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Hiking to Aspen from Crested Butte

The Crested Butte to Aspen hike via West Maroon Pass or East Maroon Pass is one of Colorado’s most scenic and renowned adventures. The Maroon-Bells Snowmass Wilderness Area provides stunning views of the Elk Mountains, vibrant fields of wildflowers, beautiful alpine lakes and more.


Why hike from Crested Butte to Aspen?

The trailheads in Aspen for the Maroon-Bells Snowmass Wilderness are very popular and require permits to access. Trail users starting in Crested Butte don’t need a permit to access the trailhead. West Maroon Pass in Crested Butte is one of the easiest routes to Aspen and the Maroon Bells. It also has some of the best wildflower viewing in Colorado in July and August. Lodging and meals are also more affordable in Crested Butte than in Aspen.


Hiking from Crested Butte to Aspen

Most people heading to Aspen from Crested Butte via West Maroon Pass or East Maroon Pass opt for a one-way trip and arrange for a shuttle to return them to their starting point. The one-way hike can be completed in a day. Those who enjoy walking at a slower pace or want to savor their time on the trail may choose to make the journey into an overnight backpacking trip. Adventurous and skilled people—or those not interested in paying for a shuttle—may opt to walk these routes out-and-back, likely with an overnight stay in Aspen or along the trail.

a mountain view of multi-colored peaks in the west maroon hasley basin hiking crested butte aspen

When is the best time to hike in the Maroon-Bells Snowmass Wilderness?

July, August and September are the best times to journey to Aspen because of the area’s high alpine environment. Snow may linger in the high country until June. July and August bring warmer weather and wildflowers, but summer is the busiest season for this area. Hiking here in the fall is less popular, and the yellow aspen leaves are epic.


Is a permit needed to start hiking in Crested Butte?

A permit isn’t required for a day hike to East Maroon Pass or West Maroon Pass.


Is a permit required to start hiking in Aspen?

Hikers do not need a permit for a day trip in the Maroon Bells from Aspen. However, the Maroon Bells trailhead can only be accessed by public bus. Bus reservations fill up fast. Access the trailhead without a reservation by walking or biking.

A cluster of bright flowers in the foreground of a mountain peak. These wildflowers are in Gothic, Colorado

What are the wildflowers like on a Crested Butte to Aspen hike?

Crested Butte is the official Wildflower Capital of Colorado. The wildflowers bring the mountains to life with a rainbow of color every summer. This spectacle is on full display in the Crystal River valley at the beginning of the trail to West Maroon Pass. Some wildflowers that bloom in July and August include mules ears sunflowers, purple fringe, heartleaf arnica and sky pilots.


Getting to West Maroon Trailhead in Crested Butte

Head north on Gothic Road (Highway 135) from the town of Crested Butte. Stay on this road for 14 miles. Pass the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory and Emerald Lake. The West Maroon trailhead is on the right side of the road just past the sticker-encrusted Schofield Pass sign.


Hiking West Maroon Pass

The hike begins by winding through the woods along the Crystal River. Go right at the fork when the forest starts to end. After two miles look for a wooden sign indicating a right fork towards West Maroon Pass. Climb the gradual incline towards the sign for Frigid Air Pass. West Maroon Pass is straight ahead.

The incline gets steeper throughout the climb, and the last quarter mile is very strenuous. Revel in the hard work of getting to the top of the pass by taking in the 360-degree view of the Elk Mountains. The trail that descends to Aspen is steep and narrow. The trail levels out as it loses elevation.

The trail is rocky all the way to Maroon Lake. Maroon Creek has three crossings—wear shoes that can get wet. The valley opens as it approaches Crater Lake. It goes by the base of Maroon and North Maroon Peak, known as the Maroon Bells. Take in the view of these iconic peaks on the last stretch of the hike while approaching Maroon Lake.

an aerial view of a mountain lake, north pole lake in maroon bells

Getting to East Maroon Trailhead in Crested Butte

Head north on Gothic Road (Highway 135) for a little less than nine miles. Pass the townsite of Gothic and the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory. The trailhead is on the right at the Copper Creek trail sign.


Hiking East Maroon Pass

Begin on the trail to Judd Falls. From the falls, take Copper Creek Trail for 1.4 miles to the first of three steam crossings. The second and third crossings are in another 1.4 miles. Head straight at the junction a mile after the third crossing. The trail gets steeper the closer it gets to Copper Lake.

Head right at the lake and continue up the trail. Some of the best views on this hike are between Copper Lake and East Maroon Pass. The climb to East Maroon Pass is moderate and one mile. Make sure to enjoy the view from the top of the pass before heading down to Aspen. It is 10.5 miles to Aspen from the top of East Maroon Pass.

The downhill to Aspen features a steady grade with two more stream crossings on the way down. A view of Pyramid Peak is visible to the west from the trail. The Maroon Bells are visible where East Maroon Creek and Maroon Creek meet. This route is 22 miles.


Planning a backpacking trip in the Maroon-Bells Snowmass Wilderness

Organizing a trip to Aspen requires setting up a logistical plan ahead of time. Backpacking trips in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Overnight Permit Zones require permits and campsite reservations. Transportation to and from the trailheads must be secured as well. Shuttle companies in Crested Butte that offer trailhead services include Dolly’s Mountain Shuttle and the Alpine Express.  Book lodging in Crested Butte in advance to ensure a comfortable bed for the long trek.


Four Pass Loop

Four Pass Loop is a backpacking trip that traverses Buckskin Pass, Trail Rider Pass, Frigid Air Pass and West Maroon Pass. This challenging 27-mile loop circumnavigates the Maroon Bells. Start this loop by following the sign for Frigid Air Pass along the trail to West Maroon Pass. Climb to Frigid Air Pass through Hasley Basin and up a series of steep switchbacks. Continue on steep switchbacks to descend on the other side of the pass towards the North Fork of the Crystal River.

Follow the trail along the river as it begins to switchback. Enter a small clearing and head right on the Four Pass Loop Trail. Cross the river and continue into a spruce forest. Go right after exiting the forest towards Trail Rider Pass. Climb to the top of Trail Rider Pass through steep open meadows and aspen groves.

Descend on the other side of the pass to Snowmass Lake on switchbacks in alpine meadows. Take the left intersection at the far end of the lake and then go right at the intersection for the Maroon-Snowmass Trail to head to Buckskin Pass. View the back of the Maroon Bells as the trail crosses Snowmass Creek and bears left to start switchbacking. The trail continues to ascend to a ridge with sweeping views of Snowmass Mountain, Snowmass Lake, Capitol Peak and Mt. Daly. Look to the right to see Pyramid Peak and the Maroon Bells as the trail crosses the pass.

Descend the switchbacks to an alpine meadow until the trail reaches a sign for the Maroon-Snowmass/Willow Lake Trail junction. Go right to enter Minnehaha Gulch. Take the trail through the gulch until reaching the aspen forest Crater Lake is in. Take the intersection to West Maroon Trail back to Crested Butte. Overnight permits are required for backpacking this loop.

copper lake along copper creek trail crested butte colorado

Conundrum Hot Springs via Copper Creek Trail

Get to Conundrum Hot Springs by heading up Copper Creek Trail at Judd Falls. Follow Copper Creek Trail for about 4.5 miles until it intersects with the Conundrum Trailhead. This trail is 22.5 miles out-and-back and challenging. Most people backpack it and camp at the hot springs before returning to Crested Butte. Camping is allowed at the hot springs with an overnight permit.


Guided hikes from Crested Butte to Aspen

Colorado Backcountry is the only guided hiking service in Crested Butte permitted to do guided hikes on West Maroon Pass. Hire a guide to make the most of the experience. Guides help make the trip more interesting and enjoyable. They can help you learn about the area, including the peaks and wildflowers you’ll see. They can also take care of the logistics for you. Visit coloradobc.com to learn more.


Traveling in the backcountry

Review all regulations and obtain the proper permits before traveling or camping in a wilderness area. Camping without a permit could result in a fine. Learn about campfire regulations, proper trash and waste disposal, designated camping areas, and how to avoid fines for illegal activities in our travel resource guide.


Visiting Crested Butte

Check out Crested Butte before or after the journey to Aspen. This Colorado mountain town is full of outdoor recreation and stunning natural beauty. The trails to Aspen make up just a few of the 1,200-plus miles of trails in the Gunnison Valley. Historic Elk Avenue is colorful and quaint, with a surprising number of options for dining and shopping. Other things to do downtown include viewing art of the area, seeing live music and getting drinks made with local spirits.


Staying in Crested Butte before hiking to Aspen

Arriving in Crested Butte a couple of days before hiking to Aspen can help acclimate to the high elevation. Go on some day hikes in the area and enjoy the treat of a comfy bed while preparing for the trek to Aspen. Places to stay in Crested Butte range from inns and boutique hotels to bed and breakfasts and vacation rentals. Mt. Crested Butte is even closer to the trailhead. Lodging options in Mt. Crested Butte include resort-style hotels, vacation rentals, cabins and more.

A pointy mountain peak hanging over a downtown street lined with shops, bikes and flower baskets on elk avenue crested butte colorado

Staying in Crested Butte after hiking to Aspen

Splurge and book an inviting room with a soft bed and hot shower after the hike. Many lodging properties also have hot tubs for guests. Explore more of the area on a day hike or bike ride. Book a whitewater rafting trip to rest those tired legs but still have an adventure. Enjoy local beer, craft cocktails and delicious food on Elk Avenue.


Planning a trip

The route to Aspen from Crested Butte is one of the most beautiful places in Colorado. Hiking to Aspen from Crested Butte provides amazing views of Colorado mountains and wildflowers, not to mention refreshing alpine lakes to cool off in. Shuttle services and hiker-friendly lodgings provide hikers with the amenities they need for a trip to Aspen. Lodging is also more affordable in Crested Butte than in Aspen. Enjoy the luxury of a soft bed after a long trek on a budget. Learn more about planning a trip to Crested Butte.

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