Everything you need to know about hiking from Aspen to Crested Butte
for the Aspen Times
After the to-be-expected last-minute shuffling of our group, debates about bringing dogs, shuttling of cars and passing off forgotten keys to a High Mountain Taxi driver to take back to Aspen (completely saving the day), our band of five humans and no canines was on the way to Crested Butte from the Maroon Bells. And all only 30 minutes behind schedule. Luckily that extra half-hour gave us time to catch a glimpse of the rising sun hitting the Maroon Bells and for the chilly morning temperatures to wane.
Last year my husband and I hiked to Crested Butte via East Maroon Pass and saw five people the entire day. That’s definitely the route to take for those seeking a more solitary, one-with-nature experience. It’s not like West Maroon Pass is hiking-the-Bowl-on-a-powder-day crowded, however it is more popular (and shorter at 11 miles versus 14 miles for East Maroon Pass), giving it an enjoyably social vibe. With the promise of clear skies and pleasant temperatures, there was a steady flow of foot traffic heading toward Crater Lake, most groups excitedly discussing routes, making last-minute pack or gear adjustments and settling in for the day. Once past the lake, numbers dwindled to other groups like ours, runners tackling the Four Pass Loop and backpackers, with plenty of awe-inspiring wilderness to go around.
Setting forth on an adventure with a group was new to me — despite knowing better, I’m often alone or with one other person on such pursuits. And I had a blast, we all did, with nary a blister or a scrape and smiles across the board. Sure, the final push to the red, rocky saddle of West Maroon Pass at 12,500 feet was burly. But once you make it and realize you and anyone else there earned it, you appreciate how incredible it is to live in a place where athletes of all abilities are willing to put in sweat effort for magical views and a rewarding experience. Not only did the company and conversation make the miles fly by, the array of snacks was outstanding! From my trail running days, I tend to keep to a “food is fuel” mindset. Hell, I thought I splurged for this trip with a mix of cashews, candy corn and jerky. So it was a treat when cheese and crackers, cured meats, fresh fruit, potato chips, chocolate bars and more appeared from my friends’ packs. I even heard whispers of sushi rolls, but, alas, those were left in the fridge.
As we started encountering Crested Butte-to-Aspen trekkers, both sides shared beta and local tips to keep in mind for next time. Plus, we hit the jackpot by experiencing the splendor of three seasons in one day with frost above Crater Lake and a surprising abundance of wildflowers, as well as changing underbrush on the Crested Butte side of the Pass. Much like the trail on the Aspen side beginning roughly 11 miles outside of town at the Bells, the trail ends on the Crested Butte side near Scofield Pass, which is 14 miles to town. I’ve heard of hardcore locals who insist on hiking those remaining miles through the town of Gothic and into CB. Good on you. Other, more popular options include arranging a shuttle, having a friend meet you at the trailhead or some other slightly convoluted plan of passing keys back and forth on the trail. Sporting a shiny new knee that isn’t quite ready for the downhill, my husband volunteered to be our driver. We had walkie-talkies to communicate but neglected to turn them on, and despite that and a flat tire, he still managed to meet us at the trailhead on time and with a cooler of cold beer. Talk about a successful day!
Later, in the hotel hot tubs, which were filled with other, like-minded Aspenites, we began to plan for next year. We’re leaning toward hiking to and from, hitting both East and West Maroon Passes, and spending an extra day in Crested Butte to relax and enjoy the laid back vibes of our mountain town neighbor.
Elevation Hotel and Spa
500 Gothic Road, Mt. Crested Butte
This property located just out of town on the ski mountain seems to be a hot spot with Aspen hikers. Be sure to book a massage at the spa before you go. They’re also running a promotion so if you book at elevationresort.com and enter the code “HIKE” you’ll get 15% off your stay through Oct. 31. A free bus makes regularly scheduled loops through town, so no car is needed.
212 Elk Avenue
We stopped in this award-winning rum tasting room and distillery in the heart of town for cocktails and snacks, only to discover the varied menu is perfect for dinner as well. Don’t miss their signature Maharaja cocktail (in the name of hydration and recovery I had mine on the rocks) with fresh ginger, asparagus and yucca fries or ramen bowls. Also grab a bottle of their Exclusiva rum before you head home.
214 Elk Ave.
With two seatings a night, reservations are a must at this cozy restaurant that uses local purveyors to make creative dishes to satisfy vegetarians, meat-eaters and everyone in between.
Coal Creek Grill
129 Elk Ave.
After perusing the Sunday farmer’s market, we snagged a creekside table for our alfresco brunch, complete with bloody marys, smoked corned beef hash and a mascarpone French toast special served with Palisade peaches.
THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Tips from Crested Butte locals and experienced town-to-town travelers
This website (cbgtrails.com) and app have mapped more than 750 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails in Gunnison County, where Crested Butte is located, with more in the works. Additionally, they’ve worked with the White River National Forest to update Aspen-area trails on their crowd-sourced mapping program. Download the app and maps needed for your trip in order to access the information, even when you have no cell or Wi-Fi, and never wonder about a turn again.
Maroon Bells Shuttles
You do the hiking and they’ll shuttle your car or extra keys from Crested Butte to Aspen and vice versa. As a bonus, check out their Facebook page for up-to-date reports about trail conditions.
Dolly’s Mountain Shuttle and Alpine Express Shuttle
With advance reservations both of these services will take you from West and East Maroon portals into Crested Butte and back, if needed, for the return hike.
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Raising spuds was a big business in the Roaring Fork Valley back in 1945 according to this old news article declaring the spuds ready for harvest on Sept. 20, 1945.