Hiking in Aspen: Maroon Lake and Crater Lake

By Deb Stanley, Examiner.com 

If you enjoy lake hikes, make sure you put Maroon and Crater lakes on your “to-do” list. The hike is short, just two miles each way, but the scenery is amazing.

The hike starts at appropriately named Maroon Bells Scenic Area (directions below). Just steps from the parking lot, you’ll be treated to an amazing view of the Maroon Bells, two beautiful peaks in the distance. Both of the “bells” are “14ers,” meaning they are more than 14,000-foot high. Maroon Peak is 14,156 feet and North Maroon Peak is 14,014 feet. Take just a few more steps from the parking lot and you’ll be standing at the shoreline of Maroon Lake. Come on a calm morning with no wind and you’ll be able to capture a great shot with the reflection of the Maroon Bells in the surface of the lake. If you don’t go any further than Maroon Lake, you will be happy you took the time to see this incredible place. Friends will be very jealous of your photos. But if you’re willing to hike, it’s worth taking the trek to Crater Lake.

The path starts out flat along Maroon Lake. At the other end of the lake, the trail splits. Follow the signs for West Maroon Trail/Crater Lake.

Now you’ll get a taste of hiking in Colorado. The trail quickly becomes rockier and begins to climb through the forest. If you don’t live in Colorado, you’re going to think the trail is pretty steep at times. Don’t rush the hike, enjoy it. Look at the trees, listen for the birds and watch the people go by in both directions. When the forest opens up, this hike gets even better. Take a look at how close you’re getting to the Maroon Bells. You’re not climbing them, that’s a tough hike, even for experienced climbers, but your view of the peaks just keeps getting better and better as you hike the path.

About 1.9 miles from the parking lot, you’ll come to a trail split for the Maroon-Snowmass Trail. Don’t stop here. Follow the arrow for the West Maroon Trail, walk just a few more steps and you’ll be at Crater Lake. Crater Lake is amazing because it sits in a basin surrounded by spectacular scenery and tall peaks. The lake is shallow, but very photogenic. Again, if you come on a calm day, you’ll want to take pictures of the nearby peaks reflecting in the water’s surface. If you don’t come on a calm day, you’ll still be able to take pictures of the lake and the amazing views around it.

Crater Lake is a great place for a picnic lunch and people watching. There are two very popular hikes that go by this spot — the trail from Aspen to Crested Butte and a popular backpacking trail nicknamed the four-pass loop. Watch the people going by and try to guess if they’re out for a day, two days or longer. If you eat here, watch your surroundings. Even though this is a busy area, some of my friends saw a bear at the lake around lunchtime on a day in late July.

When you’re done enjoying the views and have taken all the pictures you want, return the way you came.

Details: The hike to Crater Lake and back is about 4 miles roundtrip with 600 feet of elevation gain.

Directions: From Highway 82 in Aspen, take Maroon Creek Road 9 miles to the parking area. Note, the parking lots fill up before 7 a.m. on weekends in the summer. There is a $10 parking fee. From mid-June to September, you can only drive to the trailhead before 9 a.m. and after 5 p.m. Between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. you have to take the shuttle bus.