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:
- Check out our packing list for the hike here!
- We also have new Aspen to Crested Butte art prints available here.
- How to hike from Aspen to Crested Butte for nearly free
- Aspen to Crested Butte Trip Report
- 5 Essentials for Hiking from Aspen to Crested Butte
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.
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.
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: