One of the most spectacular and accessible hikes in the Colorado's Maroon Bells Recreation Area is the hike up the Maroon-Snomass Trail from Maroon Lake to Crater Lake. This is a great trail to take after watching the sunrise from the bottom of Maroon Lake. It is popular and crowded during the peak hours when the shuttle bus is running, so doing it early is recommended.
The short trail to the foot of Maroon Lake leaves from the day use parking area along the north side of the lake to enter the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, and then it starts to climb. Parts of this first half of the trail are a bit steep and rocky. At the top of the switchbacks there is a tremendous view of Maroon Lake below. The trail levels out somewhat and begins a very scenic rolling climb with fantastic views on all sides. In the fall, this section of West Maroon Creek has fabulous color from the aspen trees. Just before Crater Lake there is a nice overlook above the lake on the left side of the trail. From here it is a five-minute walk to the lake.
Crater Lake is shallow and can look more brown than blue in some light, but the reflected views of the Maroon Bells, the lower reaches of Pyramid Peak, and the aspen/conifer forest all around are spectacular. The immense scale of the setting is humbling with 14,000-foot peaks towering above. After Crater Lake the West Maroon Trail splits off and continues up to West Maroon Pass (6.5 miles) and on to Crested Butte (12 miles) or around the 24-mile Four Pass Loop. This hike is a sort of rite of passage for Colorado locals, and there are shuttle services to return to Aspen at a (somewhat) reasonable price.
During summer and fall, there is no automobile access to the Maroon Bells day use area between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., but a shuttle bus runs during that time from Aspen Highlands to Maroon Lake. The need to catch the last shuttle bus at 5 p.m. can cut time short, so start early enough to explore this beautiful area. People camping at one of the three small campgrounds on Maroon Creek Road can drive their car anytime, as can cars with handicapped passengers. The best plan is to get up early, drive in to watch the sunrise on the Maroon Bells, stay and explore the fantastic hike to Crater Lake, relax as long as you like, and leave whenever you wish.