Aspen – Crested Butte — A Classic Trek For Cross-training

Post by blogger | September 9, 2016      
Kathy on the trail.

High alpine beauty, Elk Mountains, Colorado.

During the summer months we do a variety of activities to stay in shape for ski touring. Living in western Colorado gives us easy access to hundreds of trails into our beautiful mountains. Hiking up steep slopes with poles is excellent cross-training for skinning. Coming down is another story…it’s rough on the knees but makes us appreciate those lovely days when we can sail the slopes on skis.

Trekking from Aspen to Crested Butte is a classic and visiting relatives gave me the excuse to take a few days off to put foot to path. It’s a tough hike but after a few days of acclimation, the beachcombers, both sand volleyball players, were ready to go.

We left the trailhead by 8:00 a.m. and entered a world of stunning alpine splendor. Some aspens were already turning brilliant yellow. High meadows were luscious shades of green. Many wildflowers had already waned but patches of deep blue mountain gentian were in their prime. I often see a similar flower in the Swiss and Austrian alps. I believe it’s the same as their Enzian.

Left at 8

On the Aspen side, you can drive to the Maroon Lake trailhead and park. A 5 day parking pass costs $10, but you have to arrive before 8/a.m. or after 5/p.m. From 8-5, only public shuttle buses are allowed up the road.

crater lake

Crater Lake is about 1.5 miles from the trailhead, a nice walk for sightseers.

Windy on the pass

Windy on Maroon Pass. WildSnow girl, Katie Spieler, is psyched to make it to 12,500 feet.

Hiking to CB

Walking down the pass to the Crested Butte trailhead takes about 2 hours. The town of Crested Butte is 10+ miles from the trailhead so most people arrange a pickup. Dolly’s Mountain Taxi is a popular shuttle service but call ahead since seats are limited, 970-349-2620.

overnight in CB

Crested Butte has lots of charm, good restaurants and strong mountain vibe — overnight stay mandatory.

good signage

There’s a few forks along the trail but ample signage makes route finding easy. Nonetheless, we advise placing the entire route or at least a dozen key waypoints in your smartphone GPS app. Google is your friend on that — it’s a popular trail so GPS data is easy to find — just be sure to cross check on a map. Guide services in Aspen and Crested Butte can hire you a hiking guide if necessary.

Return trip

The return trip, Crested Butte to Aspen, is an easier hike to the pass. The spectacular view down the valley to home. We ski tour this area as well.

almost there

The end is near as Crater Lake comes into view, about 3 miles to go.

Hiking stats:

  • Starting elevation, Maroon Lake trailhead: 9,580 feet
  • West Maroon Pass elevation: 12,500 feet
  • Elevation gain: 2,920 feet
  • Length: guidebooks state it’s 12 miles one way. Our iPhone app clocked 13.96 miles. On day one we walked 36,123 steps including strolling downtown. The app showed we climbed the equivalent of 150 floors. I don’t know if that’s accurate or not but it justified a big burger for dinner.
  • The steep rocky downhill portions of the trail were brutal on my knees. Trekking poles helped ease the pressure and I highly recommend them. If you need a pair, Black Diamond Distance FLZ poles are my favorites, light weight but they’ve held up for me, three years and counting.


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    9 Responses to “Aspen – Crested Butte — A Classic Trek For Cross-training”

    1. Katie Spieler September 10th, 2016 9:29 am

      Wow those photos are beautiful! Everyone should do that hike at least once in their lifetime. But, I have to say, what made the hike exceptional was our guide;)

    2. Joe John September 10th, 2016 9:01 pm

      Looks like it is an awesome trail. Thank you for sharing!

    3. Hacksaw September 11th, 2016 12:00 pm

      Are you going to ISSW?

    4. Lou Dawson 2 September 11th, 2016 3:58 pm

      Hello Hacksaw, please email me about that. Thanks, Lou

    5. kathy spieler September 11th, 2016 9:52 pm

      Excellent article Lisa!

    6. voldbjerg September 12th, 2016 5:53 am

      what app did you use?

    7. Lisa Dawson September 12th, 2016 10:00 am

      Voldbjerg, it’s the app call Health which comes with the iPhone6.

    8. Janey September 12th, 2016 2:29 pm

      I did this hike years ago and I agree, it’s beautiful and good training. Has the vegetation overgrown the trail much?

    9. Scott Nelson September 13th, 2016 8:06 pm

      Looks like fun!

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