The Hike Of A Lifetime: Aspen To Crested Butte

Aspen Snowmass in summer

By car, Crested Butte and Aspen are 100 miles apart. But on foot, the two mountain towns are just 11 miles from one another. The hike from Aspen to Crested Butte takes hikers over the 12,500-foot West Maroon Pass and is one of the most iconic and popular routes in the area.

Here’s the low-down on hiking between two of Colorado’s favorite ski towns.

Getting There And Back

The trailhead starts at Maroon Lake and the entrance to the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area. It’s recommended to leave earlier than 8am, for a few reasons:
  • Parking at the trailhead is prohibited between 8am and 5pm from mid-June through October 1st, but if you happen to park before then you can pay between $5 and $10 to park overnight;
  • And also the later you hike the more at-risk you are to run into afternoon thunderstorms.
If you do plan to hit the trailhead at 8am or later, you can take the bus from Aspen Highlands ($8/adults, $6/children) right to the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area. From the Crested Butte side, it’s necessary to book a shuttle for pick-up at the trailhead, as it’s still 20 to 30 minutes away from town.

Book through Alpine Express or Dolly’s ($20/person) and they’ll meet you at the end of your hike at a set time — sometimes with cold beer. Both companies also offer a drop-off for the return trip, or they can be booked for a ride all the way back to Aspen ($65/person).

Get accurate and up-to-date trailhead information from Travel Crested Butte's website.

Maroon Bells at dawn

Maroon Bells at dawn

On The Trail

The hike starts at 9,580-feet at the Maroon Lake trailhead, and climbs 3,000 feet over 6.5 miles to West Maroon Pass before descending another 4.5 to Schofield Pass. The first 1.8 miles to Crater Lake climbs through giant aspen groves. Because this part of the wilderness area provides access points to many of the surrounding 14ers and different trails, like Buckskin Pass, it can be very crowded.

Once past Crater Lake, however, crowds dissipate and the long yet moderate climb up West Maroon Creek is stunning. The trail meanders along the creek before popping into high alpine tundra above the tree-line. West Maroon Pass is known for some of the most breathtaking and colorful wildflowers in the area, especially from mid-July into August. The last mile to the pass is a set of steep switchbacks, but the view at the top is the reward. Try to get here before noon to enjoy lunch with a view, and to avoid afternoon thunderstorms.

The next 4.5 miles weave down into a wide open valley that looks more like the Swiss Alps than Colorado backcountry. About 1 mile from the pass, the trail intersects with Frigid Air Pass. Continue straight, as Frigid Air will continue along the Four Pass Loop. Another mile below that, it intersects again with Hasley Basin. Stay right on the trail and follow this as it meanders through the valley. Eventually it will pass an old cabin and shortly after, the trail will spit you out at Schofield Pass. For now, you will need to turn left and hike 2 miles while the remnants of the avalanche melt on Gothic Road (see note above). Later in the season, your shuttle can pick you up at the trailhead.

The Hike from Aspen to Crested Butte

The Hike from Aspen to Crested Butte

Luxe Option

Treat yourself to a night of luxury in Aspen before or after your hike to Crested Butte - you've earned it! Check out The Limelight Hotel Aspen and The Little Nell for lodging in the heart of Aspen, Colorado with access to dining, nightlife, arts & culture, hiking, and biking right outside your door.

Alternative Option

Hikers looking for a longer, less crowded option can take the 14-mile route over East Maroon Pass. This trailhead also starts from Maroon Creek Rd. but separates from the main trail about 3 miles before Maroon Lake. The same parking rules and car fees apply for the East Maroon Creek trailhead.

This trail is a moderate climb through the valley below Pyramid Peak. Once hikers reach the pass, they descend to Copper Lake and eventually into the town of Gothic, 7 miles from Crested Butte. The East Maroon Creek trail does have more horse traffic.

Insider Tips

  • Go early to avoid afternoon thunderstorms.
  • If you’re bringing a dog, make sure they’re on a leash and that you’ve booked accommodations on the Crested Butte side that allows pets — many hotels don’t. (The Grand Lodge and Elevation Hotel are two that do.)
  • After a long hike, there’s nothing better than the unique pizzas served at The Secret Stash. Opt for cocktails at Montanya Distillers. If you’re looking for something more ethnic, Ginger Cafe serves excellent Thai food and Donita’s is authentic Mexican.
  • Don’t leave anything behind. This is a fragile high alpine ecosystem and is already suffering because of overuse. Pack out all trash and bury human waste at least 100 feet from the trail. Dog poop? Carry it out, please.
  • Bring layers. Even though it’s 80 degrees in town, it will definitely be cool on the pass.
  • Have fun!

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