More than 100 miles of winding road separate Aspen from Crested Butte. That number drops to ten when you ditch the asphalt and step onto the trail snaking up and over 12,480-foot Maroon Pass. As lovely as the drive may be - and it is certainly lovely - the hike is far more memorable. Fortunately, the folks at Aspen's Limelight Hotel are happy to give visitors a lift to the West Maroon Creek trailhead (as well as a SPOT Personal Tracker device meant to reassure hikers worried about losing the path). What follows is in equal turns rigorous and scenic.
The hike starts with a photo op. The crisp, clear waters of Maroon Lake perfectly reflect the 14,000-foot Maroon Bells, creating a scene so fetching that locals insist its the most photographed view in Colorado. Two miles up the trail, which winds through the White River National Forest, aspen groves give way to reveal a view of the lush glacial valley carved between the Maroon Peaks and the 13,000-foot Len Shoemaker Ridge.
At tree line, wildflowers take over - purple, red, yellow, white, and waist-deep. The final push to the pass rises along a goat path that cuts above the floral scene along a headwall. At the top, a large rock formation shields hikers from the wind so they can enjoy a killer view (and a hotel-packed lunch). Total time to the top is roughly four hours for about six uphill miles. By comparison, the descent on the other side feels easy - four fast miles on singletrack through meadows. The views are constantly changing for the better so the hike goes much faster without a camera.
At the trailhead in Crested Butte, Dolly's Mountain Shuttle picks hikers up and drives the 30 minutes into town on dirt roads (completists can do the whole thing, but it is a very long day). The Limelight Hotel offers to bring trekkers back by chopper, but the flight might be overkill. Instead, stay a night at the rustic Nordic Inn, which partners with Limelight to accommodate hikers, before heading back to Aspen on East Maroon Creek trail - the walk is only five miles longer.
More information: The Limelight Hotel's hiking package comes with several days accomodation and time in Crested Butte. Organize with the hotel staff to make the trip work for you, but expect to pay around $1,500. The trail is intertwined with the creek itself, so bring poles or shoes that you don't mind getting wet.