch or pick nick. If you’re not up to hiking such a distance, driving up to Maroon Bells will still be worth it, the lakeside trail is easy and will still get you stunning shots of Maroon Bells.
If you are planning on biking to Maroon Bells and renting a bike, ask around in town for the best deals. We got poor quality bikes and won’t recommend the provider here. After returning them and saying that we thought they were pretty poor, the guy just looked at us if we were crazy. He probably didn’t know we are from Holland where bikes are a big part of your life. Oh well, we made it up, we made it down. Safe and sound and that was eventually all the matters.
Have you been to Aspen? Would you rather go biking or hiking to Maroon Bells? Or to both, like we did?
Want to read more about our Colorado posts? You may also enjoy these:
– The best (short) hikes in Colorado
– Must-do’s in Colorado for outdoor fans
– Camping in Mueller State Park: a must-do for outdoor fans
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