The Ultimate Aspen to Crested Butte Hike Guide

Last Updated on January 11, 2024 by foxintheforest

The Aspen to Crested Butte hike is an absolute Colorado Classic. This challenging route takes you through some of the most stunning alpine wilderness in the state. Getting organized for this hike takes a little bit of pre-planning thanks to complicated permits and parking, but the result is so worth it!

As one of the top Colorado hikes, hiking from Aspen to Crested Butte certainly sees a lot of traffic. But there are ways to beat a majority of the bigger crowds along this route. So if you’re looking to hike from Aspen to Crested Butte (or Crested Butte to Aspen) like a local, not a tourist, then you’re in the right place.

I’ve called Colorado home for 15 years. Legit dedicated my career to hiking and exploring the amazing wilderness areas of the Centennial State. We did our hike from Aspen to Crested Butte in less-than-ideal conditions, but as experts, we still managed to have an amazing time on this Colorado classic.

About This Guide to the Aspen to Crested Butte Hike

Inside this local guide to hiking from Crested Butte to Aspen you’ll find insider knowledge about:

  • Hot info you need for a successful hike including elevation gain, mileage, difficulty, and routes
  • A map of the Aspen to Crested Butte hike
  • Secret permit and parking tips
  • A detailed look at the hike
  • Where to stay on your Aspen to Crested Butte hike
  • Additional things to do nearby

Practical Info

Alright, so if you’re looking to hike from Aspen to Crested Butte (and back) you’ve got two options.

Option 1 (my preferred option) is to take West Maroon Pass. This pass is more difficult, but less mileage and super gorgeous. You’ll pass by the famous Maroon Like hiking area which shouldn’t be missed. Here are a few quick facts:

Mileage (one-way): 10.3 miles
Elevation Gain (one-way): 2,240 feet
Estimated Time (one-way): 5 hours
Difficulty: Difficult
Dog-friendly? Yes, but must be on-leash
Highlights: Wildflowers, iconic views of the Maroon Bells, cool mountain passes, alpine lakes
Red Tape: Permit required to camp

Option 2 is to take the lesser-traveled East Maroon Pass. East Maroon Pass isn’t nearly as scenic as West Maroon, and it adds 5 miles to your journey, but it sees less traffic so may be ideal if you’re looking to avoid some crowds.

Mileage (one-way): 17.2 miles
Elevation Gain (one-way): 3,845 feet
Estimated Time (one-way): 8 hours
Difficulty: Difficult – more challenging than West Maroon Pass
Dog-friendly? Yes, but on-leash.
Highlights: Quiet trail, few people, views on top of the pass are better than West Maroon
Red Tape: None, but this trail is not well-maintained. Blown-down trees are common. Camping is more difficult to find.

Local Tip: If you want, you can do both passes as a semi-loop. Just remember that the East Maroon Trailhead will not take you back to the Maroon Lake Parking Lot.

How Hard is the Hike from Aspen to Crested Butte?

For the average hiker and backpacker – the Aspen to Crested Butte Trail is considered challenging regardless of which route you take. Both passes are strenuous and the one-way mileage is long – making this a tough route.

If you’re super-experienced and have plenty of miles hauling a backpack through the mountains, this trail is only moderately challenging. However, compared to some of the other popular backpacking routes in Colorado (I’m looking at you Gore Lake), the Crested Butte to Aspen hike is much easier.

Personally, I found it to be challenging, but not unbearable. We did it with a record amount of snow – the pass itself was an actual snow climb. We spent a lot of time traveling over snow, which for the average hiker would be a major obstacle. But I was having an amazing day in the mountains, so take my vibes on the route with a grain of salt.

It was my first major outing since having a baby roughly a year prior. However, I’m not going to sugarcoat it – I’m in amazing shape thanks to carrying a toddler around, trail running, and rock climbing. I do much harder things in the mountains, so at a baseline, this was a very doable trail for me.

How Long is the Hike from Crested Butte to Aspen?

This largely depends on your route. Most people opt to hike from Crested Butte to Aspen via West Maroon Pass. This is a 10.3-mile journey one-way. It takes around 5 hours to hike, but budget for more time if there are difficult conditions or you’re not experienced with hiking in the mountains.

What Trail Goes from Crested Butte to Aspen?

There are two routes that go from Crested Butte to Aspen. One is the Maroon Creek Trail and the other is the East Maroon Trail. Most people take the Maroon Creek Trail. You can catch this trail by connecting via the Crater Lake Trail. All junctions are well-signed.

Map of the Crested Butte to Aspen Hike

Get to know the route! Here’s a look at the trial that leads from Crested Butte to Aspen.

Map of the Crested Butte to Aspen Hike

The Best Time to Hike from Crested Butte to Aspen

Conditions vary from year-to-year, but the best time to hike from Aspen to Crested Butte is between July and September. The Maroon Bells Wilderness holds snow into early summer – making a lot of the trail impassable without special gear, especially during November in Colorado.

However, with better conditions come the crowds, so don’t expect a ton of solitude out there! This route isn’t just one of the best hikes in Aspen, but one of the most scenic routes in the state! You’ll knock out two of the most stunning alpine lake hikes in Colorado along the way – so you get a lot of scenery for your hard-earned miles.

Local Tip: Always check local trail conditions (or even call the ranger station and ask). When we did the hike, it was early July and we still needed microspikes and an ax to get over West Maroon Pass.

Very real snow-climbing conditions on West Maroon Pass in early JULY! We needed traction and ice axes to safely get over the pass.

Do You Need a Permit to Hike from Aspen to Crested Butte?

Yes and no. The permit system in the Maroon Bells Wilderness is complicated. You will need a permit if you plan on backpacking anywhere in the Maroon Bells Wilderness. Meaning, if you’re planning to camp along the trail, you’ll need a permit.

Permits are $6 per reservation (non-refundable) plus $10 per person per night. Permits are typically released on February 15th (for reservations until July 31st) June 15 (for reservations through November 30th), and October 15th (for reservations through March 31st of the following calendar year).

Local Tip: If you want to hike from Aspen to Crested Butte via East Maroon Pass, you don’t need an advanced permit. There are self-issue permits available for this area at the trailhead.

Day hikers (not recommended unless you’re staying in either Crested Butte or Aspen, then hiking back) do not need permits.

However, if you’re planning to park at Maroon Lake, you’ll need an overnight permit (likely 2) to do so.

Local Tip: If you have a backcountry permit and you set your starting point at Maroon Lake, you’ll automatically be issued an overnight parking permit.

Transportation to Maroon Lake

It’s important to know that there is no drop-off or pick-up at the Maroon Lake Trailhead aside from the bus (which requires a reservation).

Parking at Maroon Lake requires a permit. There are several options available, so choose one that makes the most sense for you.

Parking costs $10 plus a $2 reservation fee. If you have an American the Beautiful Parks Pass, you can get the $10 entry fee waived.

If you’re parking at Aspen Highlands and taking the shuttle, it’s roughly $7 per hour to park in the lot and take the shuttle.

Adults pay $16 to take the shuttle (children and seniors are $10).

For a more budget-friendly option, you can take the free Castle/Maroon RFTA shuttle to the Aspen Highlands lot. You’ll still pay the Maroon Shuttle fee but minus the additional parking.

Overnight Parking at Maroon Lake Trailhead in Aspen

The Maroon Lake Trailhead requires a permit to park for any duration of time. Remember, there are no pick-ups either, so planning ahead is key.

If you’re backpacking with an overnight permit, you’ll get instructions on how to get your overnight parking permit for Maroon Lake. This only applies if you set Maroon Lake Trailhead as your starting point.

Planning on staying in Crested Butte? Then you’ll need 2 midnight-to-midnight permits, or a backpacking permit (60 hours).

Permits can be purchased in advance on the Aspen Chamber website.

Absolutely plan your permits well in advance!

Parking permits sell out extremely quickly and are usually released in April on a rolling basis (exact times vary by year).

The Aspen to Crested Butte Hike

The Aspen to Crested Butte hike is typically done from the Maroon Lake Trailhead to the West Maroon Trailhead via West Maroon Pass.

Honestly, this is the way I would recommend going since it’s the least amount of miles, the most scenic, and well-traveled route.

West Maroon vs East Maroon Pass

If you plan to do a “loop” (ish) and hike East Maroon Pass, you’ll be adding 5 miles to your journey and a bit more elevation. Along the Crested Butte to Aspen hike, you’ll start at the Copper Creek Trailhead on the Crested Butte side.

From there you’ll hike until you reach the Maroon Creek Junction, which will take you back to the Maroon Creek Trailhead.

West Maroon is more scenic and has a better trail, while East Maroon Pass sees fewer people, but the trail is quite overgrown and has a lot of blowdowns (downed trees).

Maroon Lake

Your first stop along the Aspen to Crested Butte is Maroon Lake. There are lots of easy hikes around Maroon Lake that are certainly worth checking out. If you’re getting an early start, certainly make the 5-minute detour to the Maroon Lake bridge to see the rapids.

Local Tip: This area gets busy by mid-morning, so if you want some solitude, opt for an early start to your hike!

Crater Lake

Follow signed trails to Crater Lake – about 1.6 miles from the start of the hike. Crater Lake delivers even more views and is one of the best Maroon Bells hikes. The trail gets a bit rocky (and tedious) for a bit, but you’ll finally arrive slightly above Crater Lake.

From here, drop down towards the lake shore, following signs for West Maroon Pass. The Buckskin Pass Trail diverts from here – a popular way to do the Four Passes Loop – but you’ll want to stay on the main trial.

Above Crater Lake, you’ll start your upward climb. Don’t forget to stop and look back as you reach a big boulder field – the views looking down on Crater Lake are pretty incredible!

Local Tip: If you want to camp at Crater Lake you’ll need to reserve specific walk-in, backcountry campsites. This is a great idea if you’re doing the Crested Butte to Aspen hike since you’re near the end of the trail if you’re coming from Crested Butte. And that way you won’t have to deal with any transportation issues.

West Maroon Pass

After you pass by Crater Lake, you’ll simply follow the West Maroon Creek trail for another 7-ish miles or so. When we did this hike, the trail quickly disappeared under the snow, so our GPS track wasn’t accurate if you’re sticking to the trail proper.

The trail works its way through willow fields – which can get a bit buggy and annoying. Just remember to look up at the stunning scenery around you!

You’ll cross the major creek twice (keep in mind this crossing can be quite sketchy early in the season). We had to cross an extremely thin snow bridge that had mostly collapsed on the return journey!

West Maroon Pass is about 9 miles from Maroon Lake. This pass is steep, but when it’s not covered in snow, it’s a quick grind up a few switchbacks. If there’s snow, however, it can be a full-on snowclimb! We needed microspikes and axes to make the trip in early July, so be sure to check the conditions before you go!

Local Tip: There are 4 awesome campsites at 11,200 feet in the Maroon Zone with killer views. This is a great spot to snag a backcountry permit if you’re planning on backpacking from Aspen to Crested Butte.

Getting to Crested Butte from the Pass

The backside of the pass meanders for a bit, not dropping all the way down from West Maroon Pass. You’ll pass a junction for Frigid Air Pass – part of the Four Passes Loop.

We ended up turning around shortly before the trail began to drop down the mountainside. Mostly because we encountered endless snow fields and we were just tired. Our original plan was to hike to the West Maroon Trailhead back to camp, but we were about 2 miles short.

Stay on the West Maroon Trail until you reach the West Maroon Trailhead. Congrats! You’ve made it to Crested Butte!

You can arrange for a paid ride from West Maroon into Crested Butte, or you can swap keys with fellow hikers (the AllTrails website has a lot of key requests in the reviews section). Lastly, if you don’t want to visit Crested Butte, turn it around and head back to camp.

Getting to Aspen from the West Maroon Trailhead

If you don’t want to make the journey on foot back to Aspen, you can hire a ride to take you back to the trailhead. This is the ideal way to do the Aspen to Crested Butte hike in a day since it’s a one-way hike this way.

Dollys is a popular choice for a ride either into Crested Butte or back to Aspen. Just keep in mind, this is an expensive ride – to get a one-way ride back to Aspen from Crested Butte, it’s around $300.

East Maroon Pass Option

If you’re looking to hike from Aspen to Crested Butte via East Maroon Pass, you’ll be on a completely different trail.

Start your hike at Maroon Lake and backtrack via the Maroon Creek Trail until you reach a signed junction for East Maroon Pass.

Take the more primitive trail up towards East Maroon Pass. Surmount the pass and drop down to the Copper Creek Trailhead. Once you drop down, you’ll be right next to Copper Lake (on the Crested Butte side).

This trail is pretty rugged – it doesn’t get the same amount of traffic and isn’t maintained as well. Honestly, I thought the views weren’t quite as nice either. However, you’re likely to be the only person on the trail, so if you value solitude, this is the route to take.

If you still want to backpack, a big benefit of this route is that you won’t need any permits.

Either way, you’ll still need to deal with a shuttle reservation or Maroon Lake parking reservations.

Crested Butte to Aspen Hike Route

If you’re looking to hike from Crested Butte to Aspen, you’ll simply follow the route in reverse. There are a few benefits here.

One, you don’t have to bother with parking permits at the Maroon Lake Trailhead. There are no permit requirements on the Crested Butte side. However, there is limited parking, so be sure to arrive early – especially on weekends.

You’ll still need permits or transportation once you’re in Aspen, so despite not having to fiddle around with Maroon Lake parking, you’ll still need some advanced planning for a Crested Butte to Aspen hike.

Transportation at Maroon Lake if You’re Coming from Crested Butte

However, if you want to get to Aspen from Crested Butte, you’ll need to book a one-way shuttle reservation. The shuttle is $10 for a one-way ticket and the last one leaves the Maroon Lake parking lot at 4:30 so plan accordingly.

And keep in mind if you want to get to downtown Aspen, you’ll have to transfer at the Aspen Highlands lot and take a free RFTA bus to town.

Local Tip: There is no private vehicle pick-up (Uber, limo, etc) allowed at Maroon Lake, so plan on taking the shuttle.

Lodging and Where to Stay in Aspen

Planning to base yourself in Aspen? Here are my top picks for where to stay:

Keep in mind “budget” is a relative term in Aspen! In fact, if you don’t mind a little over an hour drive to the trailhead, you’re better off basing yourself in Glenwood Springs. I really love the Glenwood Springs Inn for an easy, budget-friendly accommodation.

Camping near Aspen

Camping can be really tough to find in and around Aspen. Almost all camping is an advanced reservation and will fill up the second it opens. Dispersed camping is mostly non-existent – even near Glenwood Springs.

If you’re looking for dispersed camping, stay near Leadville. This will add some time to your drive as you’ll need to go up and over Independence Pass, but there’s plenty of options for free camping near Leadville.

Campgrounds close to the trailhead include:

Accommodation in Crested Butte

Crested Butte offers slightly more affordable accommodations (and some free camping options if you know where to look).

Here’s a look at a few lodging options worth checking out:

Camping in Crested Butte

There are a couple of campgrounds in Crested Butte that are definitely worth a look. Most are reservation-based at this point, so again, make your plan in advance. Here’s a look at a couple of recommendations:

Where to Eat in Crested Butte

There are plenty of awesome restaurants in Crested Butte, but one of my all-time faves has to be Secret Stash. Their unique pizzas are the ultimate post-hike meal!

Other food options include:

  • Thai Chili 78
  • Teocalli Tamale
  • Momo

What to Pack

You’ll certainly want to be prepared for a mountain backpacking experience! Here’s a look at the essentials you’ll need to pack for your hike.

  • America the Beautiful Parks Pass (if you’re parked at Maroon Lake) Leave it on your dashboard!
  • A bear canister. This is required to backpack in the Maroon Bells Wilderness and rangers DO check
  • Water filter
  • water bladder or water bottle
  • Fleece layer
  • base layer (even in summer)
  • puffy layer (even in summer)
  • rain layer
  • beanie
  • sun hat
  • sun shirt
  • non cotton pants
  • non cotton shirt
  • gloves (even in summer)
  • sleeping bag
  • sleeping mat
  • tent
  • hiking poles (optional but strongly recommended)
  • sunscreen
  • sunglasses
  • bug spray
  • lighter
  • stove
  • fuel
  • eating utensils
  • odor-proof bag for trash
  • toilet kit (shovel, toilet paper, hand sanitizer)
  • Spare pair of warm socks
  • toiletries
  • camp shoes (optional)
  • Camera
  • GPS device
  • Emergency location beacon (strongly recommended)
  • Day hiking pack (optional)
  • Permits (if you’re camping)

Tips for Hiking from Crested Butte to Aspen

When it comes to hiking in Colorado, you’ll want to be prepared. High-altitude hikes require a bit of skill to navigate safely.

When we did this trail, someone took their dog over a 45-degree snow climb without traction. Essentially nearly stranding themselves on the back side of the pass. They weren’t prepared. And they made it, but it was a harrowing experience.

Here are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind when for the Aspen to Crested Butte hike.

Be below treeline before noon. Aim to be up and over the pass before noon – this usually means starting early to avoid afternoon thunderstorms. Every afternoon in the summer, dangerous thunderstorms strike the mountains. Avoid lightning strikes by planning to be below treeline before noon.

Plan for all kinds of weather conditions. It can (and does) snow in August in the mountains. Pack plenty of layers and be prepared for varying temperature swings.

Acclimatize safely. Take a few days to acclimatize to the altitude. Be sure to drink plenty of water and eat salty snacks to stay hydrated. Altitude sickness is a real threat, so know the signs and remember, the only way to get better is to go lower.

Practice LNT. Leave No Trace while you’re backpacking. This means packing out all trash – including dog poop, fruit peels, and wrappers. Stay on the trail – especially in the tundra above treeline. This is a sensitive environment, so tread lightly!

Nearby Activities

There are a lot of amazing things to do in both Crested Butte and Aspen (not to mention the surrounding areas). A few things to add to your trip include:

Additional Local Colorado Hiking Resources

Looking to hike in like a local in Colorado? Check out these handy resources:

Picture of Meg Atteberry
Meg Atteberry

Meg is a long-time Colorado local and outdoor industry professional. She's spent the last 15 years hiking, climbing, mountaineering, and canyoneering all over Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and Nevada in search of the best views. She's written for Outside Magazine, REI, Backpacker Magazine, and appeared on the Weather Channel.

Hi There!

Meg Atteberry standing on a mountain sticking her tongue out

Meg aka Fox is a 30-something who's born to explore. Toddler mom, queer, and neuro-spicy her favorite things to do are climb in the alpine and camp in the desert. Her mission is to get you out on your greatest adventure.