The West Maroon Pass Trail is a world class wildflower hike which climbs out of Aspen, passes by the spectacular Maroon Bells, and reaches a pass at 12,500 feet with sweeping views of the West Maroon Creek valley and the Crystal River East Fork basin on the Crested Butte side. Difficulties encountered on the hike include properly acclimating for hiking at high elevations, starting early in the day to avoid the common afternoon thunderstorms which are known to produce dangerous lightning, abandoning the hike if dark clouds appear in the sky, and arranging for a ride to Crested Butte if hiking the trail one-way to the Schofield Park trailhead. Google Earth maps of the hiking route (turned to the northwest for better viewing) can be found by clicking on the buttons above. GPS coordinates for the starting point at Maroon Lake are 39° 5.910'N, 106° 56.447'W. GPS coordinates for West Maroon Pass are 39° 2.155'N, 106° 59.833'W. GPS coordinates for the Schofield parking lot are 39° 1.478'N, 107° 3.038'W.
The West Maroon Pass Trail has a reputation of being one of the best wildflower hikes in the world. While peak wildflower bloom is generally supposed to be during the third week in July, hikers can expect to find abundant colorful wildflowers for a month before and after that time. Experiencing the wildflowers in full bloom was my main motivation for coming to Aspen and taking this hike. But there were other reasons as well. I had not been back to Colorado since briefly living in Aurora as a toddler, which is something that I can barely remember. But I knew that when I did end up returning, I would want to carry out a hike in the Rocky Mountains. In doing research at home, I found out some things which I really liked about the West Maroon Pass Trail. First, the hike was based out of Aspen, which was a city I had long been interested in visiting. Second, the trail begins at Maroon Lake with the beautiful Maroon Bells visible in the background. The first time that you see the Maroon Bells in pictures (perhaps by doing an internet search), you will realize why the view from Maroon Lake is so famous. In fact, the Maroon Bells are considered to be the most photographed peaks in Colorado (and some sources say all of North America). The Maroon Bells are extraordinarily beautiful, and taking a hike in which you will enjoy various views throughout the day of those two peaks is quite appealing. Third, the trail is set up so that hikers can do a one-way hike and end up in Crested Butte at the end of the day. Arranging for a shuttle and hotel room is necessary, but it is well worth the effort. Hikers can even take an alternate route back to Aspen the following day by hiking the East Maroon Pass Trail. The alternate route is more than 5 miles longer (East Maroon Pass Trail is about 16 miles long, while West Maroon Pass Trail is 10.5 miles long), but it creates a loop hike with completely different scenery.
To carry out the West Maroon Pass Trail hike, my friend Mel and I caught a flight from Oakland to Salt Lake City. We then drove to Aspen, which took us about 7 hours with stops. The reason we flew into Utah was that we had planned a couple of other sightseeing destinations there for later in the trip. Upon arriving in Aspen after a very long day in travel, we checked into our hotel and got some sleep. The morning of the hike, we woke up early and got on the road. This was critical, because the road to the trailhead at Maroon Lake (part of the Maroon Bells Scenic Area in the White River National Forest) actually closes down to private vehicles at 8:00am (as of 2015). We wanted to park our vehicle there, rather than being forced to take the shuttle bus in and park somewhere else. Fortunately, we made it just in time and found a good parking spot where we could leave our vehicle for a couple of days. The hike starts at the edge of Maroon Lake, where we took some photographs of the famous view of the Maroon Bells. The early part of the trail (actually the Crater Lake Trail) wraps around the northern side of the lake and then passes through groves of aspen trees (as well as fir and spruce) as it starts gaining in elevation. West Maroon Creek can occasionally be spotted through the trees and Pyramid Peak (14,018 feet) is also visible up high off to the left. The trail next reaches an area that is a giant field of boulders at the bottom of Minnehaha Gulch. There are some nice views of both North Maroon Peak (14,014 feet) and South Maroon Peak (14,156 feet) from this area. We took our first short break at the shoreline of Crater Lake after gaining the first 500 feet of elevation over the course of 1.8 miles. The views from Crater Lake are quite amazing, being that hikers are now so close to the base of the Maroon Bells and several waterfalls are also visible. From Crater Lake to West Maroon Pass, an additional 2,424 feet in elevation is gained over the course of the next 4.7 miles. After Crater Lake, the trail switches off between following next to streams, passing through sections of forest and willows, and making stream crossings. The highlight, though, is passing through the areas of vast alpine meadows and tundra. This is where the wildflowers completely take over the scenery. Some of the wildflowers include larkspur, lupine, asper, columbine, paintbrush, and fireweed, to mention a few. Once West Maroon Pass is reached, there are good views overlooking both sides. Precarious Peak (13,380 feet) and Belleview Mountain (13,233 feet) really stand out. Because I had not properly acclimated and was taking so many photographs, the 6.5 mile hike from Maroon Lake to West Maroon Pass took me 7 hours. After enjoying the views and resting up, we dropped down the other side onto the East Fork Creek Trail which leads to Schofield Park. This final portion of the one-way hike is about 4 miles long but the wildflowers are even more incredible on this side. The surrounding scenery, however, is not quite as spectacular but still beautiful. Our visit ended up being about 3 weeks after peak wildflower bloom, which was still a good time to be there. The hike down this side took me 3 hours (Mel could have easily hiked a lot faster), and from the parking lot at the bottom we caught our prearranged shuttle bus to Crested Butte. Our total hiking time was 10 hours with an elevation gain of 2,920 feet and an elevation loss of 2,080 feet. Keep in mind that this hike is usually done faster and we were the last group on the trail for the day. Our hike took place on August 8, 2015.
Many more photographs taken during our visit are available for viewing for this destination. To see all of them, choose one of the two options presented below. The two options are Slideshow viewing and Trip Report viewing. The Slideshow option allows for viewing larger images with an autoplay option and a full screen option (available on most browsers). This option works very well for large computer screens and tablets. The Trip Report option allows for viewing smaller pictures in a standard scroll-down format and enlarging of any panoramic photos taken during our visit. Click on the option of your choice to view all of our photos from this destination. The Slideshow format opens in a new browser window and the Trip Report format uses the same browser window for viewing.
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