I arrived in Aspen around 3p.m. on a Friday in the dead of Summer. Prime tourist season…great, I remember thinking. I quickly paid the ridiculously expensive $26 fee to set up camp and headed over to the Maroon Bells to scout out the ultimate spot to shoot sunrise the following morning.
Arriving at around 4:15p.m., the park ranger let me drive on through (thankfully). In the summer months (June 9th-October 8th), a bus runs from a resort just outside the park to the Maroon Bells, from 8:05a.m. to 4:30p.m., and during this time driving into the park is not permitted.
I drove the windy road through the aspen trees and wildflower fields and pulled into the parking lot just in front of the Bells. I hopped out, camera gear in tow, and headed towards what I thought would be a hike to the viewpoint.
Upon approaching the trail, I could see crowds of tourists surrounding a lake, tripods set up in front of them. Walking a few yards down the dirt path, I realized there wasn’t a hike at all. Instead, right in front of the parking lot, just a few yards down the trail, was where hundreds of visitors stood day after day, taking pictures of the most iconic mountains in America.
No wander the Maroon Bells are the most photographed mountains in the States, I thought, you don’t even have to hike to witness the purple mountains in all of their breathtaking majesty.
So, how does one avoid these crowds to capture the glorious Maroon Bells? I’ve compiled a list of tips to help you steer clear of the masses that pour in daily to photograph America’s most photographed mountains.
I mean 4 a.m. early…seriously. When I arrived, there were already two small groups of photographers there. By the time the sun begin to rise around 6a.m., photographers lined the entire east side of the lake. If you don’t want to be stuck crammed behind the crowds, arrive early to claim your spot.
Go On A Weekday
A Monday morning will likely be less crowded than a Saturday morning. If you can, plan your trip to the Maroon Bells for a weekday. Not only will the park be less crowded, but so will the town of Aspen.
Scout Your Spot In Advance
As I mentioned earlier, I headed over to the lake the afternoon prior to shooting in order to scout out the perfect composition. This saved me time the next morning, as I was able to walk right over to my spot and claim it, while other photographers were still scrambling around the lake trying to find the right angle.
Avoid Visiting During Summer
If at all possible, don’t visit the Maroon Bells in the summer!! This is the high season for United States travel, and the Maroon Bells are no exception. I recommend going around mid to late autumn. Not only will you avoid the crowds, but you’ll also be blessed with breathtaking views of vibrant yellow aspens surrounding the lake, with snowcapped mountains rising up behind them.
Look Behind You
Everyone goes to the Maroon Bells to get the same shot. You know, the one with the Bells reflecting on the lake before them, but rarely do people turn around and photograph the beauty that lies behind them.
I mean look at that morning light on those beautiful red mountains!
So there you have it, how to avoid the crowds at the Maroon Bells, America’s most photographed mountains! Have you ever been to the Maroon Bells? What is your favorite mountain? Leave a comment below in the comments section!
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– Sara Vozel
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