Barely spring — but hurry, permits for fall peeping in wilderness available May 1 |

Barely spring — but hurry, permits for fall peeping in wilderness available May 1

Fall colors in full display in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Julie Bielenberg/Aspen Times

The snow isn’t even off the trees. There are no buds or even sign of bloom in the high country, but that doesn’t impact human computations and planning. 

Monday, May 1, offers a slight window for one of the most exclusive color-changing, leaf-peeping shows in America, and the urgency is to book now if you want to spend the nights under the simmering leaves and stars of the White River National Forest — some of the most sought after and majestic times in the nation for groves of aspen. 

Aspen trees are influenced by sunlight and moisture. This makes each year a fiesta of colors — red, orange, yellow, and even hues of purple. One year to the next can be indiscriminately different and with no exact replication ever.

The most-visited areas of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness requires an overnight permit year-round, with an associated recreation permit fee required May 1 through Oct. 31. However, these permits are released in phases. And May 1 is the limited window for fall foliage fans in September and October.

Recreation in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness has exploded over the past decade, with a quadrupling of overnight use since 2006. This has led to significant management challenges with overcrowding, large amounts of trash and human waste, user conflicts, and large-scale environmental damage such as campsite soil and vegetation compaction, trail erosion, and loss of vegetation, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

This overnight permit and fee program is critical to providing the resources needed to effectively manage, restore, and protect cherished land, albeit a heavily used and impacted area, USFS officials said.

Who’s ready to jump into a colorful bunch of leaves?
Julie Bielenberg / Aspen Times

Only the most heavily-used areas will require the overnight permit and fee, including Conundrum Hot Springs, the Four Pass Loop (which includes Crater Lake and Snowmass Lake), Geneva Lake, and Capitol Lake. Together, these areas make up about 28% of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.

A $10 per-night, per-person fee will be required for these areas from May 1 through Oct. 31. No fee will be required for children 16 and younger or for approved school groups. A $6 processing fee per permit will be charged by

Revenues generated by the fee program will provide a sustainable source of revenue for restoring heavily damaged areas, increasing ranger presence, public education, and improving trails.

Aspen in mid-October 2022, as seen from Aspen Mountain, remains in peak fall form, an unusually late run for the fall leaves.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

USFS adjusted its original fee proposal following a public comment period in summer 2021, in which the agency heard widespread support for protecting this wilderness but mixed views about the fee itself. 

The permit and fee program are specifically for overnight camping in certain areas of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness and does not impact the Maroon Bells Scenic Area.

The 181,535-acre Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness is an internationally-known destination for wilderness recreation. It’s jointly managed by the White River, Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison national forests. There are 26 trailheads that access a trail network of 173 miles.

Fall foliage revealed on Independence Pass.
Aspen Times File photo

Maroon Bells reservations are released on a rolling basis:

  • March 1: Reservations for May and June available at 10 a.m.
  • April 1: Reservations for July and August available at 10 a.m.
  • May 1: Reservations for September and October available at 10 a.m.

Here are the links to get reservations and for more information: