ROCKY MOUNTAIN HIGH
FOUR PASS LOOP MAROON BELLS-SNOWMASS WILDERNESS, CO
IN A STATE flush with mountains, the Maroon Bells’ brick-red, striated pyramids—wreathed with aspens and reflected in Maroon Lake—still stand out. That makes the 28.8-mile circumnavigation, which tags four 12,000-foot passes and tallies nearly 16,000 feet of elevation change, rightfully popular. But you don’t have to settle for crowded campsites. Our advice: Cash in on the wilderness’s dispersed camping policy. The conifer stands in West Maroon Valley (mile 6), the North Fork Crystal River (mile 15), and Minnehaha Gulch (mile 25) all hold secret, A-list sites. Go in the middle of the week, too, so you can also enjoy the carpets of midsummer wildflowers, roiling waterfalls, knife-edge ridges, and teal tarns that fill the spaces between without company.
Trailhead Maroon Lake Shuttle Required; pick it up from Aspen Highlands Village ($8). Season July to October Permit Required (free); self-issue at trailhead. Climb Maroon Peak Maroon Peak Trail (class 2); 4,867 feet in 5.5 miles from West Maroon trailhead Contact www.fs.usda.gov/whiteriver
Good weather? Camp high (near 12,200 feet) beneath Trail Rider Pass at mile 18.3 for head-on views of the Bells’ west faces.