Shelf Lake Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park

You won't find the cascades of Shelf Lake Falls on the map. This tiered, shelf waterfall is hidden away in the high country above Glacier Gorge in Rocky Mountain National Park. Shelf Lake Falls flows out of Solitude Lake then into a creek that spills over the rock shelves of the falls, cutting strange formations out of the snow and ice that often remain into late Summer.

Trail Snapshot: Shelf Lake Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park

The journey to Shelf Lake and Shelf Lake Falls follows an out-of-the-way, unmaintained trail, and is a very demanding hike. The hike is best suited for those who have experience navigating off-trail in the backcountry. Because this is a destination page, it does not include trail details. See the Shelf Lake Trail profile for a more detailed description and photos of this hike into the high country of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Tips & Resources for Hiking to Shelf Lake Falls in Glacier Gorge RMNP

  • Start Very Early: Because this hike is so demanding, and because thunderstorms jet through Glacier Gorge on many summer days, it's wise to begin the journey early in the morning.
  • Parking: If the parking lot is full at Glacier Gorge Trailhead, there is a shuttle available to take you to the trailhead, or you can park at the Bear Lake Trailhead.
  • Bring Food: My legs were shot after hiking back to the main trail, and my energy was waning. I had packed a few snacks, but wish I had packed more. So, bring something to give you an energy boost for your hike back to the Glacier Gorge Trailhead.
  • Trekking Poles: Trekking poles proved really helpful, especially in navigating the descent.
  • Recommended Map for Rocky Mountain National Park: The trail maps provided by Rocky Mountain National Park are usually sufficient. However, if you plan to hike RMNP often, we recommend purchasing a National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map.
  • Packing List: Always pack the 10 Essentials. Download our Hiking Guide to get list and dayhiking packing checklist.
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • After the Hike: Inkwell & Brew Coffee

shelf lake falls rocky mountain national park below

Weather

Map & Driving Directions


Click for Driving Directions

ouzel falls waterfall in rocky mountain national park wild basin hike with text overlay explore more hikes in rocky mountain national park


shelf lake rocky mountain national park header

Shelf Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

This demanding hike in Rocky Mountain National Park takes you off the beaten path to two high-mountain lakes, and grants views of several waterfalls along the way. This trail profile provides helpful details for making the journey to Shelf Lake, Shelf Lake Falls, and Solitude Lake. Because the hike to Shelf Lake requires travel on unmaintained trails, it is best suited for more experienced hikers who are familiar with Rocky Mountain National Park, and who are have honed their land navigation skills. Explore the full Shelf Lake hike profile below for trail map, driving directions, and all the details you need to enjoy this adventure in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Trail Snapshot: Shelf Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

The Hike to Shelf Lake RMNP

Shelf Lake sits high above Glacier Gorge, nested in a cirque between Thatchtop and McHenrys Peak. The journey begins at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead. However, the Bear Lake Trailhead--which has more parking--affords access to the Glacier Gorge Trail system, adding approximately .1 mile jaunt. The first scenic point along the trail, Alberta Falls, is found at .8 mile in. The trail leads to Mills Lake (at 2.8 miles). Here you'll gain breathtaking views of Longs Peak and the Keyboard of the Winds. The trail skirts the east side of Mills Lake, and makes its way past Jewel Lake.

shelf lake rocky mountain national park trailhead

Soon, you'll come to a fork in the trail with a sign that reads Glacier Gorge campsite, and Black Lake 1.2 miles. The Glacier Gorge Campsite is probably the best site in the entire park and to reserve it, you will have to call the backcountry office as soon as their season opens for reservations. I've spent several months in the park over the years, and this site is unrivaled. However, the trail up to Shelf Lake requires hikers to continue on the main trail, the one that leads towards Black Lake.

Past the sign, the trails climbs a set of stairs and eventually, after approximately 1/4 mile, emerges into an area that is full of downed trees from what appears to have been an avalanche many years ago. If you keep your ears and eyes peeled, you'll see Shelf Creek Falls spilling out into a couple segments of waterfalls up along the cliffs and trees below Arrowhead (see photo below). The hike up to Shelf Lake will afford more views of these falls.

shelf lake rocky mountain national park arrowhead

The unmaintained social trail is located across glacier creek, to the right (West) and can be difficult to find. After a short buschwack across a marshy area to Glacier Creek, a natural crossing point should come into view. Hikers should find two large, flat rocks (pictured below). This has been named, Helicopter Rock. Other crossing points are not advised as the gap widens and the current of Glacier Creek can be swift and very cold.

shelf lake rocky mountain national park trail crossing

On the other side of the creek, the real work begins. The trail is marked--at times--by cairns, but it's often a route-finding puzzle. My rule of thumb is always to avoid anything steep and/or slippery. There is also a TON of deadfall along the trail, which adds further need for caution and slows progress. About half of the way up, you'll encounter another waterfall, Shelf Creek Falls, as the trail bends again toward Shelf Creek.

The last half mile is demanding, hiking around 1000 vertical feet up to Shelf Lake. Don't forget to stop, breath, and take in the views of Glacier Gorge. At this point, hikers are truly in the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park.

shelf lake rocky mountain national park view into glacier gorge

View into Glacier Gorge and Keyboard of the Winds before Reaching Shelf Lake

At Shelf Lake, you'll hear water streaming over the shelves of rock above the lake. In the early days of Summer, the meltwater cuts beautiful formations out of the snow and ice as it cascades from Shelf Creek Falls into Shelf Lake. View the video below to see it.

You've hiked this far, so it would be a shame to miss Solitude Lake which is a short hike further above Shelf Lake. The wildflowers between the two lakes are outstanding!

A final reminder: This hike is not on maintained trails, is a long hike, and demanding. Hikers should be familiar with RMNP and developed the skills needed for backcountry travel. If you are looking for a demanding hike on maintained trails in Rocky Mountain National Park, we would recommend exploring trail profiles for Sky Pond and Black Lake.

elk bedded down in tall grasses of moraine park in rocky mountain national park hike with text overlay explore more hikes in rocky mountain national park

Tips & Resources for Hiking to Shelf Lake in Glacier Gorge RMNP

  • Start Very Early: Because this hike is so demanding, and because thunderstorms jet through Glacier Gorge on many summer days, it's wise to begin the journey early in the morning.
  • Parking: If the parking lot is full at Glacier Gorge Trailhead, there is a shuttle available to take you to the trailhead, or you can park at the Bear Lake Trailhead.
  • Bring Food: My legs were shot after hiking back to the main trail, and my energy was waning. I had packed a few snacks, but wish I had packed more. So, bring something to give you an energy boost for your hike back to the Glacier Gorge Trailhead.
  • Trekking Poles: Trekking poles proved really helpful, especially in navigating the descent.
  • Recommended Map for Rocky Mountain National Park: The trail maps provided by Rocky Mountain National Park are usually sufficient. However, if you plan to hike RMNP often, we recommend purchasing a National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map.
  • Packing List: Always pack the 10 Essentials. Download our Hiking Guide to get list and dayhiking packing checklist.
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • After the Hike: Inkwell & Brew Coffee

Weather

Map & Driving Directions


Click for Driving Directions

ouzel falls waterfall in rocky mountain national park wild basin hike with text overlay explore more hikes in rocky mountain national park


black lake rocky mountain national park header

Black Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Black Lake is among the most spectacular lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park. The journey to Black Lake is a strenuous, 10 mile, round-trip hike with significant elevation gain--but both the destination of Black Lake and the several waterfalls along the way make it more than worth the effort. Explore the full Black Lake hiking trail profile for trail map, driving directions, and all the details you need to enjoy this adventure in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Trail Snapshot: Black Lake Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park

Parking & Trailhead Information for Black Lake RMNP, Colorado

The trail to Black Lake begins at either the Glacier Gorge Trailhead (see driving directions above), or at the Bear Lake Trailhead (driving directions). Because the Glacier Gorge Trailhead has more limited parking, you may need to drive further up to Bear Lake. There you'll find a short connector trail that will put you on the path to the Glacier Gorge Trail system. In the event that parking at Bear Lake is full, you'll then need to park at the Park & Ride near the Bierstadt Trailhead and take the bus into the trailhead. This service runs 7am to 7PM and more information on the RMNP shuttle bus routes can be found at this link.

The Hike to Black Lake RMNP

Hiking to Black Lake takes you into the Glacier Gorge Trail system with many wonderful destinations including Mills Lake, Jewel Lake, and Ribbon Falls. Be sure to review the different waypoints and destinations below so that you don't miss any of the sites. The first destination--and one you can't miss because it's right along the trail--is at .8 miles, Alberta Falls. After the waterfall, the trail ascends toward an eventual trail junction. The way to Black Lake is to follow the Glacier Gorge/Loch Vale trail that bears right. This trail climbs steadily for about another half mile until arriving at a second major trail junction with three options. The left-hand trail leads into Glacier Gorge and eventually to Mills Lake.

mills lake rocky mountain national park steve bratman creative commons

Morning Light at Mills Lake in the Early Spring - Courtesy of Steven Bratman

List and Links of Destinations From Glacier Gorge Trailhead to Black Lake

1. Glacier Gorge Trailhead
2. Alberta Falls - @ .8 mile
3. Mills Lake - @ 2.8 miles
4. Jewel Lake - @ 3.2 miles
5. Ribbon Falls - @ 4.8 miles
6. Black Lake - @ 5 miles

At Mills Lake, the trail follows its eastern shore for about 1/2 a mile until arriving at Jewel Lake, a much smaller body of water surrounded by lush green marshes. The next segment of the trail is my favorite, a challenging stretch of approximately 2 miles that leads hikers across bogs, and through verdant forest where the snow hangs on well into the summer months. In fact, this stretch may prove very difficult in the spring and early weeks of June depending on that year's weather. The trail continues to follow Glacier Creek up into the higher reaches of the park and ever closer to Keyboard of the Winds, the jagged rock formation ever present against the eastern sky.

Keyboard of the Winds is named for the sounds that flow from it's sharp edges as high winds whistle and roar across its peaks. Be sure to stop and listen for the music. It can be a mesmerizing experience.

If snow is still on the ground, then the last bit of the trail may require some basic route finding. The established trail skirts the left/east side of Black Lake, but can at times be hard to find. Stay close to the creek and you should be okay. Soon, hikers will encounter Ribbon Falls, a beautiful slide waterfall. Black Lake is just .2 mile further up the trail. This final segment is steep and requires negotiating some rocks and boulders before coming over the rise to gain breathtaking views of Black Lake.

ouzel falls waterfall in rocky mountain national park wild basin hike with text overlay explore more hikes in rocky mountain national park

Tips & Resources for Hiking Black Lake in Glacier Gorge RMNP :

  • Start Early: The hike to Black Lake is challenging and hikers will want to begin early to avoid being in this exposed area when afternoon thunderstorms often tear through the area in Summer.
  • Trekking Poles in Spring and Winter: Because the trail is high in the mountains, the snow and ice can hang around into late Spring and even early Summer, then pick up again in the Fall. Because of this, we recommend Trekking Poles and/or Traction Devices for this trail when the trail conditions are such.
  • Parking: If the parking lot is full at Glacier Gorge Trailhead, there is a shuttle available to take you to the trailhead, or you can park at the Bear Lake Trailhead.
  • Rocky Mountain National Park Trail Conditions: Click for RMNP Trail Conditions
  • Trail Map for Bear Lake Corridor Trails: Trail Map Link
  • Rain Gear Recommended: On every occasion I've been into Glacier Gorge, it's been gorgeous weather--and it rained. So, bring Rain gear. In the summer months, thunderstorms can form quickly in this area, especially in the afternoon--just another reason to begin your hike early.
  • Packing List: Always pack the 10 Essentials. Download our Hiking Guide to get list and dayhiking packing checklist.
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • After the Hike: Inkwell Brew Coffee
  • Photo: We would like to express our gratitude to Erik Page for sharing such an amazing photograph of this hike.

Weather

Map & Driving Directions


Click for Driving Directions

above bear lake in rmnp looking to glacier gorge colorado hike finder


jewel lake in rocky mountain national park lake in foreground with morning light breaking onto mountain in middle ground and tall grey craggy mountain in background

Jewel Lake Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

Jewel Lake is a 6.4 mile round-trip hike into Glacier Gorge in Rocky Mountain National Park. This hike in RMNP takes you first past stunning Mills Lake. Less than half a mile beyond Mills you'll discover Jewel Lake under the shadow of the jagged eastern ridge known as Keyboard of the Winds. Explore the full Jewel Lake hiking trail profile below for trail map, driving directions, and all the details you need to enjoy this adventure in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Trail Snapshot: Jewel Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Parking & Trailhead Information for Jewel Lake RMNP, Colorado

The trail to Jewel Lake begins at either the Glacier Gorge Trailhead (see driving directions above), or at the Bear Lake Trailhead (driving directions). Because the Glacier Gorge Trailhead has more limited parking, you may need to drive further up to Bear Lake. There you'll find a short connector trail that will put you on the path to the Glacier Gorge Trail system. In the event that parking at Bear Lake is full, you'll then need to park at the Park & Ride near the Bierstadt Trailhead and take the bus into the trailhead. This service runs 7am to 7PM and more information on the RMNP shuttle bus routes can be found at this link.

alberta-falls-haiyaha-loop-waterfall

Alberta Falls - Just .8 mile up the trail on your way to Jewel Lake

The Hike to Jewel Lake RMNP

Hiking to Jewel Lake takes you into the Glacier Gorge Trail system with many wonderful destinations including Mills Lake and Ribbon Falls. Be sure to review the different RMNP destinations below to know your options. The first destination--and one you can't miss because it's right along the trail--is at .8 miles, Alberta Falls. After the waterfall, the trail ascends toward an eventual trail junction. The way to Jewel Lake is to follow the Glacier Gorge/Loch Vale trail that bears right. This trail climbs steadily for about another half mile until arriving at a second major trail junction with three options. The left-hand trail leads into Glacier Gorge and eventually to Jewel Lake.

List and Links of Destinations From Glacier Gorge Trailhead to Black Lake

1. Glacier Gorge Trailhead
2. Alberta Falls - @ .8 mile
3. Mills Lake - @ 2.8 miles
4. Jewel Lake - @ 3.2 miles
5. Ribbon Falls - @ 4.8 miles
6. Black Lake - @ 5 miles

01-footbridge-jewel-lake-rocky-mountain-national-park-header
Footbridge Across Glacier Creek on the Way to Jewel Lake

At 2.8 miles, hikers will arrive at the edge of Mills Lake. Mills is much larger, and the path to Jewel Lake skirts its eastern shoreline for about 1/2 a mile.

mills-lake-shrouded-in-mist-rmnp

Mills Lake, Shrouded in the Mists of an Afternoon Rainstorm
Jewel Lake is surrounded by extensive marshes, that have a green beauty of their own. Because the foot traffic dies off quite a bit when past Mills Lake, you'll likely find Jewel a quieter spot for a picnic and a good place to fish for brook trout.

elk bedded down in tall grasses of moraine park in rocky mountain national park hike with text overlay explore more hikes in rocky mountain national park

Tips & Resources for Hiking Jewel Lake in Glacier Gorge RMNP :

  • A Favorite Spot: I've had the chance to spend many weeks backpacking in RMNP, and the Glacier Gorge campsite that is just beyond Jewel Lake is one of the best in the Park. It must be reserved, and only those who call into the backcountry office early in the season get the chance to book it.
  • Parking: As always, go early. If the parking lot is full at Glacier Gorge Trailhead, there is a shuttle available to take you to the trailhead, or you can park at the Bear Lake Trailhead.
  • Rocky Mountain National Park Trail Conditions: Click for RMNP Trail Conditions
  • Trail Map for Bear Lake Corridor: Trail Map Link
  • Rain Gear Recommended: On every occasion I've been into Glacier Gorge, it's been gorgeous weather--and it rained. So, bring Rain gear. In the summer months, thunderstorms can form quickly in this area, especially in the afternoon.
  • Packing List: Always pack the 10 Essentials. Download our Hiking Guide to get list and dayhiking packing checklist.
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • After the Hike: Inkwell Brew Coffee
  • Photo: We would like to express our gratitude to J. Gempler for sharing such an amazing photograph of this hike to Jewel Lake RMNP.

Weather

Map & Driving Directions


Click for Driving Directions

ouzel falls waterfall in rocky mountain national park wild basin hike with text overlay explore more hikes in rocky mountain national park


reflection of keyboard of the winds in mills lake in rocky mountain national park

Mills Lake Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

The hike up to Mills Lake is a steady, uphill, 5.6 mile trek into the breathtaking Glacier Gorge trail system of Rocky Mountain National Park. You'll be entranced by spectacular views of mountain ridges, rugged peaks, and the color of wildflowers along the trail. Glacier Gorge provides surprises at almost every turn. Explore the full Mills Lake hike profile below for trail map, driving directions, and all the details you need to enjoy this adventure in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Trail Snapshot: Mills Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Parking & Trailhead Information for Mills Lake RMNP

The trail up to Mills begins at either the Glacier Gorge Trailhead (see driving directions above), or at the Bear Lake Trailhead (driving directions). Because the Glacier Gorge Trailhead has more limited parking, you may need to drive further up to Bear Lake. There you'll find a short connector trail that will put you on the path to the Glacier Gorge Trail system. In the event that parking at Bear Lake is full, you'll then need to park at the Park & Ride near the Bierstadt Trailhead and take the bus into the trailhead. This service runs 7am to 7PM and more information on the RMNP shuttle bus routes can be found at this link.

alberta-falls-haiyaha-loop-hike-ben-cash-creative-commons

Alberta Falls - Courtesy of Bert Cash

The Hike to Mills Lake RMNP

The first destination--and one you can't miss because it's right along the trail--is at .8 miles, Alberta Falls. After the waterfall, the trail climbs toward an eventual trail junction. The way to Mills Lake is to follow the Glacier Gorge/Loch Vale trail that bears right. This trail ascends for about another half mile to a second major trail junction with three options. The left-hand trail leads into Glacier Gorge and to Mills Lake.

mills-lake-shrouded-in-mist-rmnp

Mills Lake, Shrouded in the Mists of an Afternoon Rainstorm

Mills Lake is one of the fishable lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park. The lake is known to contain rainbow trout, brook trout, and Greenback cutthroats. Most of the high mountain lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park are not completely thawed and warmed up until mid-summer. As a result, you may experience--like I have--some pretty lethargic fish at Mills in the early days of summer.

Photographers will find Mills Lake an equally perfect place to make that big catch. The lake, in the early morning hours, can be placid enough to reflect the backdrop of the beautiful east ridge of Glacier Gorge that has been named, the Keyboard of the Winds.

glacier-gorge-columbines-near-mills-lake

A Bunch of Columbine Growing Trailside Near Mills Lake

above bear lake in rmnp looking to glacier gorge colorado hike finder

Tips & Resources for Hiking Mills Lake RMNP :

  • Bugs: You might need a bug spray in the summer months when the mosquitos multiply.
  • Parking Tip: If the parking lot is full at Glacier Gorge Trailhead, there is a shuttle available to take you to the trailhead, or you can park at the Bear Lake Trailhead.
  • Rain Gear Recommended: On every occasion I've been into Glacier Gorge, it's been gorgeous weather--and it rained. So, bring Rain gear. In the summer months, thunderstorms can form quickly in this area, especially in the afternoon.
  • Packing List: Always pack the 10 Essentials. Download our Hiking Guide to get list and dayhiking packing checklist.
  • Rocky Mountain National Park Trail Conditions: Click for RMNP Trail Conditions
  • Trail Map for Bear Lake Corridor: Trail Map Link
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • Photo: We would like to express our gratitude to Steve Bratman for sharing such an amazing photograph of this hike.
  • After the Hike: Inkwell Brew Coffee

Weather

Map & Driving Directions


Click for Driving Directions


dream lake at sunrise in rocky mountain national park with mountain face of hallett peak in background

Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

The hike to Dream Lake is one of the popular destination hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park--and for good reason. In the early morning hours, Dream Lake is a vision straight out of a fairy tale. This 2.2-mile, out-and-back hike begins at the Bear Lake trailhead, and passes Nymph Lake along the way. Explore the full Dream Lake hike profile below for trail map, driving directions, and all the details you need to enjoy this Colorado adventure.

Trail Snapshot: Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Parking & Trailhead Information for Dream Lake:

The trail up to Dream Lake begins at the Bear Lake Trailhead (driving directions).In the event that parking lot at Bear Lake is full, you'll then need to park at the Park & Ride near the Bierstadt Trailhead and take the bus into the trailhead. This service runs 7am to 7PM and more information on the RMNP shuttle bus routes can be found at this link. The trail to Dream Lake is located on your way to Bear Lake, off to the left, just before reaching the shore viewing area of Bear Lake.

The trail to Dream Lake is paved for the first half mile. The path was surfaced to deal with the erosion caused by the heavy foot traffic, and is not considered handicap accessible. After visiting the lily pad-laden Nymph Lake, the trail becomes a dirt path and begins a gentle climb towards Dream Lake. For a short stint the trail becomes more steep and demanding. On the way up, hikers will gain views of a vast landscape featuring the Keyboard of the Winds in Glacier Gorge and Longs Peak looming over everything but the distant sky.

Just before reaching Dream Lake, the trail splits. The trail to the left takes hikers to Lake Haiyaha and the trail to the right leads to Dream Lake. Dream Lake, with the beautiful backdrop of Hallet Peak, is one of the most photographed scenes in Rocky Mountain National Park. At daybreak, light from the east illuminates the stone face and crags of Hallet, and Dream Lake returns the favor by mirroring its image in her waters.

List and Links of Destinations From Bear Lake to Emerald Lake

  1. Bear Lake
  2. Nymph Lake - @ .5 miles
  3. Dream Lake - @ 1.1 miles
  4. Emerald Lake -@ 1.8 miles

Tips & Resources for Hiking to Dream Lake:

Weather

Map & Driving Directions


Click for Driving Directions

baby mountain goat on mount evans colorado more easy hikes


jagged rock with green lake of sky pond snow fields and sun behind clouds sky pond hike in rocky mountain national park

Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park

Situated above Timberline Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park are two spectacular lakes. The highest of the two is Sky Pond, and the lower is called The Lake of Glass. This demanding hike begins at the Glacier Gorge trailhead and takes you past at least three waterfalls and a beautiful set of cascades. Rewards await those who hike all the way up to Sky Pond. Explore our Sky Pond trail profile below for trail details, driving directions, maps, and more.

Trail Snapshot: Sky Pond Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

Sky Pond Directions & Trailhead Information

The trail up to Sky Pond begins at either the Glacier Gorge Trailhead (see driving directions above), or at the Bear Lake Trailhead (driving directions). Because the Glacier Gorge Trailhead has a much smaller lot, you may need to drive further up to Bear Lake. There you'll find a short connector trail that will put you on the path down and over to the Glacier Gorge Trail system. In the event that parking at Bear Lake is full, you'll then need to park at the Park & Ride near the Bierstadt Trailhead and take the bus into the trailhead. This service runs 7am to 7PM and more information on the RMNP shuttle bus routes can be found at this link.

creek below timberline falls

Hike to Sky Pond and Lake of Glass

The first destination that you can't and don't want to miss is at .8 miles, Alberta Falls. The trail then climbs toward an eventual trail junction. The way to the Sky Pond is to follow the Glacier Gorge/Loch Vale trail that bears right and ascends for about another .5 mile to the next trail junction. At this second junction, the middle of the three trails leads onto the Loch Vale Trail, and up to the Loch, Timberline Falls, and eventually beyond to Sky Pond. Pictured Above: Creek between the Loch and Timberline Falls.

At Timberline Falls, the trail up to Lake of Glass and Sky Pond is a steep scramble to the right-side of the waterfall. Be aware, the rock may be slick and this area is very steep. Hikers should have good footwear, and may need to be patient for those who are descending this section of the trail. In most of this segment, there is only room for one hiker at a time to safely negotiate the scramble. Many hikers will find the descent of this short portion of the trail more difficult than the way up.

The first lake, Lake of Glass, is only about a quarter-mile beyond Timberline Falls. Many stop here thinking that it's Sky Pond--but it's not. From this vantage point, it's hard to imagine that there is more. However, approximately another quarter-mile will lead to Sky Pond, which is twice the size of Lake of Glass. There is a waterfall hidden just below the Lake of Glass. See our trail profile for this waterfall for details. Pictured below: The Sharks Tooth at Sky Pond.

sharks tooth and sky pond

Sky Pond is surrounded by fields of columbines and other wildflowers. A small shelf waterfall spills out of Sky Pond (pictured below), and a marsh between the two lakes is the home to a beautiful collection of marsh marigolds. From the southwestern shores of Sky Pond, there are incredible views of Petit Grepon, the Sabre, and Sharkstooth--three prominent peaks that surround this high mountain lake.

cascade between sky and lake of glass

List and Links of Destinations Along the Loch Vale Trail

1. Alberta Falls - @ .8

2. The Loch - @ 2.7 miles

3. Timberline Falls - @ 4 miles

4. Lake of Glass & Waterfall -@ 4.2 miles

5. Sky Pond - @ 4.6 miles

sky pond in rocky mountain national park header

Tips & Resources for Trail to Sky Pond & Lake of Glass in RMNP :

  • You Might Miss it: Lots of people stop at Lake of Glass and think they have made it to Sky Pond. It's not much further, but it is hidden because of the elevation difference.
  • Get There Early: There are two important reasons to begin your hikes early in the morning in Rocky Mountain National 1)The trail head parking lots fill up early, and 2) in the Summer months, thunderstorms will form in the early afternoon.
  • Trail Map for Bear Lake Corridor: Trail Map Link
  • Recommended Map for Rocky Mountain National Park: The trail maps provided by Rocky Mountain National Park are usually sufficient. However, if you plan to hike RMNP often, we recommend purchasing a National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map.
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • Photo: We would like to express our gratitude to Steven Bratman for sharing such an amazing photograph of this hike.
  • After the Hike: Inkwell Brew Coffee

Weather

Map & Driving Directions


Click for Driving Directions

above bear lake in rmnp looking to glacier gorge colorado hike finder


the loch rocky mountain national park header

The Loch in Rocky Mountain National Park

If lakes are your favorite destination, then the hike to The Loch should be added to your trail list in Rocky Mountain National Park. It is a moderately difficult hike on the eastern side of the park where you can hike along the edge of the lake, fish for trout, or come early in the morning to photograph the iconic scenery in Loch Vale. Explore the full trail profile below for driving directions to the trailhead, trail map, and other destinations that can be added to the hike.

The Loch is the Gaelic name given to this lake, the major destination along the Loch Vale trail and the source of Icy Brook, the stream that spills from its eastern edge. Because of it's beauty and the wide variety of vantage points for outstanding scenery, the Loch is popular with photographers. We've found it to be a perfect hike to a tranquil spot to take in the views and enjoy a picnic lunch.

Trail Snapshot: The Loch in Rocky Mountain National Park

Parking & Trailhead Information

The trail to the Loch, and the destinations beyond, begins at either the Glacier Gorge Trailhead (see driving directions above), or at the Bear Lake Trailhead (driving directions). Because the Glacier Gorge Trailhead has a much smaller lot, you may need to drive further up to Bear Lake. There you'll find a short connector trail that will put you on the path down and over to the Glacier Gorge Trail system. In the event that parking at Bear Lake is full, you'll then need to park at the Park & Ride near the Bierstadt Trailhead and take the bus into the trailhead. This service runs 7am to 7PM and more information on the RMNP shuttle bus routes can be found at this link.

the loch alberta falls along trail

The Hike to The Loch

The first destination that you can't and don't want to miss is at .8 miles, Alberta Falls (photo above). The trail then climbs toward an eventual trail junction. The way to the Loch is to follow the Glacier Gorge/Loch Vale trail that bears right and ascends for about another .5 mile to another trail junction. At this second junction the trail to the left will take hikers to Glacier Gorge, and the trail to the right takes hikers on a jaunt to Lake Haiyaha. The middle trail leads onto the Loch Vale Trail, and up to the Loch.

the loch rocky mountain national park

Pictured Above: The Loch as seen from the heights near Timberline Falls. Take care to stay the trail as you explore the Loch. It's a heavily visited area with equally heavy impact. The Loch hosts a variety of trout: brookies, cutbows, cuthroats, and rainbows. Mayflies and Caddis flies are common hatches, and black or chernobyl ants can be a particularly good terrestrial pattern to use at the Loch. The wind can kick up along the lake, especially as the rises and warms the rock walls that surround the lake. Some areas on the southern side provide calmer waters. Photographers will find morning sunrises the best time to photograph the amazing landscape of the lake and mountains.

List and Links of Destinations Along the Loch Vale Trail

1. Alberta Falls - @ .8
2. The Loch - @ 2.7 miles
3. Timberline Falls - @ 4 miles
4. Lake of Glass -@ 4.2 miles
5. Sky Pond - @ 4.6 miles

Tips & Resources for Hiking to the Loch in RMNP:

  • Hike Further: Be sure to hike and additional approx 1.25 mile (one-way) to Timberline Falls to see one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Rocky Mountain National Park.
  • Get There Early: There are two important reasons to begin your hikes early in the morning in Rocky Mountain National 1)The trail head parking lots fill up early, and 2) in the Summer months, thunderstorms will form in the early afternoon.
  • Parking: If the parking lot is full at Glacier Gorge Trailhead, there is a shuttle available to take you to the trailhead. This service runs 7am to 7PM and more information on the RMNP shuttle bus routes can be found at this link.
  • Trail Map for Bear Lake Corridor: Trail Map Link
  • Recommended Map for Rocky Mountain National Park: The trail maps provided by Rocky Mountain National Park are usually sufficient. However, if you plan to hike RMNP often, we recommend purchasing a National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map.
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • After the Hike: Inkwell Brew Coffee

Weather

Map & Driving Directions


Click for Driving Directions

ouzel falls waterfall in rocky mountain national park wild basin hike with text overlay explore more hikes in rocky mountain national park


timberline-falls-rocky-mountain_header

Timberline Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park

Timberline Falls is a demanding 8-mile round-trip waterfall hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. The trail takes you past Alberta Falls up into beautiful Loch Vale. Beyond Timberline Falls hikers will find Lake of Glass, additional falls, and breathtaking Sky Pond.

Glacier Gorge is the home to some of the best hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park, and this waterfall hike is one of the best. Be sure to read through the trailhead and parking information below, because, in the busy season, parking fills up fast. Explore our Timberline Falls trail profile below for trail details, driving directions, maps, and more.

Trail Snapshot: Timberline Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park

Parking & Trailhead Information

The trail up to Timberline Falls begins at either the Glacier Gorge Trailhead (see driving directions above), or at the Bear Lake Trailhead (driving directions). Because the Glacier Gorge Trailhead has a much smaller lot, you may need to drive further up to Bear Lake. There you'll find a short connector trail that will put you on the path down and over to the Glacier Gorge Trail system. In the event that parking at Bear Lake is full, you'll then need to park at the Park & Ride near the Bierstadt Trailhead and take the bus into the trailhead. This service runs 7am to 7PM and more information on the RMNP shuttle bus routes can be found at this link.

The Hike to Timberline Falls

The hike up into the Glacier Gorge/Loch Vale trail system takes you past one of Rocky Mountain National Parks' most accessible waterfalls, Alberta Falls.

alberta falls rocky mountain national park

After the waterfall, the trail begins to wind up a series of switchbacks for just shy of a mile until a trail junction with the NorthLong's Peak Trail. The trail into Glacier Gorge/Loch Vale then bears right and ascends for about another .5 mile to another trail junction. The trail to the left will take hikers to Glacier Gorge, and the trail to the right takes hikers on a jaunt to Lake Haiyaha (fun to say three times fast) but this trip to Timberline Falls takes the middle trail onto the Loch Vale Trail.
02-timberline-falls-rocky-mountain-national

The path follows the path of Icy Brook through a series of longer switchbacks. The brook can be heard gushing and pouring over the rocks below, and one particular switchback there is a great view of its waters casacading through a green canyon (pictured above). At approximately 1 mile after leaving the junction, the trail opens up to more level ground at The Loch. In the distance, beyond the Loch in the west, the cliff face of the Cathedral Wall calls technical climbers to its challenging routes.

timberline-loch-rocky-mountain-national-park

The trail continues along the right side of the Loch until another trail junction beyond its western shores and deep in the the lush forest surrounding Icy Brook. The trail up to Timberline Falls, Lake of Glass, and Sky Pond is on the left, and the path to the right will take hikers into the Andrew's Creek area, one of my favorite areas of the Park. Here the trail up to Timberline Falls gets more steep, working its way up through subalpine forest of fir and spruce, the ground bejeweled with Columbine flowers. Soon you'll gain views of the falls in the distance.

01-timberline-falls-rocky-mountain-national
A series of stone stairs takes you to the base of the waterfall. In the late Spring and Early Summer, the falls cut through the winter snowpack and creates fantastic shapes out of the snow. For hikers who want to see more, a very steep and slick trail can be found to far right side of the waterfall. This leads up to the Lake of Glass, it's own waterfall, and to Sky Pond.

Video of Timberline Falls in RMNP

ouzel falls waterfall in rocky mountain national park wild basin hike with text overlay explore more hikes in rocky mountain national park

Tips & Resources for Hiking Timberline Falls :

  • More to Explore: Be sure to budget extra time to explore the lakes above Timberline Falls.
  • Parking: If the parking lot is full at Glacier Gorge Trailhead, there is a shuttle available to take you to the trailhead. See details at the the top of this trailprofile
  • Gear: Wear good boots with soles that are good for grabbing the rock if you plan to scramble up the steep trail to Lake of Glass and Sky Pond.
  • Pack a Lunch: This is a long hike and you'll certainly need water, but you'll also most likely need fuel for the journey back. Download our hiking guide for a list of great hiking food and snacks.
  • Trail Map for Bear Lake Corridor: Trail Map Link
  • Packing List: Always pack the 10 Essentials. Download our Hiking Guide to get list and dayhiking packing checklist.
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • After the Hike: Inkwell & Brew Coffee

Weather

Map & Driving Directions

Click for Driving Directions

elk bedded down in tall grasses of moraine park in rocky mountain national park hike with text overlay explore more hikes in rocky mountain national park


maroon bells reflected in crater lake near Aspen Colorado Maroon Bells Hikes

Ultimate Guide to Maroon Bells in Colorado

The Maroon Bells offer several hikes and some of the most beautiful scenery in Colorado. It's a Rocky Mountain landscape painted with cascades, lakes, golden aspens, and all against the backdrop of the peaks of the Maroon Bells. This guide to the Maroon Bells features 5 different hiking trail options, spanning from easy hikes to moderately demanding.

We've attempted to create the definitive guide to hiking from the Maroon Bells Trailhead. In this guide, you'll find: Driving directions to Maroon Bells, Trail Maps, Important Shuttle Bus information, Photography tips, Camping information for the Maroon Bells area, and Tips & Resources for planning your Colorado Vacation. This guide to Maroon Bells is extensive, so we have created a table of contents to help you navigate. Have fun exploring!

Maroon Bells Hiking Guide Contents

1. Trail Snapshot
2. Driving Directions
3. Parking & Trailhead
4. Hiking the Trail
5. Maroon Lake Trail
6. The Scenic Loop Trail
7. Maroon Creek Trail
8. The Crater Lake Trail
9. The Willow Lake Trail
10. Photography
11. Hiking with Kids
12. For Out-of-State Hikers
13. Things to Do Nearby
14. History and Geology
15. Protect Maroon Bells

Maroon Bells Hike Snapshot

Driving Directions to Maroon Bells

Because the Maroon Bells trailhead is one of the heaviest used recreation areas in the state of Colorado, there are some driving and access restrictions during the busy summer months. That's why it's important to carefully read these details before you plan your trip. There are three different sets of driving directions that you may find helpful.

maroon-bells-drive-to-maroon-lake

Directions to Maroon Bells in the Summer

From about the mid-June until early October, you can drive Maroon Creek road to the Maroon Bells trailhead before 8am and after 5pm. There is a $10 fee for driving the road, which--especially in Autumn--is one of the more beautiful drives in the country. From 8am to 5pm, visitors must take a 10-15-minute shuttle bus ride to the trailhead. The shuttle lot with free parking is located at Aspen Highlands, a local ski area (here is a link to a Google map and driving directions). However, there is a cost for the bus ride, and beginning in 2016, there a parking fee will be assessed at the Aspen Highlands lot. You can purchase your bus ticket for the Maroon Bells shuttle at Four Mountains Sports, located near the parking area at the base of the ski mountain. The best resource for shuttle information can be found at the RTF Maroon Bells Shuttle page or by calling the USFS Maroon Bells Hotline at (970) 945-3319.
If the Aspen Highlands lot is full--which happens during Summer months--or if you are in Aspen, but without a vehicle, you can take the free Castle/Maroon bus from Ruby Park in Aspen to Aspen Highlands, where can pick up the Maroon Bells shuttle (link and map for directions to Ruby Park).

There are a few exceptions to the 8am-5pm shuttle rule: 1) Handicap registered vehicles, and 2) Vehicles with 11 or more people ($3 fee per person), 3) Vehicles with children age 2 and under, 4) If you are camping at some of the Maroon Bells campsites: Silver Queen, Silver Bar, or Silver Bell, 5) If you are towing a horse trailer.

Even if you fit one of the exceptions, it's important to remember that the Aspen Highlands lots fill up during the busy summer months. Your best bet is simply to get to the trailhea early and to take in the scenery of Maroon Bells in the cool and quiet of the morning, before visitors begin to stream into the area. It's also important to note that if your plans are to backpack and camp in the Maroon-Snowmass Wilderness, you will not be given a parking exception, but will need to take the bus in from the Aspen Highlands lot during the 8am-5pm timeframe.

Another option is to cycle the 8 miles, one-way from Aspen Highlands up to the Maroon-Snowmass trailhead. There is no fee for cyclists, only vehicles. However, it's important to remember that the road is still very busy, even during the 8am-5pm hours when the driving restrictions apply. As with hiking the area, plan to bring proper gear for the frequent afternoon thunderstorms--yet another reason to go early.

Driving Out: It's important to note that if you drive in to the trailhead, you may drive out at any time.

Getting to Maroon Bells During the Rest of the Year

In Late-Spring: From when Maroon Creek road opens, which is historically mid-May, and until mid-June--when the shuttle bus service starts--you are allowed to drive the road from 8am-5pm. Of course, the access fee does apply.

Early October to Mid-November: You can drive Maroon Creek road to the trailhead any day and any time of the week. Again, the access fee applies. Historically, this has begun on Oct. 5th but this is subject to the forest service decisions and weather.

Maroon Bells During the Winter Months: Winter comes in early at this elevation and it holds on well through April. Maroon Creek road is closed during the winter months, beginning in mid-November. Until the road reopens around mid-May of each year, the trailhead is only accessible by hiking in, cross-country skis, or via snowmobile tours. Snowmobile tours can be booked through T-Lazy-7 Ranch. From the gate, the hike/ski in is about 6 miles one-way, and from Aspen Highlands, it's about 8 miles one-way.

Parking and Facilities at the Maroon Bells Trailhead

The Maroon Bells Trailhead--officially titled the Maroon-Snowmass Trailhead--has limited parking and no facilities, except for restrooms. There is plenty of space to lock up your bike on the provided bike racks. There are 35 parking spaces designated for backpackers who are overnighting in the wilderness and you may park for up to 5 consecutive nights in those designated spots. These fill up during the busy season, so be sure to have the shuttle as your plan-b. If you get to Aspen Highlands after the last bus, then you will need to have a plan-c: take a taxi (expensive) in or ask a friend to drive you into the trailhead. Overnight backpackers are not allowed to park in the day-use area.

Guide for Hiking at Maroon Bells

Trail Option #1 - The Maroon Lake Trail at Maroon Bells

  • Distance: Less than One Mile
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trail Type: Out & Back
  • Elevation Gain: Nominal

The Maroon Lake Trail heads out from the trailhead to the northeast side of Maroon Lake (elevation 9580’) where hikers can take in iconic views of the peaks of the Maroon Bells reflected in its mirrored waters. Fishing is allowed at Maroon Lake, but a Colorado fishing license is required. Be sure to follow limits and regulations. Bring a picnic lunch and soak in the scenery, which includes aspen groves, Maroon Creek, and surrounding meadows. Do be mindful to stay to the trail as the high amount of foot traffic has a profound impact on the environment. For tips on taking a great photo of the Maroon Bells, check out the Photography at Maroon Bells section below.

Trail Option #2 - The Scenic Loop Trail at Maroon Bells

  • Distance: 3 Miles
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trail Type: Lollipop Loop
  • Elevation Gain: Approx. +120'
  • Dogs are prohibited because of Moose inhabiting this area.

The Scenic Loop Trail is probably the most popular trail at Maroon Bells, and for good reason: the views are incredible, the loop takes you along the cascades of Maroon creek for much of the hike, and wildflowers spring up at your feet along the trail. A lollipop loop is a hike that begins with a straightaway (part of the out & back hike above), which takes you to a loop on the end. The Scenic Trail Loop begins at a footbridge on the far/west end of the lake. A way up the trail, hikers will notice another footbridge on the right. This can be taken to shorten the trip by crossing the creek then turning right to head back to Maroon Lake and the trailhead. However, the loop trail actually goes further and past some exceptionally beautiful cascades before turning back toward Maroon lake.

maroon-bells-bighorn-sheep

Trail Option #3 - The Maroon Creek Trail

  • Distance: 2.5 or 3.5 Miles - One-Way
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trail Type: One-Way
  • Elevation Gain: -870'
  • Maroon Creek Lake Trail Map: Map Link

If you are looking for a less crowded option, the Maroon Creek Trail may be the best choice. The Maroon Creek Trail winds downhill alongside Maroon Creek for 3.5 miles. Being near water, the chances of seeing wildlife are pretty good. Maroon Creek Trail begins at Maroon Lake and the trail can be picked up by hiking across the footbridge, turning left, then following the trail down into the valley (away from the Maroon Bells). The trail offers two options.

#1 - 2.5 Mile Hike:

Hikers will encounter and cross a bridge at about 2.5 miles into their hike. At this point, a trail off to the left can be taken across the meadow and up to the road where they can catch the bus back to Aspen Highlands or back to the trailhead. Of course, be mindful of the traffic.

#1 - 3.5 Mile Hike:

The second option is to continue on the trail, cross another bridge, then to stay left onto the East Maroon Trail. This will wind downhill a bit further to another area where you can catch the bus along Maroon Creek Road. As you hike, don't forget to stop occasionally to take in the views behind you of the Maroon Bells.

Maroon-Bells-at-Maroon-Lake

Trail Option #4 - The Crater Lake Trail at Maroon Bells

  • Distance: 3.6 Miles Round Trip
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trail Type: Out & Back
  • Elevation Gain: +500'
  • Crater Lake Trail Map: Map Link

The Maroon/Snowmass trail (right of lake) will lead hikers through a meadow and to a forest service bulletin board at the far end of the lake. From this point the correct trail is the West Maroon/Crater Lake trail which leads up through meadows, aspens forests, and scree fields. The trail can be extremely rock, so be sure that you have excellent footwear. The trail will split at about 1.7 miles where the correct trail to follow is the West Maroon/Crater Lake Trail. At this point, Crater Lake is not far away. The trail will eventually dip down into a beautiful basin that holds Crater lake and incredible views of the Maroon Bells. Crater Lake is not stocked or fishable as it is a dead lake. It is also an area that has been negatively impacted by heavy use and poor camping practices. Because of this, camping is now prohibited and great care should be exercised to keep human and canine impact to a minimum.

Trail Option #5 - The Willow Lake Trail at Maroon Bells

  • Distance: approx. 13 Miles Round Trip
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Trail Type: Out & Back
  • Elevation Gain: +3020' to Willow Pass
  • Willow Lake Trail Map: Map Link

The Willow Lake trail is demanding and may require an overnight. The trail begins at Maroon Lake and follows the same trails that lead to Crater Lake. At the Crater Lake bulletin board, the trail forks to right and makes its way up through Minnehaha gulch, through alpine meadows and eventually to a trail sign for Maroon-Snowmass/Willow Lake Junction. Here the trail goes to right. Switchbacks lead to top of Willow Pass. After making it over Willow Pass, Willow Lake is a more gradual 1.5 miles further down the trail. This hike is difficult, steep, and more exposed to the regular thunderstorms that form in the afternoons. Camping is prohibited in the meadow near Buckskin Pass, and camping is discouraged at Willow lake. The best option is to camp in the established sites in Minnehaha Gulch.


hikers in snow with evergreen trees in foreground and snowcapped mountains in background this is the cover of a hiking guide

Get our Dayhikes Near Denver Hiking Guide. It includes our favorite hikes near Denver, packing lists, hiking food and snack ideas, and tips for hiking the Front Range of Colorado.


Photography: How to Get Great Photos of the Maroon Bells

We would like to thank photographer Jerry Blank for the stunning photo of the Maroon Bells at the top of this post. We asked him for a few photography tips and he emphasized the importance of arriving early in order to 1) get a parking spot, and 2) to get a shot of the water before the wind kicks up ripples on the early morning mirror surface of the lakes. More of his photos can be viewed and prints can be ordered from his galleries at this link.

  • Fall is the Best Time for Photos: The changing aspens peak in their golden hues during the latter half of September. However, this is just a rule of thumb because much depends on the changing temperature, so it varies from year to year.
  • Sunrise Shots are Primo: We all have our best side, and the Maroon Bells' best side faces east. This means that the morning sunrise provides the best opportunity for photos.
  • What Time Should I Get There? Earlier than you think. The shoreline of Maroon Lake fills up fast with tripods, so you'll want to get there well before sunrise.
  • Dress for the Occasion: Wear your down coat and bring a thermos of hot coffee. The morning breeze and cold temps will conspire to make the wait for sunrise a cold one.

Hiking with Kids at Maroon Bells

  • Hydrate: We hike a lot with our kids and it's easy for them to get dehydrated, especially in the dry climate and at high altitude in Colorado. Bring water bottles full of water for everyone.
  • Pack Snacks or Bring a Lunch: The drive back to Maroon Bells takes you pretty far out of town and you'll want to stay a while. Bring snacks or a picnic lunch to refuel while you are exploring.
  • Choose a Hike with Options: If your children are younger then you may want to begin with the Maroon Lake Trail. If you are still feeling adventurous after that, you could add on all or part of the Scenic Loop. Be aware of Moose and keep your distance from them.

Visiting Maroon Bells From Out-of-State

  • Download our Hiking Guide for a list of hiking tips, 10 essentials that everyone should pack for their dayhike, and recommended hiking snacks.
  • Take it Easy: Hiking at altitude (almost 2 miles above sea level at the Maroon Bells trailhead) can be really demanding. Choose a trail that matches your physical shape and be prepared to go at a slower pace.
  • Don't Drink from Streams or Lakes: There is a misconception that drinking from a mountain stream or lake is the purest water in the world--it's not! Mountain streams and lakes are watering holes for wildlife, especially rodents that carry parasites like giardia and other waterborne infectious diseases that can completely ruin your vacation. All water from these areas should be properly filtered and/or purified.

Camping Near Maroon Bells

There are three established USFS camping areas along Maroon Creek Road on your way in to the Maroon Bells Trailhead. These three are some of the more popular campsites in the state during the summer and fall, so you will want to reserve them well ahead of time. You'll find profiles for the three camping areas below. Reservations can be made at all three campgrounds by calling 1-877-444-6777 or by reserving online at www.recreation.gov
Crater Lake Campground has been closed because of bear activity in the past, so be sure to check to see if it is currently open. However, there are about 20 USFS campgrounds in the White River National Forest area near Aspen. The USFS has a handy camping brochure that can be downloaded at this link.

Silver Bar Campsite

  • Driving Directions to Silver Bar Campground: Click for Directions
  • Four primitive walk-in campsites only
  • Elevation: 8500'
  • Drinkable water and toilets, as well as picnic tables and fire-grates are available.
  • Five-day camping limit with 2pm checkout.
  • Eight-person, two car limit per campsite.
  • Pets allowed but must be leashed at all times.
  • Reservable Dates: 5/26 - 9/13
  • Fees: Camping Fee + Vehicle Fee

Silver Bell Campsite

  • Driving Directions to Silver Bell Campground: Click for Directions
  • Fourteen campsites
  • Elevation: 8350'
  • Drinkable water and toilets, as well as picnic tables and firegrates are available.
  • Five-day camping limit with 2pm checkout
  • Eight-person, two-car limit per campsite.
  • Pets allowed but must be leashed at all times
  • 30' RV limit
  • Reservable Dates: 5/26 - 9/13
  • Fees: Camping Fee + Vehicle Fee

Silver Queen Campsite

  • Driving Directions to Silver Queen Campground: Click for Directions
  • Six campsites
  • Elevation: 9100'
  • Drinkable water and toilets, as well as picnic tables and firegrates are available.
  • Five-day camping limit with 2pm checkout
  • Eight-person, two-car limit per campsite.
  • Pets allowed but must be leashed at all times
  • 30' RV limit
  • Reservable Dates: 5/26 - 9/13
  • Fees: Camping Fee + Vehicle Fee

above bear lake in rmnp looking to glacier gorge hike finder


Backcountry Camping in the Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness

  • Camping is allowed within the Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness area. Be sure to follow all the Wilderness Use Regulations and Practice Leave No Trace principles.
  • Camping at the designated spots at Crater Lake is currently allowed, but has been closed in 2014-2015 because of increased bear activity in the area, which is due to poor camping practices. The USFS will close the area again if bear activity becomes problematic.
  • Bear canisters are required
  • Self-registration required at the trailhead
  • Pets allowed but must be on a 6' leash at all times in the wilderness.

Things to Do Near Maroon Bells

History and Geology of Colorado’s Maroon Bells

The brick red color of the Maroon Bells is created by the oxidation of iron in the ancient sedimentary rock that makes up the mountains. They were formed when ancient granite mountains eroded, then were thrust toward the sky in a later mountain building event. Glaciers then cut valleys and cirque lakes, like Maroon Lake and Crater Lake. The Maroon Bells are considered Colorado Fourteeners with North Maroon at 14,014' and the summit of South Maroon Peak at 14,156'. They are called "the bells" because the shape of the mountains resemble church bells. The surrounding Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness area was one of the first US Wilderness areas established in 1964. The ruins of mine riddle the landscape from the silver mining activity of the late 1800's.

The sedimentary siltstone that makes up the Maroon Bells and nearby mountains, like Pyramid Peak, makes them very dangerous to climb. It's described by climbers as "rotten" rock and very unstable. In fact, in 1965 there were five different climbing accidents on the Maroon Bells, taking the lives of eight climbers. This gave the Maroon Bells the new monicker, the "Deadly Bells". There are yearly accidents and usually deaths on the Bells. Because of this, we recommend that those contemplating an ascent of the Maroon Bells should contact a professional guiding service.

How You Can Protect the Maroon Bells Area

  • Camp in Designated Spots: Camping has been prohibited at many of the high-mountain lakes in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass area in order to protect these overused and highly impacted environs. The USFS has inventoried over 700 campsites, that have impacted the equivalent of 35 football fields of land. So, be sure to use established camping areas in both the wilderness and along Maroon Creek road.
  • Keep Out of the Water: People and Dogs can greatly disturb fragile ecosystems in streams and lakes because of detergents and oils on our clothing and skin. The water sources around Maroon Bells are at a much higher risk because of the sheer volume of hiker and backpacker traffic.
  • Keep Dogs on a 6' Leash: I have regularly hiked with my dog for years, and have often let her off the leash. But in the last few years, I've become much more aware that man's best friend has a significant impact on the wildlife that make our wilderness areas their home. Even in areas that don't require leashes, I now leash our dog. As much as you would love for your dog to run free, it's important to remember that both we and our dogs are guests in this place and we want to leave the least amount of impact possible. Of course, this is a 6' leash required area. The Ranger District is now giving special attention to unleashed dogs and writing tickets.
  • Pack Out All Trash: It should probably go without saying, but be sure to pack out your trash, including both human and dog waste. In 2015 alone, forest rangers packed out over 500 pounds of trash left by visitors to the Maroon Bells-Snowmass area.

Weather

Map & Driving Direction

Click for Driving Directions