Hiking in Aspen: West Maroon Trail to Crested Butte

By Deb Stanley, Examiner.com

It’s an amazing idea – did you know you can hike from Aspen to Crested Butte? The hike is 11 miles between trailheads.

On the Aspen side, the trail starts at the appropriately named Maroon Bells Scenic Area. Just steps from the parking lot, you’ll be treated to an amazing view of the Maroon Bells, two beautiful peaks in the distance. The peaks are both “14ers,” meaning they are more than 14,000-feet high. Maroon Peak is 14,156 feet and North Maroon Peak is 14,014 feet,  Walk a short distance to Maroon Lake and you’ll hopefully get a great shot with the reflection of the Maroon Bells in the surface of the lake.
While it’s tempting to linger here, there are many miles ahead, so start on the path along the lake. Just past the lake, follow the signs for Crater Lake. The trail becomes rockier and begins to climb through the forest. When the forest opens up, enjoy the views of the surrounding peaks.
About 1.9 miles from the parking lot, you’ll come to a trail split for the Maroon-Snowmass Trail, follow the arrow for 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 beautiful scenery and tall peaks. The lake is shallow, but very photogenic. After the lake, the trail goes west just a short distance to the bottom of the Maroon Bells cliff face, then it turns south. As you hike along the bottom of the rock, look up for waterfalls created by the melting snow above. Soon you’ll find yourself climbing up a trail, then following a creek. About four miles into the hike is a wide stream crossing. This can be a dangerous spot in wet years. Note, at this spot you’ve climbed 1,000 feet of elevation gain. There’s another 2,000 feet to go in the next 3 miles, but for now, the path is still climbing at just a slight grade as it winds through the trees.

During the next three-quarters of a mile, you’ll going to start getting glimpses of red rocks up ahead. Suddenly, at about 4.8 miles, the trees open up, and you’ll get your first look at the scenic basin ahead. This is a great spot to just turn 360 degrees and enjoy the views in every direction. Take a photo and keep going, the views are going to get better. From here, the hike begins to climb and turn west again.

Soon you’ll come to a spot where you can see Maroon Pass. That’s where you’ll climb over the saddle to drop down the valley to the Crested Butte side. But to get to the top, you’ll have to climb about 1,000 feet in the final mile. Take your time, take photos and enjoy this spot. If you come in July, you’ll hopefully be treated to fields and fields of wildflowers in an array of colors.

At the top, you’ll be amazed by the incredible view of the valley you’ve just hiked and the valley on the Crested Butte side of the pass. When you get here, take a good look at the clouds and decide how long you can stay. If storm clouds are approaching, you’ll need to take a quick picture and get below treeline as quickly as possible. If the skies are clear, you’ll want to linger here, have lunch, take lots of pictures and maybe talk with the other hikers making this incredible journey.

From here, you can return to your car on the Aspen side for a hike of 14 miles roundtrip. Or if you’ve arranged for a shuttle or a ride on the Crested Butte side, it’s time to hike on. From here, the trail drops quickly in elevation as it winds through more fields of wildflowers. As you hike through the valley, make sure you take a 360 degree turn occasionally and enjoy the view in every direction. At one point, making the full turn helped us spot a waterfall.

From the top of Maroon Pass, it’s four miles and 2,000 feet of elevation drop to the trailhead at Schofield Park. You’ll know you’re getting close when you see an old homestead. If you look closely, you may even spot a second building here.

Details: The hike from the Maroon Bells Scenic Area to the Schofield Park trailhead is 11 miles with 3,000 feet of elevation gain and 2,000 feet of elevation loss. The high point is 12,500 feet.

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. Learn more.

In Crested Butte, consider the short hike to Judd Falls. For more great hikes in Colorado and throughout the west, click here.