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Summer Guide to Maroon Bells and Aspen Colorado

Updated: May 29

Aspen is one of the few places in the world I would love to live in (if it were more affordable). It has everything you can want, from top-tier skiing, high end restaurants, endless outdoor recreational activities, and a lot less people than areas closer to Denver. It feels like the mountains are hugging you because you're surrounded on all ends, everywhere you look. It's a place that I hope to continue to visit again and again and is one of my favorite areas in the US (along with Telluride/Ouray of course).


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Getting There from Denver

You're going to likely start from Denver, CO (most people fly in here) where you can take I-70 briefly, then turn off towards Leadville. Leadville has lots of places to stay that are cheaper than Aspen. I recommend either camping closer to Aspen if you need to save money or splurging and getting a place in downtown Aspen to maximize your time.


During the summer, the 32-mile windy, mountain road called "independence pass", which connects Leadville to Aspen, reopens for the season (see the photo below!) It's closed during the winter due to avalanche risk and maintenance, rightfully so as this road reaches 12,000ft elevation (pro-tip: eat carbs, stay hydrated, and bring Advil in case you get altitude sickness!). This significantly reduces the drive time from Denver to Aspen in the summer, and it's just so beautiful, you absolutely should take this instead of taking I-70.

Before you head up Independence pass, I highly recommend checking out Twin Lakes. You can drive right up to the river access and SUP or fly your drone there! It's the perfect backdrop with the towering 14er peaks surrounding it! This lake is one of my favorite spots in Colorado; it's usually pretty empty; I've had the lake to myself many times in the winter. It's a huge lake that freezes over in the winter too, you can see lots of people ice-fishing which is always neat! The summertime is just gorgeous, my dog has had way too much fun here.


Where to Stay


Camping

You have a few options for places to stay; if you're looking to save money then you can camp at Twin Lakes; the campground is dog-friendly and easily accessible, but it's by the water so just make sure to bring bug spray in case! We had a lot of heavy rain during the drive and when we arrived (we just put on a movie on my ipad, cracked open the wine and heated up some water for our dinner!), but it cleared up around 8pm and we were able to set up our tent and make a fire with damp wood. The weather turned beautiful and clear by the morning so it was so worth it!


Leadville

If you want to save money (but want a real bed) you can also stay in Leadville area on your way to Aspen. I love to stay at a Vrbo as the quality of Airbnb has been declining in recent years in my experience. I've also stayed lakefront before and it was gorgeous. If you're in Leadville you should try and snag an appointment at the outdoor clothing store Melanzana!  I haven't been able to visit yet, but I've heard great reviews from others. I also really like the breakfast burritos at City on a Hill Cafe in downtown Leadville.


Twin Lakes and Leadville are only a 2.5 hour drive from Denver, so you can rest here and adjust more gradually to the elevation! This helps break up the drive a little bit and lets you start your morning onto Maroon bells before it gets too hot, especially if you have your dog with you!


Aspen

The most convenient (and expensive) option is to stay in downtown Aspen; two semi-affordable dog-friendly hotels are Limelight and Aspen Mountain Lodge. I've only stayed in Aspen (and at the ski villages) during the winter, but it's still a nice option for summer. You only need 1-2 nights if you're exploring around. I recommend 2 if you want to do hanging lake and have your dog (since you'll have to leave them at the hotel while you hike since it's not dog-friendly). If you really want a boujee experience, then you can stay at the Aspen St Regis Residence Club, but be prepared to spend!


Hiking Trails

Maroon Bells

Number one of my list is absolutely Maroon bells! Reservations are required to access the Maroon Bells Scenic Area. If you are planning in advance, then you can snag a vehicle trailhead parking permit; i've done that before and it was super convenient. However, when my friend and I were camping in the rain in Twin Lakes we noticed the weather was going to be clear the next morning, so we took a chance and got a last-minute shuttle reservation which took us directly to the trailhead. The shuttle is also dog-friendly, I kept Sora close since she is reactive and there were a couple of other dogs on the bus.

~Maroon Bells peaks are the most photographed mountain peaks in North America~


I've been a few times, but early summer is what I would recommend! (most photos on here are from end of June) Also, Colorado weather is so unpredictable, don't let it discourage you if it says it's going to rain. In the summer, it rains almost everyday in the afternoon (but it is often done by the evening), and it's always pretty clear in the morning, so aim for permits that start in the late morning, and try for late sunset if you're going for photography.


It is dog-friendly! You can take dogs up the paved trail around the viewpoints and then take Crater Lake trail if you want to see some more! However, the real view is right from the start in my opinion. From the beginning of the trail I've seen several moose each time as well as a fox!



While Maroon bells is the perfect backdrop for any photo, the time of year can make a significant difference. The top row of photos are from August 2020 around 8pm where the sunset sucked and there was lots of wildfire smoke, so the views were pretty hazy. The second row of photos are taken on a clear day in around June 30th around 3pm.



The Grottos

This hike is really short and is perfectly situated on your route from Twin Lakes to Aspen! We stopped here to let my dog jump in the river and for us to explore some of the large rocks. We enjoyed our lunch here and it was a relaxing stop on our roadtrip!



Independence Pass

If the weather is clear and it's not too windy, then you should explore the ridge line and open scenery at the top of Independence pass. There are lots of hikes that start from here, but we just took in the views and stopped at the pull-over viewpoints along the way.


Hanging Lake

If you have time and are planning to stay in the area for multiple days, then you should try and snag a permit for Hanging Lake. It's not dog-friendly though, so just make sure you have a place to leave your pup during the day! I had a few issues trying to see this hike before due to the wildfire my first summer in Colorado; they closed it the day before my permit was ready to use! However I returned years later and finally got to see it and it was so beautiful! It's honestly too long for a day drive from Denver, so this is a great time to fit it in.


14er Hikes

If climbing a really hard mountain with little oxygen is your thing, then check out Mt Elbert while you're at the Twin Lakes area. I've only done one 14er and personally thought it was a little too scary for my liking, i'm not a big climber, so i dont feel as drawn to these, but many people are!


Lost Lake

Another gorgeous lake to visit is Lost Lake in Buena Vista, this is also before you reach Twin lakes, so feel free to add that to your itinerary if you have the time! This is a shorter, easier hike than some of the others mentioned, but still really rewarding and beautiful!


Tips

1. You don't need AWD in the summertime to drive on Independence pass or any of these hikes/areas. It is fully paved and it allows people of all accessibility needs to experience its beauty. Just make sure to fill up on gas near Leadville so you're good for the long journey back! Drive slowly if you're returning via Independence pass to Denver; it's very steep on the way down!


2. Bring your tripod! It's so helpful for capturing photos with your friends and setting up your shot! I was able to film one of my favorite videos of me and my friend and it wouldn't have been possible without my tripod. I use the peak design tripod (aluminum) which is sturdy enough to hold your professional cameras (and they have an iphone holder as well built-in).


3. The altitude is no joke out here! Prepare yourself with medication and bring some energy chews and gels to avoid getting sick. Hiking at altitude is more difficult, so just manage your expectations.


4. I seriously recommend the shuttle to Maroon Bells scenic area! It's requires less advanced planning and it takes you right where you need to be! It's dog-friendly too. You can also enjoy a beer and a meal like we did at the meetup spot for the shuttle. It overlooks a scenic mountain/ski lift which was a really nice way to end our day after exploring Maroon Bells.


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Hi! I'm Jackie and my dog is Sora. I work remote as an engineer, but I love to spend my free time in nature and by traveling to new places. I take my camera wherever I go, and sometimes my drone.

Somewhere With Sora is a Seattle-based lifestyle and travel blog that provides helpful travel and adventure tips for all kinds of trips, with or without the dogs.

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