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Photography Hikes: The Maroon Bells

green trees and mountains near lake during daytime

When you step off the bus at the Maroon Bells, you’ll likely get a sense of deja vu. While you may never have stepped foot here before, the Maroon Bells are the most photographed mountains in America, full of gorgeous colors and incredible scenery that you’ve almost definitely seen on Instagram or Facebook. 

Being there in the flesh, however, is a different thing entirely, especially if you’re visiting in the spring. While the Maroon Bells harbour some incredible fall colors – deep browns, stark yellows, and gorgeous, whispering oranges – the landscape comes alive in springtime, with fewer crowds, warmer weather, and blooming wildflowers painting the landscape with even more colors than any other season. 

The Hiking Trail: Maroon Lake Scenic Trail

There are plenty of hiking trails to enjoy at the Maroon Bells, but one of the most photogenic has to be the Maroon Lake Scenic Trail. This route follows the lake on the far side, beginning at an elevation of around 9,500 feet. 

You’d start by following the creek that flows into the lake, continuing along a simple 1.3-mile route and having the opportunity to either connect to the Maroon Creek Trail, the Crater Lake Trail or turn around and make the return journey. All in all, it takes the average hiker around an hour to finish. For the average photographer, however, it might just take you a few hours longer. Hey, if you’re uploading your photos to the best photo book maker, you’ve gotta ensure you’ve taken the best photos possible!

Why It’s Good

There are plenty of reasons why this trail is good, but if you’re a photographer looking for challenges, the Maroon Lake Scenic Trail will give them to you in spades. For reflective photography, especially, the Maroon Bells are perfectly mirrored in the water of Maroon Lake, giving you the chance to up your reflective photography game and capture the perfect half-and-half image. 

The mountains themselves also give you some composition challenges, with various leading lines, framing options, and subjects to choose from. All of this while walking one of the most popular hiking trails in the country – and one of the easiest too!

What to Look Out For

Apart from gorgeous scenery, the Maroon Lake Scenic Trail is also a hotspot for some amazing wildlife. Some of the most popular animals to photograph include:

  • Mule Deer
  • Marmots
  • Elks
  • Pikas
  • Black Bears
  • Squirrels
  • Chipmunks
  • American Dippers
  • Mountain Chickadees
  • Golden Eagles

You might also come across mountain lions, which are known to inhabit the area despite being rarely seen. Probably best not to hang around to photograph one of these, though!

Photography Tips

While the Maroon Lake Scenic Trail is probably the shortest hike we’ve covered in our ‘Photography Hikes’ series, there are still plenty of pitfalls that can catch you out as a photographer. 

  • Limited Access

The first is the limited access to Maroon Bells scenic routes that you might experience when visiting in the spring. While walk-ups can be let in, reservations are always recommended if you want to visit the area by car or shuttle – with the latter running from 8 AM and 5 PM, and generally considered to be the best option for those making the hike.

  • Golden Hours

We often champion golden hours in our blogs, but they can be especially game-changing on this trail. One of the best things about the Maroon Bells in the spring is the snow-capped peaks and snow melt, both of which can be beautifully enhanced when photographed in soft, warm light.For reflective photography, especially, capturing the mountains at the right time – when the sun is just about creating a sharp, orange glow on the peaks – is a must if you want a photograph to capture attention.

Photography Challenges

As we mentioned before, there are also plenty of challenges for you to sink your teeth into. These include:

  • Composition Patience

It might sound like you’ve got plenty of options for beautifully composed photographs, and you do, but sometimes that can give you even more of a challenge, as you frantically try to find the best option. During your hike below the Maroon Bells, you’ll need to practise patience and observation, taking your time to compose your photographs, find your leading lines – which could include trails, streams, or ridgelines – and apply the rule of thirds. Being such a short hike, that time is available to you, so make sure you use it!

  • Camera Shy

Another challenge for you to overcome will be the harsh weather conditions that can make or break your photographs. Even during the spring, the weather at the Maroon Bells is known to change rapidly, with harsh lighting causing harder shadows, blown-out highlights, and manipulated contrasts. 

For this reason, you might have a limited window of opportunity to capture your landscape photos – especially if you’re looking for that glowing snow melt or snowy peaks during golden hour. Rest assured, the perfect photo will come, but as ever in the photography world, you’ve got to remain attentive if you want to capture it.


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