Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness
Capitol Peak in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness
Straddling the boundary between Gunnison and White River National Forests, Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness is comprised of about 183,500 acres of some of the wildest and most beautiful of Colorado's mountains. There are six peaks rising above 14,000 feet, nine passes above 12,000 feet and more than 100 miles of hiking and horseback riding trails. Just one caveat: this wilderness is one of the most heavily used wildernesses in the United States. The road from Snowmass to Maroon Lake is cherry-stemmed into the wilderness area and sees so much traffic in the summer that the Forest Service closes the road from mid-June through Labor Day and runs shuttle buses. The view of Maroon Bells rising above Maroon Lake is also one of the most photographed vistas in North America.
A lot of the climbing mountains in this wilderness are composed of shale, which makes for difficult, treacherous climbing. The Maroon Bells in particular attract a lot of climbers and require excellent technical-climbing experience. Pyramid Peak is also mostly shale and while it isn't quite as technical a climb as the Maroon Bells, the usual approach to the summit requires dangling your legs on either side of a knife-edge ridge and working your way across it by hand.
Another popular destination in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness is the hot springs at Conundrum Creek. On many summer afternoons you'll find a few peak-baggers hanging out there, sharing stories of their morning's high altitude antics.
Most folks access the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness from the north side, in the Snowmass Village-Aspen Highlands area. There are some great trails accessed from the south side, too, via Crested Butte and Gothic. Because of the large press of humanity on this wilderness, overnight visitors are required to self-register before passing the wilderness boundary. You'll also want to keep that permit on your person, just in case. The free, non-limiting permits are available at each trail head. Group sizes are limited to 10 people with a max of 15 pack animals.
Spires below Cathedral Peak
Snowmass Mountain in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness
The heart of Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness
Photos are courtesy of Phil Armitage
Map courtesy of National Geographic Topo!