Maroon Bells of the Elk Mountains

The Maroon Bells gain their distinctive maroon coloring from mudstone.
The Maroon Bells gain their distinctive maroon coloring from mudstone.

The Elk Mountains are a tall and rugged range in the Rocky Mountains found in Colorado. The Elk Mountains are located approximately twelve miles from Aspen on the border between Pitkin and Gunnison counties. The mountains have an altitude of nearly 9,000 feet above the Roaring Fork Valley located to the north. The Maroon Bells refer to two mountain peaks that are in the Elk Mountains. These peaks are the Maroon Peak and the North Maroon Peak. Both of the peaks are in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness of White River National Forest. Photographers and nature lovers particularly enjoy taking pictures and enjoying the scenery provided by the view of the Bells.


Maroon Peak stands at an incredible height of 14,163 feet (27th tallest in Colorado), while the North Maroon Peak stands at a whopping elevation of 14,019 feet and is position 50 in the ranking of the tallest peaks in Colorado. The distance between the two peaks is about a third of a mile.

Alongside other peaks, the two peaks are known as fourteeners. By definition, a fourteener refers to a mountain peak that has a minimum height of at least 14,000 feet. In total, fourteeners are 96 in number in all of the US, with all 96 located to the west of the River Mississippi. Incredibly, Colorado has more than half of the total fourteeners with 53 of them.

According to researchers, the two peaks have been around for more than 300 million years. The peaks were formed as a result of geological action such us uplift, sedimentation, and many types of erosion as a result of weather elements. The US Forest Service says that the maroon color that the two peaks have is because of the mudstone. The name “bells” refers to the shape of the two peaks.


The Bells have become increasingly popular among tourists with around 300,000 people per season. People don’t get to the Bells using personal services because of the sheer number of people. Instead, bus services ferry the people to and from the Bells.

There are several fun activities that are offered including things like hiking in trails like the Maroon Lake Scenic Trail, Maroon Creek Trail, and the more challenging Crater Lake Trail. During the winter, there are activities available as well such as skiing or using snowmobiles.


Due to the high number of guests received per season, the US Forest Services has put in place measure that ensure the Bells are protected and preserved such as reduced use of horses, banning overnight camping or too much use during the day among others.

The US Forest Service has signs everywhere that warn people about the deadlines of the Bells and climbers of the treacherousness of the terrain. Mudstone is structurally weak and can disintegrate easily. The Maroon Bells are sometimes referred to as being deadly because of an accident that took place in 1965 after eight people perished in five different mishaps.


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