This stunning trail runs deep into the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness near Aspen. It begins at Maroon Lake and runs 1.5 miles to Crater Lake. From here, head left and the crowds will thin as it follows West Maroon Creek. This is more of a river than a creek in early summer, with a potentially hazardous crossing after three miles. Campsites can be found across the creek and in the basin above, as the trail climbs steeply to timberline. The final push to the 12,500-foot summit gains 1,000 feet of elevation in one mile. Once there, soak in the views of the valley you ascended and the majestic Elk Mountains. Hikers can continue another four miles to a trailhead in Schofield Park and then onto Crested Butte, provided they arranged for a ride or don’t mind hitchhiking. Some outdoor guides in Aspen and Crested Butte offer shuttles, so hikers can hike one-way and get a ride back. The West Maroon Trail is also a great way to have an extended backpacking trip in this wilderness on the Four Pass Loop. Cross a wildflower-filled meadow below the pass and hike over Frigid Air Pass, below which more camping can be found.
I was new to hiking in the Rockies when I hiked the West Maroon Trail in early summer 2005. I didn’t know about creek crossings and when I reached the crossing three miles in, I couldn’t believe how deep and fast this little creek was running. Discretion being the better part of valor, I decided to turn around. When I came back years later to backpack the Four Pass Loop, it was late August and we could cross without even getting our feet wet.
- There’s a crossing of West Maroon Creek that is hazardous when the creek is high with snowmelt. Make this a mid-summer trip.
- Because of bear activity in this area, as of the summer of 2016 the U.S. Forest Service began requiring all backpackers to carry bear canisters.
- During summer months, visitors must take a shuttle bus to this trailhead between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Pick up the shuttle in the parking lot of the Aspen Highlands ski area.
Recommended season(s): Mid-summer to early fall.
–R. Scott Rappold