Talk a walk from Aspen to Crested Butte
Average time: 6 hours
Trail rating: difficult
Elevation gain: 2,920 feet
Starting elevation: 9,580 feet
West Maroon Pass Summit: 12,500 feet
Ideal hiking months: mid-June to mid-October
Dogs are allowed but must be leashed
Getting Here and There From Aspen
Follow Highway 82 west to the roundabout. Take the second exit onto Maroon Creek Road. Maroon Creek Road at T-Lazy-7 Ranch is restricted to vehicles from 9 a.m to 5 p.m. from mid-June through mid-September. Visitors between those hours must take the shuttle from Aspen Highlands. The Maroon Bells Scenic Area is a fee area.
When you arrive at the Schofield Park Trailhead near Crested Butte, you’ll need a ride for the remaining 10 miles over Schofield Pass into Crested Butte. Dolly’s Mountain Shuttle is the locals’ recommendation.
A popular town-to-town day hike known for its breathtaking panoramic landscape and spectacular wildflowers, Aspen to Crested Butte is as much about the adventure as it is the views. Experiencing the quiet hideaway of Crested Butte is good for the soul, and it’s guaranteed to remind you of every single reason you should love quirky, small, mountain towns.
Colorado natives know that an early-morning start to an epic hike means you’ll be at your final destination in time for happy hour. It’s also well-known that Mother Nature doesn’t suffer fools, and early-afternoon thunderstorms are notorious in Colorado and can be deadly at 12,000 feet. The rule of thumb: Be well on your way back down to treeline by noon. An 8 a.m. start time is probably sufficient to get over the pass by lunchtime, but plan according to your hiking ability and acclimation to altitude.
Maroon Lake anchors two of Colorado’s most stunning peaks — Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak, affectionately known as the Maroon Bells. Most mornings, the lake serves as a magnificent reflecting pool of one of the world’s most stunning landscapes. It’s a magical way to start the day.
You’ll begin at the West Maroon Pass trailhead that leads to Crater Lake. This part of the trail can be very crowded with adventure-seekers of all ability levels. The best advice: Enjoy the spectacular scenery, take advantage of the rest breaks as you wait to pass slower walkers, and know that you only have 1.8 miles to go before the crowd will begin to thin — a little bit. From Crater Lake, you’ll continue on the West Maroon Pass Trail all the way to the Schofield Park trailhead (the end of your hike). You’ll cross West Maroon Creek multiple times on your journey toward West Maroon Pass. Depending on the time of the year, you may be in fast-flowing water up to your knees. It can be sketchier than it sounds, but be prepared (bring expandable hiking poles if you have them). You’ll notice many hikers who will change out of their hiking boots into water shoes to avoid that uncomfortable 10 miles of sloshing around in wet socks. At the least, bring an extra pair or two of dry socks.
The hardest part of this hike is the mile-long, 1,000-foot ascent to the summit of West Maroon Pass. Once you’re there, it’s just a few miles downhill through breathtaking Schofield Park. Like all pass summits, West Maroon is likely to be chilly and a bit windy (a windbreaker or rain jacket is a must-have piece of clothing). There are several large rocks that make for great windbreaks so you can have a snack while you take in stunning views in all directions.
The rest is all downhill — literally. It’s OK if you feel like skipping down the trail through millions of wildflowers. It’s a pretty liberating experience. Be sure to take lots of photos, but know in advance that nobody will believe they are real anyway, so you might as well just stop and smell the wild roses. Schofield Park is also home to many wild animals, including the majestic moose. This is why dogs must be on leashes. It’ll seem unfair to keep Fido cooped up when thousands of acres of green grass lie before you, but when your pooch stirs up an angry momma moose and leads her back to the humans, your hike might be over.
Once you wind your way to the Schofield Park trailhead, your ride will be awaiting (assuming you arranged for one). You should be on the lookout for an A Team-type van and a cooler of beer (assuming Dolly’s is picking you up). Hang on as your driver navigates the 10 miles of Schofield Pass that stand between you and cocktails in the Butte. Once you arrive, be sure to ask around for where to find some free townies so you can cruise the eclectic back streets between food, drink and shopping stops. Enjoy what will be a memorable experience.
Editor’s note: This story first appeared in Summer in Aspen, an annual publication of The Aspen Times.
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U.S. Forest Service ready to make happy campers with the opening of facilities in the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District.