There are a number of iconic sunrise views in our beautiful country--Haleakala Crater on Maui, Mesa Arch in Canyonlands, Sunrise Point in Bryce Canyon to name a few. Colorado’s prime contribution to that group has to be the Maroon Bells reflected in Maroon Lake when the fall color is at its peak. While this location is usually crowded, there is a feeling of shared appreciation for nature’s beauty and a camaraderie between people who are willing to get up early, drive a long way in the dark, brave the cold, and wait patiently for a fleeting moment in time. Compared to some of the others mentioned, the Maroon Bells is an easy adventure, just 10 miles from Aspen on a good road. Also, the fall sunrise is relatively late at around 7 a.m.
In summer and fall, private cars are not allowed to enter the Maroon Bells Road between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Getting there for the sunrise guarantees a parking spot. It is also allowed to spend the night in the car in a designated overnight lot. Plan to arrive at the lake at least 30 minutes before sunrise to get a nice spot as there will be anywhere from 50 to more than 100 people there with you. The pre-dawn light can be as beautiful as the actual sunrise, which hits the peaks about ten minutes after true sunrise. The first light on the stunning reddish peaks juxtaposed with the yellow aspens reflected in the (hopefully) mirror-like lake is a grand sight.
There is much to explore in the Maroon Lake area after the sunrise, and a hike up to Crater Lake is highly recommended. One advantage to arriving in a private car before 8 a.m. is the chance to drive back on Maroon Creek Road in your own vehicle, stopping at the many viewepoints or hiking along Maroon Creek. After catching that beautiful sunrise on one of the most beautiful mountains in the country, you have earned that hearty breakfast back in Aspen.
Note that peak fall color time varies from year to year, but the last week in September to the first few days in October will generally be good.