Hiking from Aspen to Crested Butte, Colorado

Since moving to the Aspen area of Colorado in 1994, I’d long wanted to make the 11-mile hike over a 12,000+ foot pass to the ski town of Crested Butte. It took me almost 20 years to get to Crested Butte on foot, but I finally did the trek this summer with a good friend of mine amid the most glorious display of wildflowers I’d ever seen. We definitely timed our hike perfectly on July 26, when the colorful blooms were peaking for the season.

Hiking from Aspen to Crested Butte, Colorado

Columbines, the state flower, abound along the Aspen to Crested Butte trail.

Was the hike tough? Yep. It took us a total of 8 hours (8:15 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. from trailhead to trailhead), when the suggested hike time is 5 to 8 hours – and this moderately fit hiking enthusiast is usually on the low end of the spread!

Elevation gain is almost 3,000 feet; the traverse to the top of West Maroon Pass (12,480 feet) is a sludge; and on the other side of the mountain, when we were heading downhill with just a couple miles left, we just wanted to be done.

That all said, I’m so thrilled we completed the legendary hike. I’m not sure I need to do it again (I have friends who make the trek every year), yet highly recommend it at least once to anyone who’s in reasonably good shape.

The trail: If you were to drive the 104 miles from Aspen to Crested Butte (via Carbondale and McClure Pass) it would take at least 3 hours.

But, as I noted, by foot, the West Maroon Trail is only 11 miles (there is also a longer, 14-mile route over East Maroon Trail, but West Maroon is more popular).

It’s about 7 miles to the top of West Maroon Pass, and then another 4 miles “down” to the end of the route at Schofield Park, which is actually 14 miles from the town of Crested Butte, so you’ll need to arrange transportation on the other side if you want to get into town or to the base of the ski mountain, where you’ll find lodging.

The shuttle: Dolly’s Mountain Shuttle is the way to go for a pick-up in Crested Butte, if you don’t have a friend (or spouse) planning to meet you with a car on the other side.

We were fortunate enough to have Erica Reiter, who handles PR for Crested Butte Mountain Resort, pick us up in Schofield Park. We told her we’d be off the trail around 3 p.m. or 3:30 p.m., and she kindly and patiently waited for us until after 4 p.m., as we were a couple of the last hikers off the trail for the day. (There was no way for us to call ahead to say we’d be late; cell phones don’t work on the trail. A little nerve wracking!)

Hiking from Aspen to Crested Butte, Colorado

Maroon Bells and Maroon Lake at the start of the trail.

The start: My husband dropped us off at the beginning of the West Maroon Trail at Aspen’s Maroon Lake (at the base of the Maroon Bells) at about 8 a.m. Friday morning, July 26.

There’s a parking lot there, so you can leave your car  and pick it up later, but since we were getting a ride back from Crested Butte, and not returning to Maroon Lake, this made more sense for us (see “The Return” below).

It’s important to get up to Maroon Lake before 9 a.m. in the summer months, as the road closes to car traffic then (bus tours are available to the picturesque Maroon Bells from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.).

It’s also key to start hiking early, as afternoon thunderstorms, with accompanying lightning, are common.

Ideally we would have gotten on the trail at 7 a.m., but, frankly, we didn’t want to get up that early to start our day! Thankfully, we lucked out with the weather – not a raindrop in sight all day.

Hiking from Aspen to Crested Butte, Colorado

We stayed two nights in Crested Butte before driving home, so we could enjoy yummy local restaurants like the Ginger Cafe.

The return: Some hardy souls, will hike over from Aspen, get a shuttle ride into Crested Butte for a shower, massage, celebratory adult drink and delicious restaurant meal, and then hike back to Aspen the next day. That wasn’t us.

My husband agreed to be our return ride, so he met us at the Grand Lodge Crested Butte, where we stayed for two nights, eating and drinking our way through Crested Butte – and loving the historic and laid-back vibe of the ski town in the summer.

Another option: hire Dolly’s Mountain Shuttle to drive you back to Aspen. This will cost you the money, but split among a group of hikers, it’s not that unreasonable a fee.

You can also arrange to have your clothes/toiletries sent to Crested Butte on an earlier shuttle, so you don’t have to hike with extra gear. (

My husband, again, kindly took our luggage for us to Crested Butte, so we didn’t have unusually heavy loads in our daypacks.)

Hiking from Aspen to Crested Butte, Colorado

Trekking poles helped us keep our balance on the trail.

Gear: Both my pal Kristina and I used trekking poles on the hike. I’d never hiked with them before, but on the steep downhill descent after reaching the top of West Maroon Pass, I was sure glad to have them. I also used them for stream crossings.

We’d been told to pack “river shoes” for crossing streams that might be knee deep; after all, we didn’t want to get our hiking shoes wet and then have to slog through the rest of the hike with them.

But, turns out, the stream crossings weren’t deep at all, and we never changed into our second set of shoes, since we could cross them by stepping on large stones.

I started the hike in a pair of comfortable, sporty capris, moisture-wicking T shirt, long-sleeve shirt and fleece – plus sunglasses and a visor.

But again, we totally lucked out with the weather, and I found myself shedding layers quickly, hiking most of the day in just a T-shirt.

With me I had an extra pair of socks, rain pants, rain jacket, knit hat and knit gloves. I carried a 2-liter Camelback bladder and one additional water bottle, and I had water leftover at the end of the hike.

To eat, we had lots of nibbles, but I particularly appreciated my hummus sandwich, Honey Stinger energy chews and tropical trail mix.

I had a small first-aid kit with me (really, just a baggie filled with band-aids, first-aid cream, Advil); we did use some all-natural bug spray along the way. Cell phones don’t work on the trail, but definitely pack your camera!

Hiking from Aspen to Crested Butte, Colorado

Mountains as far as the eye can see.

The views: The definite highlight of this hike from Aspen to Crested Butte is the incredible mountain vistas.

From the gorgeous pine-covered valleys to the high-alpine lakes to the jagged peaks, the views are incredible, and we stopped a ton to snap photos (our excuse for taking 8 hours to complete the hike).

And as I said, we hiked at what may have been the most perfect day all summer long – not only for the temperate weather, but for the rainbow of wildflowers that blanket the hillsides along the trail.

We thought the flowers were pretty on the “Aspen side” of the hike (before the top of West Maroon Pass), but they are utterly spectacular on the “Crested Butte side.” It’s no wonder Crested Butte is called the “wildflower capital of Colorado.” Truly, jaw-dropping.

Hiking from Aspen to Crested Butte, Colorado

Hiking from Aspen to Crested Butte, Colorado

Hiking from Aspen to Crested Butte, Colorado

 

Hiking from Aspen to Crested Butte, Colorado

Hiking from Aspen to Crested Butte, Colorado

Hiking from Aspen to Crested Butte, Colorado

Hiking from Aspen to Crested Butte, Colorado

Happy hikers at the end of the trail!

Happy hikers at the end of the trail!

If you have any questions about hiking from Aspen to Crested Butte, please fire away in the comments!

Though it’s late in the season now to make the trek, I highly recommend penciling it into next summer’s agenda – particularly in mid to late July.

Click here for Go To Travel Gals experience hiking Crested Butte to Aspen.

Thanks to Crested Butte Mountain Resort for arranging my stay at the Grand Lodge for our fun weekend in Crested Butte.

Check out my Denver Post column to see where we ate and drank during our stay in Crested Butte.

This article includes affiliate links, which means The Vacation Gals may earn a (small) commission if you click the links and/or make a purchase.

 

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Since moving to the Aspen area of Colorado in 1994, I'd long wanted to make the 11-mile hike over a 12,000+ foot pass to the ski town of Crested Butte. It took me almost 20 years to get to Crested Butte on foot, but I finally did the trek this summer with a good friend of mine amid the most glorious display of wildflowers I'd ever seen. We definitely timed our hike perfectly on July 26, when the colorful blooms were peaking for the season.

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32 Comments on "Hiking from Aspen to Crested Butte, Colorado"

  1. Great article; it definitely answered some of my questions as I’ve been dying to do this hike. Big question though: I wanted to go this weekend, Labor Day. Too late?

    • Kara Williams | August 26, 2013 at 1:09 pm |

      Not too late! That is, I’m not certain many wildflowers will be in full bloom – but you wouldn’t be hit by crummy weather (no high-altitude snow in forecast, right?).

  2. These are unbelievably beautiful mountain ranges, peaks and valleys. The wild flowers are also amazing! My wife and I love to hike but still we haven’t been to a breath-taking tracks with these awesome views. Thanks for the hike.

  3. Thank you for sharing this experience, I will definitly be keeping this in my folder of things I must do. The pictures are absolutely beautiful.

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  7. Good for you! And what a hike – I’ve never seen such beautiful fields of wildflowers!

  8. A friend and I have been looking at doing this hike all summer and are planning on doing it this weekend. We plan to hike from Crested Butte to Aspen but do you know of any cheap transportation that would drive back over to CB the next day?

  9. Kevin Stith | June 3, 2015 at 2:21 pm |

    I read where you had a water bladder but I was wondering how reliable it is to find a water source in July? How many stream crossing…Trying to figure how much water to carry or rely more on a filter.

  10. Angela Watts | April 5, 2016 at 2:40 pm |

    If you choose to start in Aspen & are in the Bells parking lot before 9am…can you leave your car there overnight? We are planning on doing the return trek but I’m really struggling with the logistics of getting to trail heads w/o breaking the bank. Thank you for the wonderful information….I don’t know when I’ve been so excited to do something; even my 11 year old is psyched!

  11. Thanks for the great article! We plan to go there next week. Do you think it’s a good hike for late May or would it be too cold?

    • Kara Williams | May 12, 2016 at 8:33 am |

      Great question – I think there may still be snow on the trails! I suggest calling the Crested Butte visitor’s bureau (877-448-1410) or Aspen visitor’s bureau (877-448-1410) to get their opinions.

  12. Joan Ambusk | May 29, 2016 at 6:16 am |

    Hello. This is definitely a hike I’d like to do, especially for wild flower viewing. But did you go on July 26 (stated in your 1st paragraph) or did you go June 26 (paragraph 6)?

  13. Thank you for your awesome post. How difficult was the accent to West Maroon Pass? I have heard its 1000 ft of elevation gain over a mile. That seems a little scary.

    • Kara Williams | July 8, 2016 at 4:05 pm |

      Honestly, I don’t recall anything TOO intense as far as steep-ness goes. It was long – so you have to be ready for some endurance over the course of the hike. But that actual ascent wasn’t horrible!

  14. Hi there! I’ve been searching on the Aspen to CB hike for an early September trip. Are you familiar with any routes that take you to CB instead of Schofield Pass or is that the best option and schedule a shuttle pickup from there? Great pics!

    • Kara Williams | July 22, 2016 at 10:01 am |

      I am not familiar with other routes – none I know of take you right into town.

  15. I can’t find this info anywhere – this is an all-day hike – what do you do about bathroom needs?

  16. Cindy Cooper | June 8, 2017 at 10:00 pm |

    Hello!
    Great pics and information! A friend and are I going in July this year and I am wondering if we need trail map or if there are posts and trail is easy to follow? The path looks pretty obvious in the pictures, but was it all the way?
    Thanks so much!

    • We found it easy to follow! Though I believe we may have downloaded some written directions (i.e. those pointing out landmarks and distances along the way).

  17. sherrye bass | June 15, 2017 at 12:21 pm |

    2 quick questions: #1 How rocky is it? I’m concerned about rocky trails where I’m either climbing on/over boulders or loose gravel which would cause me to slip and fall.. #2 Is the trail fairly wide? My concern is slipping on a trail that has a steep descent on one side and falling to my death! Lol. If the trail is fairly wide then I’m all good. I have hiked Pikes Peak and Grand Canyon. I am not too worried about the elevation change…. I can work with that. Mine is mostly falling/slipping. I really want to do this hike!

    • Kara Williams | June 15, 2017 at 12:24 pm |

      Great questions – there is NOT a lot of gravel/boulders to deal with at all. It’s a fairly wide and VERY distinct trail. I don’t recall many/any “drop offs” where you would be in danger of tumbling down a steep area. I recall more wide open valleys. I hope that helps!

  18. Thanks for all this info, very helpful! We are going this coming weekend!

    Question… do you know if there is cell coverage on the Aspen side at the trailhead? We are wondering if upon our return hike from CB to Aspen, we would be able to call an Uber or taxi. Otherwise, we are following your advice and have a call into the Forest Service trying to find out if we can leave a car overnight.

    Thank you!

  19. Hi,

    We are contemplating this hike on August 27th, but my concern is that we will between the wildflower season and the fall color season.

    Do have experience with what it will look like in late August? If totally devoid of wildflowers and mostly brown, we might wait until next year.

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