For those visiting Aspen outside of ski season and looking for a full day of adventure without the fuss of camping overnight, the West Maroon Trail provides. This trail starts on the outskirts of Aspen, winding through the Elk Mountains past the massive Maroon Bells twin peaks all the way to the town of Crested Butte. During the hike, the West Maroon Trail will take hikers past some of Colorado's most beloved sights like Pyramid Peak and Crater Lake. This 12 mile hike can easily be conquered in a day, but gains elevation around 3,400 feet that gives it a solid bit of difficulty for the seasoned hiker. The major bonus of this hike is that it both begins and ends in a town so visitors can either explore both towns or just use one to find a shuttle or a bus back to the other. This means there is no need to camp out in the wild unless hikers want to.
|Trail Length:||12 miles||City/State:|| Aspen / Crested Butte,
|Elevation:||3,423 feet gain
Many choose to begin their hike in Aspen, though it can be done either way. Inside Aspen, the trail starts at the appropriately named Maroon Bells Scenic Area on the southwestern side of the city where, even from the parking lot, visitors can spot the magnificent Maroon Bell peaks in the distance.
The trail from the parking lot starts off flat with soft, dusty dirt as is travels through light forest and plains. During the summer, this section and much of the trail is covered with beautiful wildflowers of all different hues. Just a few minutes into the hike, visitors come across Maroon Lake. In this shallow, clear mountain lake, the tall peaks are reflected in all their magnificence. The lake is a nice place for a few pictures, but hikers shouldn't linger too long, there is still a long way to go.
After leaving the lakeside, signage for Crater Lake begins to appear. The path switches from soft dirt to rocks as it ascends into a thick pine forest. After the forest finally opens up again, hikers are treated to some beautiful views of the peaks from a higher perch. Continuing a short distance down the path, the trail splits into two. One route leads on while the other follows the Snowmass Trail. Both paths are well marked with arrows so there is little danger of a wrong turn.
After the junction and around the bend, hikers are unceremoniously dropped off right at the shores of Crater Lake. Although a shallow body of water, it is a great photo opportunity. Its shallow basin is surrounded by mountains and beautiful scenery, all reflected off the lake's clear surface.
After leaving the lakeside, the trail heads west to the base of the Maroon Bells. They look pretty intimidating in the distance, but hikers truly begin to appreciate the sheer size of these fourteeners (nicknamed for their 14,000 feet elevation) when they are standing at their steep cliff face. As the hike travels along the base of the mountains, hikers will see little waterfalls dropping down from melting snows above. Those who travel with a little water filter will have a nice cold drink dropping from the rock.
Eventually the trail will twist and head up a path made of natural rock steps following a creek that is coming down from the mountains. The path does some switchbacks to shave off the steepness, but even seasoned hikers will feel the next couple miles in their legs. About four miles in, hikers will have to cross the creek that the trail has been tracing. This can be difficult in wetter years because of the slippery rocks, but in dryer years, it can almost be hopped across. The creek bed is sunny and hikers have already gained around 1,000 feet in elevation, so after crossing, taking a break to dry off may not be a bad idea, especially as the next three miles climbs another 2,000 feet up.
The trail heads up into some alpine forest where hikers will catch glimpses of red rocks. When the trees open up, the trail spits travellers out in front of a scenic basin. Although the trail doesn't lead inside it, this spot on the rim is a great place to take a break and take in all the splendor that surrounds visitors.
The hike turns to the west again and begins a steep climb. As hikers trek through the rocky tree-lined path, they will be able to see the Maroon Pass, the saddle between the mountains, where they will cross through. It is a tough climb between the incline and the loose rocks on the trail, but upon reaching the top of the saddle, hikers are nearing their destination and at the highest point in the hike at 12,000 feet. Those who intend on lingering on the saddle should keep one eye on the sky, if storm clouds are approaching, it's best to get out of the area quickly. The winds between the saddle can easily get strong enough to blow someone off.
From the top of the pass, it is only a matter of hiking, and sometimes sliding, down the steep slope that makes up the last leg of the trail. After the open area near the top, the trail descends into the trees and slowly begins to flatten out. By the time the forest opens up, visitors will just have to cross a pleasant, grassy valley to Crested Butte. This valley is another wonderful wildflower area during the summer. The green grassy field filled with colorful flowers is something of a victory parade to hikers for a job well done. The trail eventually ends in Schofield Park next to an old homesteader's house.
Now, hikers can either stay the night in Crested Butte then hike in reverse in the morning or catch a bus back to Aspen. During the summer months, there is also a shuttle bus available specifically for hikers of the trail. As the trail cuts right through the wilderness and the road has to go around, it is a long three and a half hour drive back. It's highly recommended to stay and enjoy Crested Butte as it is such a lesser known small mountain town and in the grand shadow of the Maroon Bells.