The hike from Aspen to Crested Butte is no doubt one of the quintessential Colorado adventures. The 11-mile trail linking the two mountain towns is full of incredible scenery, stunning…
The hike from Aspen to Crested Butte is no doubt one of the quintessential Colorado adventures. The 11-mile trail linking the two mountain towns is full of incredible scenery, stunning wildflowers, and will reward the hiker with a sense of accomplishment unmatched by most trails. Have we convinced you to do it yet? Before you go, be sure to check out our guide, as well as a trip report, packing list, and our custom art prints. These resources offer everything you’ll need to make the most of your trip. As for big picture advice, here you’ll find the five most essential tips for hiking from Aspen to Crested Butte.
We hiked from Aspen to Crested Butte (and back) over a beautiful summer weekend in early August. The weather was perfect, the views spectacular, and overall it was one of…
We hiked from Aspen to Crested Butte (and back) over a beautiful summer weekend in early August. The weather was perfect, the views spectacular, and overall it was one of the best hikes we’ve ever experienced. You can find all of the technical info for the adventure here, but keep reading to see what when wrong, what went right, and what we learned from our hike between Aspen and Crested Butte.
If you’re looking for additional information on hiking from Aspen to Crested Butte be sure to check out our full series below:
To start our trip, we jumped in the car on a Thursday afternoon and headed up to Aspen. If possible, we’d highly recommend avoiding doing this hike on a Saturday/Sunday, as the crowds can get a bit heavy in the summertime. We were able to manage a Friday/Saturday trip, and were glad to be headed the opposite way of the nearly-nonstop parade of hikers headed to Crested Butte on Saturday. We knew we wanted to camp near the Maroon Bells trailhead prior to starting the hike in order to save time in the morning and also avoid the insanely priced hotels in Aspen. There are several campgrounds around Aspen, and we ended up staying at Difficult Campground. You can reserve the Difficult Campground and several other Aspen area campsites here. Despite what its name might suggest, this campground was easy to book and a lovely place to spend the night. We recommend spending the night in Aspen ahead of your hike as you’ll be able to get an earlier start and have a better chance of getting a parking spot at Maroon Bells.
Quintessential Maroon Bells
We wanted to get an early start on the trail, so waking up at 4:00am to try and secure a coveted parking spot in the overnight lot at Maroon Bells seemed like the best plan of attack. We headed to bed early, knowing that 4am comes quickly! Upon arriving at Maroon Bells a little before 5am, we found the overnight parking lot full (with lots of people clearly camping near or in their cars, which is not technically allowed). Bummed to be beaten by the rogue campers, we treated ourselves to a coffee in town and then headed to the parking garage at Aspen Highlands to catch the first bus to the trail head at 8am. If you’re looking for more info on the parking situation at Maroon Bells we have a detailed description here.
We opted to tackle the hike via the West Maroon Pass option, an approximately 11-mile hike from start to finish. We found the trail wasn’t especially arduous, but rather long with one very steep section near the top of West Maroon Pass. The trail also has several stream crossings, so be sure you are prepared with sandals of some type to navigate the frigid, rocky streams. The approach to West Maroon Pass from the Aspen side is a beautiful walk through a long valley that highlights the quintessential character of this area. 14,000 foot peaks surround you as you make the long approach to the pass. About 3/4 of a mile before reaching the top of the pass, the trail steepens sharply and you’ll begin the ascent to the summit in earnest. Once you’ve made it, you’ll enjoy spectacular views back towards Aspen and down into the Crested Butte area.
Several stream crossings required careful attention.
Views from the top of West Maroon Pass.
The descent to the Crested Butte trailhead is full of some of the best wildflower viewing in all of Colorado. We were amazed at the seemingly endless array of colorful flowers blooming. If you’re able, we’d highly recommend hiking the trail in late-July or early-August, given the incredible wildflowers that time of year. Overall, the trail down to Crested Butte is fairly mellow, with the exception of a very steep section immediately after the summit of West Maroon Pass. After a long, meandering walk through the sea of wildflowers, we found ourselves at the West Maroon trailhead on the Crested Butte side where we had arranged to whisked into town by Dolly’s Mountain Shuttles. Unfortunately, Dolly’s proved to be very unreliable, and we ended up hitching a ride from some friendly hikers instead (and getting a refund from Dolly’s). We spent a lovely night in CB and enjoy post-hike beers and excellent pizza at the Brick Oven.
Wildflowers en-route to Crested Butte
The next morning we were shuttled to the trailhead by a local Crested Butte friend. Rather than getting dropped of at the West Maroon trailhead, we opted instead to start our hike on the 401 trail (a little closer to town) in order to see some different trails in the area. The 401 is the quintessential mountain biking trail in CB, and it was fun to see all the cyclists huffing and puffing their way to the top. Eventually, the 401 forks and you can connect back with the trail that will take you to the top of West Maroon Pass. If you’re interested in taking this alternative, be sure you have a good map and a solid understanding of where the trails merge.
On the way back to Aspen, we were surprised by the constant flow of people heading into Crested Butte. It was a beautiful Saturday, and it seemed that the entire town of Aspen had decided to head to Crested Butte for the night. Our hike was once again filled with incredible views, plentiful wildflowers, and the euphoria that comes with spending a day outside in the Rocky Mountains. We arrived back at the Maroon Bells trailhead by mid-afternoon, and hopped on the shuttle bus back to the Aspen Highlands parking lot. We then drove to Carbondale for the night, where we enjoyed a lovely B&B, some delicious Mexican food, and a few beers to celebrate our successful trip between Aspen and Crested Butte!
Want a sweet souvenir from your hike? Check out our art prints!
Have you checked out our Guide to Hiking from Aspen to Crested Butte? Maybe you’ve thought that this would be an awesome adventure, but you worry about the cost of…
Have you checked out our Guide toHiking from Aspen to Crested Butte? Maybe you’ve thought that this would be an awesome adventure, but you worry about the cost of a trip like this? Even if you don’t live in Colorado, it’s still possible (and even quite easy) to conquer this classic hike without breaking the bank by using the strategies described here and by opening just a single credit card! Keep reading to find out more.
If you’ve lived in Colorado for a year or thirty, you’ve likely heard of the hike between Aspen and Crested Butte. While it’s a nearly 200-mile drive between posh Aspen…
If you’ve lived in Colorado for a year or thirty, you’ve likely heard of the hike between Aspen and Crested Butte. While it’s a nearly 200-mile drive between posh Aspen and laid-back Crested Butte, the two mountain towns are actually only a couple dozen miles apart as the crow flies (if you’ve lived in Colorado awhile, you’ve probably heard this expression a bunch too). Not only can you hike between Aspen and Crested Butte in one day, but the hike itself is one for the ages. Be sure to check out our other Aspen to Crested Butte resources below:
We decided to make a long weekend out of it by hiking from Aspen on a Friday, staying the night in Crested Butte, and then hiking back to Aspen the following day and spending a night in Carbondale on the way home. Despite this hike’s popularity, we found very little on the web in the way of the logistical information needed to make something like this work. Don’t worry, we fumbled through the practicalities so you don’t have to! Below you’ll find everything you need to know in order to tackle this amazing adventure yourself.
Start your hike at the beautiful Maroon Bells!
There are two main trails that connect Aspen and Crested Butte, West Maroon Pass and East Maroon Pass:
At just over 10 miles, this is the more popular route. The trail starts at the iconic Maroon Bells recreation area and crosses over-you guessed it-West Maroon Pass, before threading its way through a wildflower-studded valley towards Crested Butte. The upsides of this hike are that it is the shortest option, the wildflowers are truly stunning, and it offers great mountain views from the top of the pass. The downsides are that it is more crowded, parking at the trailhead is nearly impossible, and from Aspen it requires more uphill walking (about 3,000 feet over the first seven miles).
The map below shows the route and you can use this link to open it in a new window. As always, this map isn’t intended to be used in the backcountry – only to provide you with a general overview of the hike. Be sure you’re carrying a copy of National Geographic Trails Illustrated #128 and that you know how to use it!
We chose to hike the West Maroon route both directions, but we were able to dig up some information about East Maroon in our research. At about 14 miles long, this route sees less traffic than West Maroon. You can start this hike either at the West Maroon trailhead, or down the road at the East Portal trailhead. Either way, look for signs that point you towards Copper Lake. The pros of this route include less crowds, easier hiking, and lovely views of Emerald Lake, Copper Lake, and Pyramid Peak. Cons include more mileage, having to shuttle back to the West Maroon Trailhead to pick up your car at the finish, and heavy equestrian use (maybe not a con for you, but I don’t especially love navigating through tons of what the horses leave behind on the trail).
Heads up-Both trails require multiple stream crossings. In the first week of August, we found these to be pretty easy with water shoes and hiking poles, but earlier in the season the water levels are higher and the currents faster.
Getting to and from the Trailhead
We started our hike in Aspen, and our guide is written from that perspective. If you choose to start in Crested Butte, this information will still be useful for you, just reverse it!
As stated above, both the East and West Maroon routes start in the Maroon Bells Scenic Area. There are 35 overnight parking spaces, which fill insanely quickly. We arrived there by 5am on a Friday morning to find both the overnight and overflow lots completely filled. It appears that many people illegally camp or sleep in their cars, making it nearly impossible for the rule-followers to snag a spot. Here are your three options for getting to the trailhead on the Aspen side:
Park at Maroon Bells: If you’re an early riser, plan on going mid-week, or are going late in the season, you can try to park at the trailhead. From the lots, simply walk up the road towards Maroon Lake to start the hike. Make sure to bring $10 cash for the overnight parking fee, paid at the entrance. Keep in mind that the road is closed to private vehicles from 8:00am-5:00pm, June through September.
Park at Aspen Highlands and Take the Bus: This is what we opted to do after finding the Maroon Bells lots full. The Aspen Highlands Ski Area is located down the road back towards Aspen, and overnight parking on the lower levels of the garage is free if you get there before 8am. The bus costs $8 per person (return trips are free) and the first bus departs from Aspen Highlands at 8:05. The bus then runs both directions every 15-20 minutes until 5:00pm. We found this to be an easy and convenient option, but there are a few considerations to keep in mind. First, if you are a slower hiker and/or there are afternoon thunderstorms in the forecast, you may want to get an earlier start since the hike takes anywhere from 6-9 hours (we didn’t start hiking until about 8:30am). Additionally, be sure to schedule your pick-up on the Crested Butte side accordingly and make sure you’re back at Maroon Bells the next day by 5:00pm. Dogs are welcome on the bus.
Park at Aspen Highlands and Take a Cab: This is a pricier option, but a great choice if you want to get an earlier start than the bus will allow. Once again, parking at Aspen Highlands is free before 8:00 am, and you don’t need to check in with the parking attendant or get any sort of ticket. Simply enter the lot and park on the lower levels. From there, arrange a cab to take you to the trailhead. Upon your return, hop on the bus for a free ride back to your car.
If you are hiking from Crested Butte, there are some Aspen Highlands buses that will take you directly into downtown Aspen where you can enjoy a luxurious hotel stay or catch another bus to towns in the surrounding area. You can ask in the gift shop at Highlands for more information on the bus schedule.
From Crested Butte
This is important to note- the trailhead where you’ll start/end your hike on the Crested Butte side is about 14 miles from town. You’ll need a way to get to and from town if you don’t want to double your walking distance. At the time of writing, an avalanche had made Gothic Road, the access road to the trailhead, impassible about three miles from the start of the trail. Therefore, you might end up doing a few “extra credit miles” whether you want to or not. There are two free parking lots along Gothic Road where you can park your car overnight, if needed. These are way less crowded than on the Aspen side. Here are your options for getting to/from the trailhead from Crested Butte:
Use a Shuttle Service: There are two shuttle services (Dolly’s and Alpine) that will pick you up from the trailhead and bring you to your hotel in Crested Butte. Call and schedule a reservation in advance and they should be waiting for you at the trailhead. Pick-up’s typically cost about $20 per person. These services will also bring you to the trailhead from town in the morning. At the time of writing, Dolly’s Mountain Shuttles had a two-car system that ferried hikers on either side of the avalanche damage, so that hikers did not have to walk as far along the road.
Hitch a Ride: Most people traveling on Gothic Road are friendly fellow hikers and mountain bikers who are more than happy to pick you up and take you into town. We ended up hitching a ride into Crested Butte, and we had a great experience. We recognized the women who picked us up from passing them on the trail, and they were so kind that they even dropped us at the door of our hotel! Obviously this is a less reliable and more adventurous option, but it is a common practice along this road that often leads to new friends and great conversations.
Ask Your Hotel: Several hotels in Crested Butte offer hiking packages that include shuttles to and from the trailhead. If you’re interested in that option, a quick search of local hotels yields plenty of options.
Enjoying the views on the Crested Butte side.
What if I only want to hike one way?
We were lucky enough to have time to stay the night in Crested Butte and hike back to Aspen the next day, but not everyone has the time or energy to do that. Below are your options if you’re not able to hike the trail round-trip.
Hire a Shuttle: Dolly’s and Alpine both offer shuttles between Aspen and Crested Butte, although they are not cheap (upwards of $300). However, if you split this across a big group of hikers, it wouldn’t be too bad.
Rent a Car: There is a free bus that runs from Crested Butte to nearby Gunnison. In Gunnison, you can rent a car at any of the agencies near the airport. You can then drive to Aspen, pick up your actual car, then drop your rental at agencies near the Aspen airport. Obviously, you’ll need at least two drivers in order to make this work efficiently, since one of you will want to drive your car from the trailhead to the rental car agency so you don’t end up stranded there.
Arrange a Ride or Shuttle Your Own Cars: Maybe there’s someone out there that really, really loves you or owes you in a big way. If that’s the case, that special person could pick you up from the trailhead in Crested Butte and drive you back to your car in Aspen. Or, if you’re part of a group that doesn’t mind a road trip, you could drive to one town, leave a car, and then drive back to the other one. This would be a good option if you have some podcasts you’ve been meaning to catch up on.
Have a Great Trip!
Be sure to check out our other Aspen to Crested Butte posts: