Every step of the West Maroon Trail in Aspen is jaw-dropping.
The trail starts off with a steep and rocky ascent to Crater Lake. As you quickly approach this alpine wonder, you’ll find several designated campsites in the area. Push deeper into the wilderness for a scenic spot among the aspen groves. Navigating around avalanche debris is part of the adventure.
There are plenty of sights to be had along this 20.4-mile out and back trail. As you push deeper and deeper into the Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness, you’ll experience a sense of wanderlust among some of the most beautiful scenery you’ve ever laid eyes on. The trail is rated as difficult with an elevation gain of about 5,396 feet.
Editor’s Note: Please check weather conditions, current road conditions, and closures before planning your travels to Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. High-elevation sites are often inaccessible due to snow, even in the summer months. For current conditions, click here.
For flower chasers, this is your paradise. In the late spring to early summer months, the trail is often decorated in colorful alpine flora. Common wildflowers seen along this color-lined trail include Colorado Columbines, Splitleaf Indian Paintbrush, Aspen Daisies, Lupinus Perennis, Red Indian Paintbrush, Subalpine Larkspur, Alpine Sunflowers, and many more.
As you reach the top of West Maroon Pass, take in sweeping views of the surrounding mountains before making the steep descent down the pass nearing toward Frigid Air Pass. After weaving through a series of wildflower meadows, you’ll reach the end of the West Maroon Trail. For some, the journey isn’t over yet. Hikers and backpackers will be greeted with a plethora of options. The most obvious is to turn around and make your way back to the trailhead for victory tacos at Highlands Taqueria. Of course, you always have the option to camp out and stay awhile.
For those traveling all the way to Crested Butte, take a left at the end of the trail. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, finish the Four Pass Loop by taking the trail to the right at the split continuing on for another 20+ miles before looping back at Crater Lake. Be warned, the loop is as spectacular as it undoubtedly strenuous. Some humans, dogs, and otherwise may have difficulty completing the entire loop. For backpackers, you’ll need to self-register and fill out a backpacking permit at the beginning of the trailhead. It’s also worth mentioning that bear containers are required for overnighters. Trekking poles, water filters, and bear spray are also highly recommended for this long and beautiful journey.
Parking can be tricky. Your best bet is to park at the Aspen Highlands Visitor Center, located just a few miles from the Forest Service Gate on Maroon Creek Road. Grab tickets inside and catch a lift to the iconic Maroon Bells Wilderness from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. It’s typically $8 a person and the bus operates from early June to October. For parking rates vary by day. For weekdays, it’s $10 for 0-3 hours, $15 for 3-8 hours and $25 for 8+ hours. Be sure to arrive early as parking is very limited.
Before you head into the wild make sure you’re prepared. Utilize the principles of Leave No Trace. Always stick to the designated trail. Never cut switchbacks. There are no shortcuts! If you’re planning on backpacking, remember to keep it as light as possible. There are generally plenty of water sources along the trail, though this water will need to be purified. Don’t forget to pack bug spray. Mosquitos and flies are abundant around lakes and creeks. Lastly, pack out all of your trash and any other trash you may find along the trail.
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