Best Time to Photograph Maroon Bells

During the last two weeks, I have received several emails from our readers, asking what the best time to photograph Maroon Bells is. I have been to Maroon Bells many times, so I would love to share some info on when to photograph the most popular location in Colorado (and one of the most photographed spots in the world).

Maroon Bells

Maroon Bells is truly magical, the one place you can only appreciate when you are there. While photographs do show the beauty of Maroon Bells, they still cannot transfer the raw beauty of the place with its high altitude fresh air, the smell of wildflowers and plants, pleasant afternoon breezes, the ever-changing weather and freezing-cold nights and mornings. Maroon Bells changes drastically during seasons. In the spring (which is around late April and May), the water level of the Maroon Lake is high, the aspens have new leaves, with wildflowers and plants just starting to turn green. The summer is beautiful, with the busy streams and gorgeous wildflowers. The fall season is what draws the most amount of people to Maroon Bells, due to aspens rapidly changing their colors. If you are lucky, you might get some snow with aspens in their fall plumage. Winters are rather harsh, but still beautiful with fresh snow. The roads in winter are closed though, so you would have to rent a snowmobile to get to the lake. In terms of seasons, I personally like to visit Maroon Bells from mid-July to late September.

Fall weekends are typically very busy and if you do not show up two to three hours earlier, you might not find any available parking. If you want to go there in the fall, I would go there Monday through Wednesday – those are the least busy days. Starting from Thursday, it gets pretty packed with all local amateur photographers taking time-off to photograph the surrounding area and San Juan Mountains.

What about time of the day? You want to be there long before sunrise. Don’t show up 30 minutes before sunrise, because you will not find any good spots. If you want to find closer parking and get a good spot to photograph from, you want to be there at least an hour to two hours earlier. Wondering how bad it gets? Take a look at this picture:

Maroon Bells Photographers

NIKON D3S + 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 32mm, ISO 3200, 1/8, f/8.0

And that was not even a busy day! Here is an example of a busy day:

Maroon Bells Photographers 2

NIKON D700 + 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 35mm, ISO 400, 1/13, f/13.0

Mind you, this is the last spot on the right side of the lake – there was no place for me to stand anywhere else and photographers were literally standing shoulder to shoulder, tripod into tripod. Why? Because they know the sunrise is what creates the most magical photographs. When you stand facing the Maroon Bells, the sun appears behind you, with the first rays of light hitting the top of the mountain:

Sunrise at Maroon Bells

NIKON D700 + 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 35mm, ISO 400, 1/25, f/13.0

After taking sunrise pictures, I would stick around for at least another two hours to photograph the place when the sun is higher:

Maroon Bells Full

NIKON D700 + 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 38mm, ISO 200, 1/40, f/11.0

Late afternoons and sunsets are not good to photograph Maroon Bells, because the light is going to be directly in front of you. If you arrive at night and the sky is clear with a full moon, you might want to try taking a picture or two at night:

Maroon Bells at Night

But it will require some good technique and preferably fast glass + good high-ISO performance by your camera, if you do not want to see star trails.

If you are looking for a guide on how to photograph landscapes, check out my landscape photography tips.

Hope this helps. Good luck and let me know if you have any questions.


  1. December 6, 2010 at 2:14 am

    ахаха, сколько там людей маньячит =) Какой смысл там фоткать? что бы пополнить мировую коллекцию одинаковых фотков ? =)

    • December 7, 2010 at 8:36 pm

      Медвежутка, вот приедешь я ж тебя туда потащщщщу!!! Ты когда собираешься к нам а?

      • 1.1.1) medvezhutka
        December 8, 2010 at 2:41 am

        не, ну мы то понятное дело, шедевры заснимем, от которых все будут плакать, надо будет только лодку найти =)) и пусть фоткают нас в лодке =)))

        ээ незнаю, что-то никак не получается. я уже и место у вас дома забронировал, и меню согласовал, а приехать не получается пока =)

        • Profile photo of Nasim Mansurov Nasim Mansurov
          December 10, 2010 at 5:43 pm

          Hahaha :) vozmem yeshe odnogo i sobachku :)

          Davay priyezjay letom…ustroim tur po Amerike!

  2. April 16, 2012 at 11:35 pm

    I was happy to find your site for information on Maroon Bells!! I’m trying to see if I can make a trip in the fall but will be travelling to Denver for business mid-May and was hoping you could provide me some help in planning for the trip.

    I was planning on leaving early and trying to make a trip to Maroon Bells on May 12 or 13. Is this a good time to be able to photograph at maroon bells? Are the roads open at this time?? If the roads are accessible, how busy is it at this time of the year?

    The other question I had was what is a good place to stay, so I can get there early enough for sunrise?

    I’d appreciate any advice you can provide

  3. 3) Jen
    March 13, 2013 at 9:36 am

    Hello – I am curious what the best time to photograph here for a wedding ceremony would be – looking to book a ceremony at the Amphiteater. Any advice?

  4. 4) Claus
    May 27, 2014 at 2:41 am

    I read your great article about Maroon Bells. I’ve never been before. Where is the “best” position on the lake to take the iconic image?

  5. 5) PJ
    June 24, 2014 at 9:47 pm

    Hi there. Great article! Best photography related article out there regarding Maroon Bells. I am planning a trip there and will be in the Aspen Area around the 25the 26th July. Where exactly did you stay when you were there? I see all the campgrounds are fully booked, but the silver bells campgrounds is walk up only, so I am hoping I can get a spot there. Also, is the lake easily accessible by car, or do I have to walk there in the early AM hours to find a good spot? Your advice would realy be appreciated

    • June 24, 2014 at 10:05 pm

      Those campgrounds are impossible to stay at, unless you reserve months in advance! I would recommend to stay around the Aspen area and just drive there – it is a pretty short drive. Yes, the lake is easily accessible by car, but if you do not drive there way before sunrise, expect the parking lot to be full. Once it is full, there will be no option to get there aside from taking a bus.

      • 5.1.1) PJ
        June 26, 2014 at 12:44 am

        Yeah I see they are really busy. The only thing I am concerned about is that if I stay in the Aspen area, I might not be able to access the valley before 7AM. I really want to be ready to photograph long before sunrise,so will it be possible access the park at around 4AM? Did you drive in at an early time as well? Plans changed a bit. So I will now be there on wednesday and thursday (24th-25th July) . Thanks so much for your help!

  6. 6) Ryan
    July 14, 2014 at 2:07 pm

    Do you mind sharing the date of your photographs posted above just to get an idea of when it could look similar? I know the variability depends on many things. I’m debating Sept 10-13th or 22-24th. Thanks in advance!

  7. 7) Maji
    July 31, 2014 at 4:09 pm

    I am planning to visit the Maroon Bells and Denver area around the beginning of October. My schedule and dates are not flexible and the only time I can be at Maroon Bells for sunrise shot is on a Friday, something you advised against. But it is what it is. I will stay the Thursday night at Aspen and want to be at the Maroon Bells Lake area to photograph before sunrise. The sunrise will be around 7am. Someone told me that I should be there by 4am? Is that too early or can I be there by 5:30 to 6 am and still get a place to get a sunrise shot?

    Thank you,

  8. 8) Kristi
    September 22, 2014 at 7:04 pm

    I was just at Maroon Bells on Monday, September 15, 2014, and Tuesday, September 16, 2014. The author is correct… The sunrise is the best time to photograph the Maroon Bells! My friends and I arrived shortly before 6 AM on Tuesday morning. There was hardly anyone there. I got some lovely shots of the sun’s first rays hitting the peaks!

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