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Aspen to Crested Butte Hike

The Maroon Bells near Aspen
22 Jun 2022
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Crested Butte and Aspen are approximately 100 miles apart by car. The trip takes around 3 hours each way in the summer and the fall. Believe it or not, the two mountain towns are just 11 miles apart on foot.

The hike from Aspen to Crested Butte is one of Colorado's most famous. The route takes six to eight hours on average, and is considered a challenging venture. This breathtaking hike takes you through the spectacular Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness—widely-regarded as one of the most beautiful places in the already-stunning state of Colorado. The best weather for hiking from Aspen to Crested Butte is between late June and mid-October. Wildflowers are most abundant in July, and the most colorful scenery can be found in mid-September. But the area’s vast scenery is gorgeous all summer and early fall.  

Hiking the Aspen to Crested Butte Trails

There are three routes hikers can take between Aspen to Crested Butte, but the two most common are West Maroon and East Maroon Pass, which are both equally scenic. While West Maroon is the more commonly-traveled and popular of the two routes, it is a bit steeper compared to the East Maroon route.

The 12-mile West Maroon route starts at Maroon Lake, and the 15-mile East Maroon route starts on the road up to Maroon Lake. West Maroon tends to be more strenuous but also more scenic, while East Maroon is an easier and less crowded route, with great views of Emerald Lake, Copper Lake, and Pyramid Peak.

For the ultimate experience with zero backtracking, we recommend hiking West Maroon to Crested Butte and hiking East Maroon back to Aspen.

Hiking West Maroon Pass to Crested Butte

The 12-mile West Maroon hike begins at 9,580-feet at the Maroon Lake trailhead in the Maroon Bells Scenic Area just outside of Aspen. It climbs 3,000 feet over 6.5 miles to 12,500-foot-high West Maroon Pass before dropping another 4.5 miles to Schofield Pass.

Within minutes of setting off from the Maroon Bells trailhead, you will be treated to sublime views of beautiful Maroon Lake. Take a right and follow the shore of the lake to the trail. You’ll start heading uphill all the way to West Maroon Pass.

The first section of the trail, which is often crowded with day hikers, winds through an aspen forest and up a relatively steep and rocky path. After a few miles, you'll come to the picturesque Crater Lake, which is ideal for taking a rest. As you continue on and hike above Crater Lake, the crowds thin out and the views of the lake, valley and red peaks (“Maroon” Bells) will open up behind you. Be sure to turn around and enjoy the view!

Continuing up toward West Maroon Pass, you'll follow the creek and wind through sections of forest and rock piles until you reach the high-altitude tundra. There are a couple of river crossings that may be challenging depending on water flows. The final mile up to West Maroon Pass is the most difficult part of the hike, with steep switchbacks and a thin, gravelly trail through harsher terrain. It’s worth, it as the views from the Pass are spectacular.

The five miles down to Crested Butte pass through a beautiful valley brimming with wildflowers. About a mile down from the pass, you'll come across the trailhead to Frigid Air Pass – don't take this turn; instead, continue straight on the trail down to Schofield Pass.

You'll be hiking through lush meadows for a while before reaching the ruins of an old cabin. At this point, take the trail down into the forest for less than a mile to the Schofield Pass car park. If you booked a shuttle to Crested Butte, you'll meet it here for your drive into town along a winding gravel road.

Hiking East Maroon Back to Aspen

The 15-mile East Maroon Pass trail connects Crested Butte and Aspen and begins at the Judd Falls/Copper Creek Trailhead on the Crested Butte side, which you can reach via Dolly's Mountain Shuttle or via the free Gothic Bus. It should be noted that the bus/shuttle ride from town to the trailhead will take about 30 minutes.

Begin by following the signs to Judd Falls and Copper Creek — you'll reach the Judd Falls overlook in less than a mile. Then, continue hiking and follow signs to Copper Creek/Copper Lake. Hike four miles along a wide old wagon trail that winds gently uphill through the forest and across the river. The last section before reaching the lake is the most difficult.

The views from Copper Lake to the 11,8240-foot East Maroon Pass are dazzling, and the wildflowers in the summer are breathtaking. The trail descends from the pass's summit along a rocky ridgeline before entering a beautiful meadow. You’ll enter the forest for a long period of time, and the more you descend, the more aspen trees you’ll encounter.

Hiking poles are recommended and will be helpful for the river crossings during the next section. You’ll eventually hit a fork in the trail where you can either choose to head towards the East Maroon Picnic Site or to Maroon Lake. Once there, you’ll either return to your parked car or wait for the next shuttle bus back to Aspen Highlands.

Aspen to Crested Butte Hiking Tips

  • Leave early to avoid dangerous afternoon thunderstorms. Try to be off either Pass by noon.
  • Bring more water than you think you’ll need, and bring plenty of food.
  • Bring plenty of layers, including wind and rain gear. Weather changes frequently and unexpectedly in the high alpine.
  • Don’t forget extra socks and bandages in case of blisters.
  • Bring a fully charged cell phone.
  • Pack in, pack out. Don’t leave anything in the fragile wilderness ecosystem.

Getting to and from the Trailheads

Reservations are required to access the Maroon Bells Scenic Area including parking. Learn more and book a parking reservation here.

You’ll also want to pre-arrange transport from the trailheads in Crested Butte to the town of Crested Butte. Alpine Express and Dolly’s are two recommended services. For the West Maroon Route, you should book a ride to meet your party at the Schofield Park Trailhead. For the East Maroon Route, book a ride to pick up at the town of Gothic. Both companies also offer a drop-off at the trailhead for your return hike, or you can book a ride all the way back to Aspen.

Where to Stay Before and After your Hike

We recommend you treat yourself to a night of luxury in Aspen before or after your hike to Crested Butte. Whether you’re resting up for your adventure or returning after a long day (or more) of intense hiking in the elements, you’ll be relieved to settle into a comfortable Aspen condo with access to laundry and a full kitchen. Explore our downtown condo rentals and plan your next vacation to Aspen.