It’s an eleven-mile hike from trailhead to trailhead. Aspen’s not all that far, considering Mount Crested Butte is eleven miles from Crested Butte South. Granted Mt. CB to CB South is a much flatter trip than West Maroon Pass. Aspen is a relatively close hike for a weekend trip.
West Maroon Pass is one of the routes to hike from Crested Butte to Aspen. The other is East Maroon Pass. Dustin and I decided that we would take West Maroon, because it is a little shorter and steeper, offering bigger views of the Maroon Bells. The Maroon Bells are a beautiful set of mountains on the border of Gunnison County and Pitkin County. These two 14ers are arguably the most famous mountains in Colorado. If you were to google image search Colorado, next to state maps, the first photos you will see are of the Maroon Bells. The pictures will look something like this:
North Maroon Peak behind Crater Lake
Dustin and I planned to leave work with the car already loaded and drive straight back Gothic Rd. to Schofield Pass, where the CB West Maroon trailhead is. While this is a very do-able day hike, since we were leaving after work and wanted to extend our trip, the decision was reached to backpack and camp somewhere along the route on Friday night. If all went according to plan, we’d watch the sunset while hiking or from the top, but we had to get to the top of the pass before dark. We picked up Luma, his adorable and sweet blue healer mix, and hit the dirt road. The top of Maroon Pass is four miles in from the trailhead at Schofield, that’s where we needed to reach before dark. We then had to get below tree-line and set up camp. The weather had been very wet and foggy and was bound to make for an interesting trip.
Getting on our way.
The first couple miles of our hike included rain, raincoats, covers for our packs, and me continuing to talk about mountain lions. Earlier in the week I had decided we would see one of these beautiful cats on our trip. Dustin continued to dismiss my rambling. When the sun began to set the skies seemed to clear to allow us to see the incredible views and vibrant colors of the mountains.
There is great pride for the Maroon Bells and the rest of the Elk Mountains; you can see why.
These mountains have colors that have to be seen to be believed, especially when the sky is so deep blue and the sun so orange.
It is a relatively flat trail until a half-mile or so away from the pass. The trail began to rise quickly. It is a well-traveled and well-worn path, but steep no less. We played games with the sun; it dropped behind the mountains and we rose out of the shadow, then it dropped again. This went on for a little while until it stayed hidden and the night began to set in.
The sun flirting with the mountains behind Luma.
Making the final approach to the pass.
We hit our goal! Dusk fell right when we reached the top of West Maroon Pass. We made it while there was still light and oh wow, I’m glad we did. The view is not to be trifled with. This is not small scenery. The landscape then revealed to us, which was not visible before the last couple ascending steps, drops out and becomes as vast as a drained ocean.
The top of West Maroon Pass.
There they were, the Maroon Bells and the monumental mountains surrounding them. How did I not know about this? I had been told, but I had not fathomed what was now before me. We took some pictures, took some deep breaths, and took in this fantastic nonpareil of nature. The sheer faces only broken by far reaching cliff bands, the granite canvas painted upon by glacial dynamism is certainly an anomaly.
We began our descent. From the top of West Maroon, it’s all downhill to Aspen. Our headlamps lit our way as we followed the trail, yelling occasionally to scare off any potentially lurking mountain lions or bears. They don’t like yelling. We got below tree-line and found a flat clearing where we set up camp and our camp kitchen about 60 feet away. After dinner we drank some whisky from the flask Dustin had packed and as we went to sleep in our tent, I checked the map to figure out where we were. We had about three miles to trek before the aspen trail head.
Foggy crags and spires were all around us when we woke up. Since we had gotten so far the night before, we had a slow, placid breakfast and some coffee. I am fully content and at peace when drinking hot coffee on a cool morning with nothing around me, save a tent and mountains, one can’t rush this feeling.
The rolling fog.
Dustin and Luma taking in the mountains at camp.
Not long after getting on the trail, we came across West Maroon Creek and crossed with care. We were into trees that, between the size and moisture, resembled the Northwest. As the forest broke open we saw Crater lake ahead. Soon after Crater Lake we reached Maroon Lake, where the bus picked us up and took us to Aspen.
Dustin crossing the West Maroon Creek.
The Trailhead on the Aspen side is here at Maroon Lake. Dustin and me at the end of our hike.
We reached Aspen and went to our hotel, The Limelight. We had a great night and we headed to the bus the next morning. Looking at weather reports and weighing our possibility that lightning storms may get the best of us, we decided to call Dustin’s fiancé, Patti, to rescue us. She arrived with another friend and the four of us drove back to Crested Butte. We drove back over Kebler pass, a dirt road on the CB side of the drive. As we got closer to home, the sun set and refracted it’s rays into a beautiful display of colors. As I looked around, I thought how fortunate I am to live in the most beautiful place in the world.
It happened then, mountain lions! About 45 minutes away from our destination, we saw a mountain lion whisk across the road. I couldn’t believe that after all my rambling about them, we actually saw a mountain lion. I eventually realized my dreams had come to fruition, making our trip complete.
The sunset on our drive home. Sorry for the quality, it’s a phone pic.
Post and photos by Chris Segal
Would you like to make the hike?
Tips for Crested Butte to Aspen:
Dolly’s Mountain Shuttle will drive you to the East or West Maroon trailhead and pick you up when you hike back. This way you don’t have to leave a car or drive one on the bumpy dirt roads. They’ll drive you from Aspen to CB or CB to Aspen, if you only want to hike one way or get stuck because of lightning.
The Limelight Hotel is a great place to stay, whether you’re on a budget or looking for all the amenities. They have options for everyone including dog friendly rooms and deals on rooms. There is a great bar and restaurant downstairs for dinner and a hot tub to relax those muscles. There is a bus to Maroon Lake, but they offer a shuttle as well. Tag a picture of yourself with their logo on a social media site and they’ll give you a free beer, it’s nice to arrive to that.
Aspen Brewery is where you need to get a beer. Only two blocks from the Limelight, it has one of the best IPAs that you’ll find, if you love hoppy piney beer, which I do. They have other options for those who aren’t IPA fans. They have a bar, a patio, and a friendly vibe.
Before heading out in the morning get your coffee and breakfast sandwich at ink. It’s tasty and right next to the bus stop.
Tips for Aspen to Crested Butte:
The town bus in Aspen goes directly to the West Maroon trailhead at Maroon Lake. Just take this for a couple bucks. Have Dolly’s Mountain Shuttle pick you up when you get to the Crested Butte side and they’ll take you right to your hotel. Dolly’s can also drive you back to Aspen if you don’t want to hike back.
Stay at The Grand Lodge for a great deal. Relax in the indoor-outdoor pool put your head under the waterfall in the hot tub. Stay in the Lodge at Mountaineer Square to get all of the amenities and a spacious room, there is a hot tub and pool for you here too. The Elevation Hotel is pet friendly if you’re hiking with your pooch, they also have a full spa run by amazing and friendly people and a restaurant/bar downstairs. These are all on the mountain, but a free shuttle between town and the mountain makes everything a breeze.
You’ve probably already heard that you need to go to The Secret Stash for dinner. For as much as the Stash is hyped, they have everything to back it up. Odd pizzas with crazy combinations, which you need to accept and dive into. They sound crazy, but are great and will hit the spot. The Notorius F.I.G. is a must try.
Awesome and creative combinations are something Crested Butte does well. You have to try one of the genius concoctions at Montanya Rum Distillery. Don’t like rum? They’ll change your mind. Look at the menu and ask questions, don’t worry. They will be excited to find exactly the drink for you, I recommend the Hoser; maple syrup, lemon, and rum. You’ll find you can ask anyone in Crested Butte for a pointer and they will make sure you’re headed in the right direction.
Camp 4 Coffee is another stop you may have heard that you need to make. Locally roasted coffee beans that show coffee as an art, grab an extra bag for home. Get the basic Americano to taste just how good this coffee is. Camp 4 has breakfast burritos, sandwiches, and pastries for quick bites. If you’re looking to sit down to breakfast, Izzy’s makes delicious potato pancakes and bagels. They have a New York style menu and it is done right.