A couple years ago, we went on an adventure to plan the wedding of our dreams and it turned out even more amazing than we ever could have wished for. The perfect venue, with our closest friends and family, all at an affordable price (especially for the cost of the typical weddings nowadays!). We got married in July 2019 at Maroon Bells Amphitheater just outside of Aspen, Colorado, followed by a reception in the backyard of a rental property in town with beautiful views overlooking Aspen Valley.
It can be difficult to navigate the complicated bookings and restrictions for the Maroon Bells Amphitheater so we wanted to share our experience to make it easier for other couples to take their wedding day to the next level.
The Maroon Bells
Maroon Bells refers to the two mountains you can see from the Maroon Bells Scenic Area – Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak. They got their names because “bell” refers to their shape, while “maroon” refers to their rocks, which are made of a soft red shale and a paler siltstone, called the “Maroon Formation.” They are the most photographed mountains in Colorado and they form a beautiful, scenic shot with the peaks reflected in Maroon Lake, which is all part of Maroon Valley.
Due to snow pack, the Scenic Area and Amphitheater are only accessible by car mid May – mid November (weather dependent). Outside of that time frame, there is no way to drive to the Scenic Area. Even during most of that time frame, you cannot drive your own car: June to October, you must park just outside of town at the designated parking area (pay to park) and then pay to ride the bus and get dropped off at the Scenic Area. Since its substantial gain in popularity and dramatic increase in visitors, the area’s natural space paid the price and the Forest Service noticed a difference in the flora and fauna of the area. There was less wildflowers and lower wildlife presence due to the exhaust from all the cars. Plus, there wasn’t enough parking for the influx of visitors, especially during peak times and peak season. In response, the Forest Service limits vehicle access and instead uses more environmentally friendly buses to transport visitors.
From the Maroon Bells Scenic Area, you can access a wide variety of trails. The ever popular Four Pass Loop leaves from here, Crystal Mill is in the same area, as well as the Aspen to Crested Butte via Maroon Pass trail. The area is maintained by the US Forest Service.
Maroon Bells Wedding Tips:
- Don’t schedule an event close to the opening and closing dates. These are always subject to change weather depending and you don’t want to have to cancel and wait another year for the big day. For example, in 2019 the road opened a couple of weeks late due to avalanches blocking the road and multiple weddings had to be rescheduled.
- Hire transportation. If budget allows, hire a transportation company. We were really happy with the way buses transported our guests. You can always use the public transportation provided, as long as you purchase bus tickets (or instruct guests to purchase their own tickets). Just keep in mind that guests will need to arrive early so they can catch the appropriate bus (peak season and holidays can lead to waits for the bus both going to and leaving the Scenic Area). We chose to provide transportation so guests just parked once, especially since there was no parking at our reception site either.
- Hire help if you’re not familiar with the area, especially since your ceremony and reception will likely be in two separate areas. We hired a full service planner to assist with booking vendors and overall event organization, but you could also be successful with a day-of planner. The main thing is facilitating the movement of guests. For example, the parking garage we asked guests to park at filled up, and the planner was able to find an alternative so quickly that guest were still able to catch our shuttle bus. No work needed on our part.
- Hire a string duet (or quartet if budget allows). This was one of the many beautiful parts of our wedding and it was very worth it. We picked all the music, and the duet played as guests were arriving (such as What a Wonderful World, which we would later dance to as our first dance).
- Give guests at least 30 minutes to hang out at Maroon Bells after the ceremony. This gives time for the Bride and Groom to take pictures with immediate family, and allows guests to explore the beautiful area and take their own pictures. We mention this because you will need to account for the extra time for the buses and for the planned arrival time for the reception site.
- Encourage guests to bring their own umbrella and sunglasses. We had a few extra umbrellas on hand just in case, but there’s no rescheduling a Maroon Bells wedding because of weather. We told guests we were getting married rain or shine and to prepare accordingly. It was bright and sunny on our wedding day, so the umbrellas provided much needed relief from the sun while people sat during the ceremony. If it rains, the guests are prepared so you don’t have to worry about them!
- Go unplugged. We had a tech free ceremony, including guest cameras. This encouraged full participation in the event and opened up faces so our professional photographer (who we paid lots of money for!) could capture their beautiful reactions. They were welcome to take pictures after the ceremony and we made all our professional photos available for guests to download from a Google Photos album.
The Amphitheater is a seating area within the Scenic Area that overlooks Maroon Lake and Maroon Bells. The maximum capacity is 50 people, which makes it the perfect setting for a smaller, more intimate wedding. It is available for use by the public, but it can also be reserved for private events, although it gets booked up a year in advance most times. Planning a wedding here takes time and patience. We booked our July 2019 wedding date in July 2018.
Receptions are not allowed at this location, but can be held at the East Maroon Portal Picnic Site. There are so many restrictions that it can be hard to keep track, but all these limits are in place to help protect the area so future generations can continue to enjoy its beauty. The biggest example of this is the limited vehicular access, but it also shows in the restrictions on noise (no electric music allowed) and prohibition on the use of any type of toss after the ceremony (such as rice, bird seed, confetti, etc) to keep animals from eating the material.
When you make a reservation for the Amphitheater, you are allotted 5 parking passes for event day. We used them as such: 1 spot for the bride (driven by bride’s father and accompanied by Maid of Honor), 1 spot for the wedding planner so she could set up for the event, 2 spots for buses (1 for each bus that we hired to transport guests), and 1 flex spot where cars came and went such as the florist, the planner’s assistant, and the string duet.
We did end up hiring a local transportation company to move guests since parking was extremely limited at both the ceremony and reception sites. We asked guests to park at a specific parking garage in town and that’s where the bus initially picked them up. From there, they were taken to Maroon Bells and the buses parked to wait during the ceremony. Guests then boarded the buses again and were taken to the reception house. The larger bus was relieved from duty and the smaller bus stayed parked at the house to be available on-demand to take guests back to their cars. The last ride was at 11pm and guests were able to leave at any point before then so they weren’t trapped if they needed to go home. This is important because you will always have people who need to leave earlier (typically older family members who have had a long day) and people who stay till the last minute dancing their butts off (and everything in between).
You’ll need to pick an available date, book, and pay on Government Recreation website. The cost is $200 for the day and you get the Amphitheater until 3pm. Since ceremonies are typically shorter, we scheduled bus arrival for around 2:15 for a 2:30 ceremony start. That way we could use the evening for cocktail hour, dinner, then dancing. You do get the site for the morning if you prefer an AM event. Once you’ve booked your day, start planning! Just know that you will get 5 parking spaces and you pick up the passes for those the day of the event at the Forest Service station on the way up to the Scenic Area. You’ll get email communications from the Forest Service about more specific details when the date gets closer. They plainly list all restrictions on their website so please read through them before planning; this will make it easier to make sure you’re following the rules.