Update for 2023:
The Forest Service now requires you to obtain a permit in advance if you’re planning on backpacking in most of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, including West Maroon Pass and the entire Four Pass Loop.
Reservations for permits between April 1-July 31 are available on rec.gov at 8am MST on February 15. Reservations for permits between August 1-November 30 are available on rec.gov at 8am MST on June 15.
Permits are $10 per night per person between May 1-October 31, plus a $6 processing fee. There’s no fee for children under 16.
For the past few years I’ve celebrated my birthday by going on an epic road trip, but this year I opted to stay closer to home thanks to the pandemic. Hiking from Aspen to Crested Butte has been on my hiking bucket-list since moving to Colorado, but due to the logistics of getting to & from each trailhead (more on that below), I haven’t had a good opportunity to do it. Until now!
There are a few different routes that you can take to hike from Aspen to Crested Butte (or vice versa), but the most popular (and the one we chose) is a 10-mile point-to-point hike between the Maroon Lake Trailhead and Schofield Pass, going over West Maroon Pass.
If you’re opting to do it as a point-to-point hike (as opposed to a 20-mile out-and-back hike), coordinating getting to and from each trailhead takes a bit of planning. While the hike itself isn’t that long, the drive from one trailhead to the other takes about 4 and 1/2 hours. Yup, you read that right.
For the most direct & scenic route, leave the Maroon Lake Trailhead and take Maroon Creek Rd. back to Highway 82 and head South away from Aspen. Make a left onto Highway 133 in Carbondale and follow this for 42 miles to Kebler Pass. Take Kebler Pass (one of my favorite scenic drives in Colorado!) over to the town of Crested Butte. Drive slowly through town and make a left onto 6th Street. Stay on this road for 14 miles as it passes the ski resort, the Gothic townsite, and Schofield Pass, until you reach the obvious trailhead.
We opted to drop my Subaru off on the Crested Butte side along Schofield Pass a couple of nights before our hike. I had to park about 2 miles down from the actual trailhead because there was some gnarly damage in the road that I wasn’t comfortable driving over (although William swears the Subie could have handled it…). According to a recent AllTrails review that damage has since been largely repaired, but I would still recommend a 4WD or AWD vehicle to get all the way to the trailhead.
My mom drove William and I to the Maroon Lake Trailhead in Aspen early Saturday morning. We left Grand Junction just after 4am and arrived at the trailhead at 6:30am.
You can drive directly to the Maroon Lake Trailhead before 8am or after 5pm with a parking reservation, otherwise you have to make reservations to take the shuttle from Aspen Highlands. You can make parking & shuttle reservations here.
If you don’t have someone to shuttle you to or from the trailhead, there are services available, but be aware they book up quickly so plan ahead!
Hiking Aspen to Crested Butte
We began our hike from Maroon Lake around 7am. The first 1.8 mile stretch of trail to Crater Lake is by-far the busiest, but it’s a great short hike for a close-up look at the bells. My mom joined us for this portion of the hike and it was nice to share such a special corner of Colorado with her.
After taking some photos at the lake, William, Becket, and I continued on, slowly climbing up into the valley.
The trail climbs fairly gradually with a few steeper sections and stream crossings here and there. It’s a solid workout, especially with a full pack on, but I would describe the first 5.5 miles as a moderately challenging hike.
There was a heat wave in Colorado the weekend that we hiked, and since much of the trail is exposed, it was HOT! Around mile 5 we decided to take a break and rest. Even though we were right around tree line, we managed to find a shady spot among some pine trees. As soon as I put my pack down and inflated my sleeping pad I was out!
After waking up and eating a few snacks, we debated whether we wanted to stay and set up camp, or continue up & over the pass. During the 2-ish hours we were resting a few other groups passed through and set up camp nearby, and since it was still early in the day, we decided to press on in the hopes of finding a spot to camp that wasn’t so crowded.
The trail begins climbing steeply around mile 5.5, gaining roughly 1,000 ft. in the final mile to the top of the pass.
The climb was tough & the sun was harsh (thankfully William had recently got me a sun shirt for an early birthday gift🙏🏼), but the views from the top were well worth the effort!
After stopping for some photos on top of the pass we began the descent down the Crested Butte side of the trail. This side of the pass was much more green & lush than the Aspen side and there were also noticeably fewer people. Score!
Once we were on relatively flat terrain we began keeping an eye out for potential campsites. There was a small wall of trees that looked promising, so we carefully made our way over and found an excellent campsite that had clearly been camped at before based on the presence of an illegal fire ring (more on campfire regs later). Don’t worry, we made sure to destroy it before leaving!
It didn’t take long after arriving at camp for the mosquitos to descend on us. Turns out lush, green landscapes come with a price!
We ended up hiding out in the tent eating sour gummy worms and reading a book about the last wolves of Colorado while we waited for sunset. Becket usually enjoys exploring around camp, but he was exhausted and quickly fell asleep.
Once golden hour hit we donned some natural bug spray and left the tent to watch the light dance across the mountains. Camping at tree-line can be risky, but we lucked out with gorgeous, clear weather all weekend.
The mosquitos retreated after dark, but quickly returned shortly after sunrise, so once we were up we made coffee, packed up, and headed back to the trail as fast as we could.
The trail on day 2 was BURSTING with wildflowers, which made for an extremely pleasant hike out.
We had about 2.5 miles of hiking before reaching the trailhead on Schofield Pass, followed by a roughly 2 mile road walk back to my car. Those extra 2 miles were rough because they came with some additional elevation gain. I was SO relieved when we finally made it back to my car!
This was an incredible hike worthy of its popularity. You certainly won’t be alone on the trail, but it’s possible to find some solace if you snag a good campsite!
Distance: 10.2 miles point-to-point
Elevation Gain: 3,265 ft.
Difficulty (1-10): 9 with a full pack
Dog Friendly: Yes, but dogs MUST be on-leash in the Maroon-Snowmass Wilderness Area. Also be sure to pack out their waste!
Special Regulations: Bear canisters are required if you spend the night in the Maroon-Snowmass Wilderness Area. We passed a bear on the side of the road on the way up to the Maroon Lake Trailhead. Despite the amount of human traffic in the area bears are still very active, so stay bear aware!
Campfires are prohibited above 10,800 ft. to help protect the fragile vegetation.
Trail Link: AllTrails (this route describes hiking from Crested Butte to Aspen, which is slightly easier because it doesn’t have as much elevation gain)
As always, stay safe & Leave No Trace!