We are so lucky to live in such a beautiful state with some amazing hikes that are only a short drive away. My husband and I did once such hike this past fall. We went from Crested Butte to Aspen and back and let me tell you, it was an incredible few days! It’s a 10-mile hike, so completely doable in a day. Here is some guidance if this sounds like something that you would like to do. It does take some planning, but it is worth every minute of preparation.
You have a multitude of options for how you would like to go about doing this hike. You can start in either place and do just one direction or an out and back. Obviously if you decide to do just one direction, you will need to arrange for pick up on the other side. There are a few options to choose from should you go down this road. You will likely have to decide based on convenience and price. One service is maroonbellsshuttles.com which will transport your car for you so it will be on the other side when you’re done. There are also services that will drive you back.
We passed a group who had split into two. One half started in Crested Butte and the other in Aspen. When they passed each other on the trail, they exchanged car keys and had the other car waiting for them at the opposite side when they were done.
We decided to hike out and back so we left our car parked for two nights at the trailhead on the Crested Butte side. We made sure not to leave any valuables in our car. The trailhead is about 14 miles from town down Gothic Road which was pretty gnarly. We saw all kinds of cars making the drive, but if you don’t have a high clearance vehicle, you may want to take that into consideration. You can also park in Crested Butte and take a shuttle to and from the trailhead for a price. The two companies who offer this service are Dolly’s crestedbutteshuttle.com and Alpine Express alpine.letsride.com.
If you choose to go from the Aspen side then there is a free town bus. You can’t actually park overnight on the Aspen side, so we took the bus into town and had to transfer one time to get to our stop. For the hike back, we wanted to get a super early start. We ended up taking a taxi, which was incredibly easy.
Where to Stay Along the Way
If you plan to make a longer trip of this adventure, then you will need lodging in both places. Our plans had us staying in Crested Butte for one night and Aspen for two. The Nordic Inn in Crested Butte is the choice for a lot of people who do this hike. Its location is ideal and it offers breakfast in the price. The staff are also pretty knowledgeable about the hike, so they can answer any last-minute questions. We left before the official breakfast time, but the owner of this small inn woke up early to make sure that we were fed before we left.
Our choice on the Aspen side was the Limelight Hotel in Aspen proper. It was a bit of a splurge but we knew we wanted to be able to walk everywhere since we wouldn’t have a car. We also knew that we wanted to stay somewhere comfortable that had a hot tub. The Limelight checked all of those boxes as well as having a great happy hour and breakfast included.
Preparing the Supplies
Doing this as a one-way, day hike means that you need to prepare the same way you do for any other day hike. As always, check the weather before you go and know that choosing to do any hike in the summer means being prepared for afternoon thunderstorms, so start early. Make sure you bring plenty of water and a few snacks. There are some breathtaking views along the way — especially as you crest over West Maroon Pass, so taking time out to have a snack and fuel up is an easy choice.
If you do this as a multi-day, out-and-back trip, then you will need a large daypack or reasonably sized hiking pack. Our choice of pack for this trip was the Trail 40 pack from REI. It had enough structure to be comfortable and hold all of our gear, but also small enough to not be overkill. I packed enough clothing for two days, plus the hike back, a book, a headlamp, a bathing suit, a second pair of shoes, simple toiletries, and all of my snacks and water for the hike itself.
Time to Hit the Trail
You’ve done all of the planning and preparation and the day has arrived. There are two main routes from which to choose. West Maroon and East Maroon Pass. West Maroon is the route we chose to take in both directions. It leads you through rolling meadows until you begin the climb up to the pass. Once you summit, you are greeted with a view that will take your breath away.
You’ll then switchback down into the valley heading towards Aspen. If you are not steady on your feet, trekking poles are a good idea. The Aspen side is pretty rocky. You traverse across a few rock slides as well as some creek crossings. It is quite an ankle workout so if you have weak ankles, an ankle brace may be necessary. The trail ends at Maroon Lake with quintessential views of the Maroon Bells. Going back is a bit more difficult because you have more elevation gain hiking towards Crested Butte. The reward is incredible views along the entire route and if you start early like us, a gorgeous sunrise.
The hike over East Maroon Pass is a longer distance, clocking in around 18 miles. Our hike took us the other way both because of timing and popularity. Most people choose to do West Maroon Pass and we assumed that there was a reason for that. The All Trails app gives reviews of both trails, so you can make an educated choice for yourself and your preferences.
Savoring the Moment
Congratulations! You have completed an epic Colorado hike and hopefully you have beautiful photos and lifelong memories to commemorate the journey. I’m already planning some other hikes in the same area because I was blown away by the beauty. I’ve also encouraged my friends to do the trip so that I can tag along. Doing this hike made me even more appreciative of where we live. People come from near and far to have this experience and for us it is so close. Happy hiking and remember to take pictures!