July and August are the peak months of the wildflower bloom in the Colorado high country, and this year they are off the charts!  During my travels I’ve been lucky enough to see some amazing landscapes, but I’ve never experienced anything like the fields of wildflowers that awaited us on the hike from Aspen to Crested Butte.    The towns are actually only about 24 miles as the crow flies, but due to the spectacular mountain landscape, it’s at least a 130 mile circuitous drive taking about three hours by road.  Fortunately, for those in reasonable shape and with a little extra time to spare, there’s a beautiful 6 hour, 11 mile hike that connects the two towns over West Maroon Pass.

Maroon Bells with parking lot in the foreground.

The hike begins at the Maroon Lake trail head outside of Aspen.  We suggest getting there early, especially on a weekend.  You’ll need to park in the overnight lots, and they fill up fast.  We arrived a few minutes after 6:00 am and just snagged the last spot.  If you can’t get a spot, or if you get there after 8 am, you’ll need to take the shuttle bus from the Aspen Recreation Center (8 bucks every 20 minutes).  From here you’ll head to the trail head proper where you’ll see the timeless view of the Maroon Bells at sunrise looming over Maroon Lake.  This is a classic photo opportunity that appears on countless calendars, postcards and other Colorado souvenirs, and I’d be willing to bet real money that you’ll find at least four or five photographers (more during aspen season!) taking their turn to capture the shot.  Grab your version now, because chances are when you return to get your car it won’t be during the amazing morning light!

Maroon Bells over Maroon Lake

You’ll start out circling Maroon lake on the north side till you hit the Crater Lake trail.  Follow this for 1.8  miles and you’ll come to Crater Lake.  Take a few minutes to relax and enjoy the views, because the soggiest part of the trail is coming up.  Depending on the time of the year, you’ll cross West Maroon Creek several times, and these crossings range from anything to a minor puddle to a full raging river.  We came the day after a fairly significant rainstorm, so the creek was definitely on the higher side.  Take your time finding a good spot to cross when the trail comes to one of these obstacles.  Bringing a pair of Tevas or Chacos isn’t a bad idea!  Be careful if you take your shoes off….one of the guys in our group accidentally dropped his hiking shoes in the river and was lucky that I happened to be in the right place downstream to catch them!  Don’t even worry about getting muddy when hiking through the willows lining the trail…just revel in the filth and enjoy feeling like a kid again!  You definitely won’t mind when you’re surrounded by the views of Shoemaker Ridge on your left and the Bells to your right.

Once the stream crossings are conquered, the steepest ascent is still ahead.  From the bottom of the valley there is about a 1000 foot calf-burning ascent over a distance of one mile, but the views at the top of the pass at 12,500 feet are worth it!  For extra credit run up to the top of the unnamed peak on the ridge to get another couple of hundred feet of climbing.  This is a busy pass, and you’ll be joined by not only through hikers, but day hikers coming up from either end.  It’s a good place to socialize and enjoy some lunch, and you’ll always have plenty of people who are happy to take the perfect Instagram photo for you.

Three people at the top of West Maroon Pass

When you’re ready to head down, be sure you’ve got your camera at the ready, because you’re about to see wildflowers like you’ve never experienced.  Sure, there were some pretty ones on the way up the pass, but once you get down the first half mile or so, the explosion of color will blow your mind.  I’ve seen fields of flowers before, but one of the things that sets Schofield Park apart from anything else is the height of the flowers.  It’s not at all unusual to find species that would normally top out at a foot tall grow up to two or three feet high here.  I don’t know if it is the altitude, the humidity, or just a little bit of Crested Butte magic, but I’ve never seen anything quite like it before.  You’ll find pristine examples of multiple varieties of yellow sunflowers,  blue elephantella, purple fringe, scarlet gillia, purple and yellow fleabane, the familiar blue and white of the columbine, (the official state flower!), magenta Indian paintbrushes and dozens more that I’m not even remotely qualified to name.  It’s definitely no wonder that Crested Butte has been named the wildflower capital of Colorado.

 

 

Take your time down this part of the trail.  It will wind downhill for about three miles, eventually bringing you out of the meadows into a lovely evergreen forest.  Here you’ll pass the remains of several old miner cabins on your way to the destination trailhead.  If you’re hiking on a typical Colorado day, you’ll be breaking out your rain gear right about now for the afternoon monsoon storm that always tends to pop up around 2 or 3 pm.  From the trailhead it’s another 13 miles to Crested Butte itself, but we’d arranged with Dolly’s Mountain Shuttle for a pickup and ride back into town.  To get back to your car in Aspen, you can either hike in reverse the next day after a relaxing evening in Crested Butte, or you can take Dolly’s again back over Kebler Pass to your car at the trailhead.

Total distance: 13.49 mi
Max elevation: 12700 ft
Total climbing: 10354 ft
Total Time: 07:11:35

About The Author

Henry has spent three winters living in Antarctica which funded his early explorations and adventures around the world. Now he holds down a full time job in Denver, CO and continues to make travel a priority in his life, both internationally, and on weekend warrior type trips.

26 Responses

  1. Jane / Lomaunelmia ja unelmalomia

    First of all, I love the name of your blog! 👍

    Unfortunately I am not in that “reasonable shape” and I have acknowledged how much I miss when never hiking. You just can’t get everywhere by car 😕

    These views are incredibly beautiful and we have nothing like those flower fields here in Finland.

    Reply
    • Henry

      Thanks Jane! I appreciate the compliment. Keep going with small hikes, and you’ll get there…the great thing about life is that there are an infinite number of second chances!

      Reply
  2. lloyd

    13.49 miles! good going guys 🙂 Scenery looks breathtaking and what a beautifull place aspen is 😀 putting this on the list for sure

    Reply
  3. Indrani

    Wow this hike is worth doing! The view across Maroon lake is memsmerizing. I can see why it is on every souvenir there. Love the flowers you have collected along the way.

    Reply
  4. Swati

    Oh, I just loved the wildflowers in bloom all across the hills. And the fact that you get to cross the stream with your shoes off is such a lovely experience. I love the feel of grass and water. For the slush, I will keep the shoes on, thanks ! Great post and the hike looks amazing 🙂

    Reply
  5. SindhuMurthy

    What a surreal place this is. The dirt on your shoes shows what you had been through during the hike but for views like that, I wonder if the dirt would matter 🙂 You have captured the terrain so well in your pictures. I couldn’t help but remember the Valley of Flowers in the Himalayas looking at your pictures of the flowers.

    Reply
  6. Swayam Tiwari

    walking up to 12,000 feet up is quite a task. This is nearly 4 kilometre from the mean sea level and half way up to Mount Everest! I hope you are going to update this post with more photos about the brilliant flowers in the valley. The centrality of your post is about the flowers, so I guess, your next step is to populate this post with lots of photos.))

    Reply
  7. Sara Broers

    I love the Colorado high country and you captured wildflower season beautifully. Your photos show exactly why everyone needs to get off of the road and start hiking in Colorado.

    Reply
  8. Vanessa Ball

    I am a big trekking fan and this would definitely be my bag! It is stunning, the Maroon Lake and Crater Lake Trail, just wow! I haven’t explored any mountains stateside, maybe it is time to give it a go!

    Reply
  9. Harini

    Did you filter your pictures or are these the natural colours of the flowers and mountains ?They all look too good to be real.I am drooling over them again and again.The mountains look golden and the grass looks emerald green.I am not a huge fan of hikes but if the colours were real then I would definitely be game for it

    Reply
    • Henry

      No filters! Just taking photos at the right time of the day. You’ve got to get up awfully early to get that nice golden light, but the result is worth it.

      Reply
  10. Joanna

    What an amazing hike! The scenery is simply amazing with all the flowers in bloom and the peak of the snowy mountain always in front of you. Looking at the altitude graph I imagine it wasn’t an easy hike, especially that 8 miles were uphill. But I would love to do it myself, to be surrounded only by nature in its most beautiful and calming way.

    Reply
  11. Kathy Marris

    Stunning photos of what looks like a fabulous hike. There is nothing better than getting out in the great outdoors with a camera. Nature is the best therapy!

    Reply
  12. LaiAriel R. Samangka ( Thelittlelai: Beyond limits)

    Truly, this trip has given you a good feast of beautiful landscapes and their innate beauty is really beyond compare. I also love that you may didn’t able to see the fields of wildflowers, but the Schofield Park has provided you the stunning view of the height of flowers. Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful journey of yours with us.

    Reply
  13. Sandy N Vyjay

    The Aspen to Crested Butte hike looks really divine. The wild flowers look like a colourful poem etched on the surface of the land. Must have been a really amazing experience. Wish I were transported to that wonderful land to experience the natural bliss. Stunning pictures bring alive the beauty of the land.

    Reply
  14. Married With Passports

    Love the pictures you took. Especially the first one. I guess if you take it on your way back the light would look totally different as you said. We haven’t been close to Colorado yet, however it surely goes straight to our bucket list.

    Reply
  15. Gareth Goes Places

    This hike is so worth doing for those beautiful views. I enjoy going for a hike and will make sure to keep this in mind for when I plan to visit in the future. The scenery is so beautiful! I’m looking forward to going

    Reply
  16. Karie

    Omg that’s a spectacular view of the mountains and lake. And those wild flowers are so pretty! I have been on a few hikes but I must say nothing beats the views of this trail.The air must’ve been so crisp and clean that the pictures look so real life! That guy was lucky to get his hiking shoes back thanks to you..and yeah hikes are sometimes muddy but fun and worth it!

    Reply
  17. Katchutravels

    Some great photos. I felt visually transported there. Loved the golden hour shot of the lake, the stream crossing and the grunged out look of the violet flowers against the greenish brown mountains. Useful, just long enough and engaging pictures

    Reply
  18. Jerny

    The person who took the photos, is that you? If so, you have an awesome eye for photography! This is one of the landscapes I am looking for when I get to the US. I will definitely make a visit.

    Reply
    • Henry

      Yep, that’s both myself and Darcie taking the photos. Nothing more than cell phone cameras, and a little bit of cropping and color correction. Thanks for stopping by!

      Reply
  19. Marlies

    This is just breathtaking! I really want to do this hike one day but first I need to practice haha. I will definitely bring some extra socks 😉 I see that it was a 7 hour hike, wow but it looks worth it!

    Reply
  20. Jas from My Suitcase Journeys

    You arrived at 6am and the parking lot’s basically full already!??!?!??!! Whoaaaa! This must be a super popular hike and I can definitely see why. 6 hours isn’t too crazy long of a hike either. I think I’d definitely be up for it. Added to my bucket list! Thanks for sharing!!

    Reply
  21. Wanderlust Vegans

    That is quite the impressive hike. I like how you weren’t afraid to get muddy, this is definitely not a hike for people with brand new shoes they want to keep clean. Is the afternoon monsoon a regular thing? You make it sounds like it’s on a schedule. Why the afternoon?

    Reply

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