One of Aspen’s most popular summer adventures, the hike through the heart of the rugged Elk Mountains, is a stunner—followed by an overnight (or two) in the charming town of Crested Butte. A few caveats: be fit enough and ready to tackle high-altitude hiking; start by at least 7 a.m. to finish before afternoon thunderstorms roll in; and pack plenty of clothing layers, water, trail food, and a map.
West Maroon Pass
At 11 miles long, this is the shortest and most popular route. The trail starts at 9,580 feet elevation at Maroon Lake (catch the Maroon Bells bus from Aspen Highlands) and passes by Crater Lake before heading up a long, scenic valley to West Maroon Pass at 12,490 feet in elevation. From there, the hike heads through some of the most incredible wildflower meadows you’ll ever see, then shady forest to Schofield Park, 14 miles from Crested Butte.
A Little More Solitude:
East Maroon Pass
A less-traveled and less-steep option, this 14-mile route heads south from the trailhead at East Maroon Portal (the Maroon Bells bus will drop you off on request) and rolls gently up an aspen-filled valley to 11,824-foot East Maroon Pass. Spectacular Copper Lake awaits on the far side, followed by a pleasant hike down a narrow valley on the Copper Creek Trail to the little community of Gothic, 7 miles from Crested Butte.
The Ultimate Challenge:
Starting from the Conundrum Creek trailhead off Castle Creek Road, this 17.5-mile epic offers the chance for a quick en route soak in the popular hot springs 8.5 miles in (a Forest Service permit is now required for camping overnight). From there, the hike crosses 12,900-foot Triangle Pass at 10.5 miles, before connecting some 1,500 feet lower in elevation with the Copper Creek Trail, which travels down to Gothic.
Sleep at the new Public House Lofts in a historic building in downtown Crested Butte. Opened by Eleven Experience—which operates sought-after lodges around the world—these three mountain-luxe suites feature king beds and steam showers for post-hike recovery. Order up room service and a pint of brewed-in-house beer from the Public House Pub and Tap Room downstairs. Rooms from $350.
The Hiking Shoe
Merrell’s lightweight, breathable Chameleon 7 ($130) doesn’t skimp on support, with a protective toe cap, air-cushioned heel, and lugged Vibram sole that handles above-treeline rocky slopes with aplomb.
With advance reservations, Dolly’s Mountain Shuttle ($20 per person or dog based on five-person minimum) or Alpine Express Shuttle ($25 per person based on eight-person minimum) will ferry you from Schofield Park or Gothic to Crested Butte. Both offer rides back to Aspen, too (from $360 for six passengers). Another option: arrange for friends to leave a car and start their hike in Crested Butte, then swap keys with you along the trail. Or hike both ways.