In a state known for mountains, the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness stands out among Colorado’s mountainous locales. The stunning Elk Range towers with dramatic peaks. Located just outside of Aspen, Colorado’s fourth-largest wilderness stretches over 181,000 acres and provides numerous life-list backpacking opportunities on its 100 miles of trails.
Six summits rise over 14,000 feet, including the Maroon Bells, perhaps the most photographed peaks in Colorado. Nine alpine passes surpass 12,000 feet in elevation. Numerous alpine lakes lie within the wilderness. A-list wildlife including bear, deer, elk, moose, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats all reside in the region, among many other smaller animals.
While opportunities exist to escape busier trails on some of these trips, expect to encounter other trail users. The vicinity of the Maroon Lake trailhead sees particularly heavy traffic, while outlying trails offer a little more seclusion. Most trailheads see a fair amount of peakbaggers seeking 14,000-foot summits in addition to backpackers. Due to the frequent climbing at high elevation over rough terrain, backpacking trips in the wilderness should be considered strenuous.
The Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness draws hikers from throughout the country. While the creative backpacker can come up with nearly endless backpacking routes within the wilderness, here are a few of the more popular and convenient loops that can be hiked within a few days to a week. Many of these routes share some of the same trails. Each route traverses several high passes, lakes, views of 14,000-foot peaks, and some of Colorado’s best scenery.