On July 4, +Jennifer Pahlka and I hiked from Aspen to Crested Butte along the West Maroon Trail. That statement is a bit misleading, since we first took a 20 minute cab ride from the town of Aspen up to the start of the trail at Maroon Lake, and on the other end, were picked up and drove nearly 40 minutes to Crested Butte. To hike the entire distance between the two Colorado towns would have been far longer than the 7 or so hours we spent on the trail!
The photos in this album are in time order, so you can get a sense of the complete hike. There's additional information in the photo captions.
There are two routes - the West Maroon Trail, and East Maroon. Apparently, West Maroon is steeper and shorter, while East Maroon is more gradual and longer. We had most people we asked recommend the West Maroon Trail, so that's the one we took. We found the ascent to be gradual and steady, with the only steep bits a short ascent to and descent from the summit of the pass.
The hike begins at Maroon Lake, with a magnificent view of the Maroon Bells, reportedly the most photographed mountains in the continental US. We left about 6:30 AM, having been warned that you will often encounter weather (including possible thunderstorms) about 2 in the afternoon. We wanted to be sure to avoid meeting lightning at the top of the pass. (Sure enough, there was lightning at around 2, but by then we were at Schofield Park, resting and waiting for our ride.)
There aren't really good signs at first, so just follow the trail down to the lake and along its shore, and then follow signs for Crater Lake. At some point, there's only one way to go, and it all becomes clear.
The hike has very little cover, so we were quite glad that the day was relatively overcast. It would have been a hot and uncomfortable hike otherwise. There is a fair amount of variety, as you pass through woods, cross streams, and ascend rocky slopes.
The trail on the Aspen side is much more rocky than that on the Crested Butte side. We made the hike in sneakers, which worked out for us because this past year the snow was extremely light. In normal years, the streams can be high and the trail muddy right through the summer. Even this year, waterproof hiking boots would have made some of the stream crossings much easier (though we were told that in wetter years, you really need to take your boots off to cross some of the streams.) On the Crested Butte side, the trail becomes dirt (after the initial steep and rocky descent from the pass), which is much easier on the feet.
It took us about 4 1/2 hours to get to the summit of the pass (including frequent stops for photographs, one or two stops to doctor a blister, and time for lunch.) From the summit to the Schofield Park parking lot on the Crested Butte side was about two hours. We were told by one hiker that it is 8 miles from Maroon Lake to the height of the pass, and 4 miles from the summit to Schofield Park. The park service claims that the entire hike is 11 miles, so those numbers are approximate.
The ascent is about 2950 feet, starting at around 9500 feet and topping out at 12,500. On the other side, you descend less than 2000 feet, as Schofield Park is at about 10,800 feet. But of course, you're doing it in a much shorter distance.
Overall, this was a delightful hike, wonderfully gradual, with beautiful scenery. Because of the dry year, wildflowers were less plentiful than people have described in other years but still gorgeous. The mountains were relatively bare of snow, which perhaps made them less dramatic, but also made the hike less challenging. You can do this if you're in moderately good shape, though if you don't hike regularly, expect to be a bit footsore at the end of the day.
A final warning: in a normal year, the road to Crested Butte may be blocked by snow, even in midsummer, requiring an additional two-mile hike down the road from Schofield Park past Emerald Lake. We were told that even in this dry year, the snow plug had broken up only two days before. You definitely need to arrange a ride. Though there were plenty of cars in the parking lot, and bumming a ride would certainly be possible, the park service recommends contacting the Crested Butte chamber of commerce to arrange a shuttle.