Hiking between Crested Butte & Aspen: Comparing West Maroon and East Maroon Passes

(Last Updated On: July 12, 2017)

The beautiful West Maroon Pass is the most popular way to hike between Crested Butte and Aspen.
The beautiful West Maroon Pass is the most popular way to hike between Crested Butte and Aspen.
A few years ago, I hiked from Crested Butte to Aspen via the more common West Maroon Pass. I then set my eyes on hiking to Aspen via the lesser traveled East Maroon Pass. But, I was not able to complete it until this past August. After completing the East Maroon Pass hike, I’ve often been asked how the two routes compare. So, in this post, I will investigate hiking options between Aspen and Crested Butte by comparing West Maroon and East Maroon Passes.

What West Maroon Pass and East Maroon Pass Hold in Common

Both routes between Aspen and Crested Butte are especially scenic. You’ll enjoy fantastic mountain views, wonderful wildflowers, and pass by beautiful lakes along the way. Although each trail has a slightly different start/finish in Crested Butte, both routes also start/finish at the same point in Aspen, at Maroon Lake. In addition, each route has a higher start/finish elevation in the Crested Butte side compared to the Aspen side.

While each hike passes through some good forest, you will also pass through scenic alpine while approaching the passes. Because of this, you must be wary of any approaching thunderstorms, especially during the monsoon months of July and August.

West Maroon Pass

When hiking between Aspen and Crested Butte via West Maroon Pass, you'll skirt beneath the Maroon Bells.
When hiking between Aspen and Crested Butte via West Maroon Pass, you’ll skirt beneath the Maroon Bells.
West Maroon Pass is the more standard route of the two. The route is about 11 miles in length and is generally steeper overall compared to East Maroon Pass. This route begins at an elevation of 10,410 feet near Crested Butte, reaches a high point of 12,500 at West Maroon Pass, and ends at 9580 feet near Aspen. That means there’s a 2090-vertical foot gain/loss on the Crested Butte side and a 2920-vertical foot gain/loss on the Aspen side. The vertical gain is more than East Maroon, but not by much. But West Maroon Pass is 665 feet higher than East Maroon.

During the hike, you’ll pass by the famed Crater Lake and Maroon Lake on the Aspen side. You’ll also skirt beneath the classic Maroon Bells. During the peak wildflower weeks from mid-July to early August, you’ll hike through some of the most magnificent wildflowers in the state on the Crested Butte side. You’ll probably feel like you’re Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.

Because West Maroon Pass is the most popular route to hike between Aspen and Crested Butte, and because both ends of the trail are extremely popular for those wanting shorter day-hikes, you’ll certainly be joined by a whole lot of other people on this trial.

East Maroon Pass

Copper Lake near East Maroon Pass
While hiking East Maroon Pass between Crested Butte and Aspen, you’ll pass by the scenic Copper Lake.
East Maroon Pass is the less standard route. At just over 16 miles, this is 5 miles longer than the West Maroon Pass route. But, it is considerably less steep, especially on the Aspen side. This route begins at an elevation of 9830 feet near Crested Butte, reaches a high point of 11,835 at West Maroon Pass, drops down to a low point of 9050 feet before ascending again to end at 9580 feet near Aspen. That means there’s a 2010-vertical foot gain/loss on the Crested Butte side and a 2785-vertical foot gain/loss on the Aspen side. The vertical gain on both ends is slightly less than that of West Maroon, and the East Maroon pass sits 665-vertical feet lower.

Alpine wildflowers dominate the high meadows on East Maroon Pass.
Alpine wildflowers dominate the high meadows on East Maroon Pass.
You’ll pass by the emerald-colored Copper Lake on the Crested Butte side. And you have a choice to start/finish on the Aspen side at Maroon Lake or the East Portal trailhead. While the sunflowers are not as prevalent on this route as they are on West Maroon, the alpine wildflowers are spectacular on the pass. And, even though the views of the Maroon Bells are few and far between, you’ll get up close and personal with the foreboding Pyramid Massif.

If you hike between Aspen and Crested Butte via East Maroon Pass, you’ll see far fewer people compared to the train of hikers you’ll see on West Maroon. You’ll truly feel like you’re in the Wilderness. Some people don’t like the feeling of being alone in the outdoors, but I love it.

Comparison Chart

To make comparing the two trails easier, I decided to organize a quick comparison chart:

East Maroon Pass West Maroon Pass
  • 16 miles
  • Longer but less steep
  • CB starting: 9830′, 2010′ to pass
  • Aspen starting: 9580′ but drops to 9050′, 2785′ to pass
  • Elevation of pass: 11,835′
  • Wonderful lakes and wildflowers
  • Pass by Pyramid Massif
  • Less people
  • 11 miles
  • Shorter but steeper
  • CB starting: 10,410′, 2090′ to pass
  • Aspen starting: 9580′, 2920′ to pass
  • Elevation of pass: 12,500′
  • Wonderful lakes and even more magnificent wildflowers
  • Pass by Maroon Bells
  • More people
  • How Do I Decide?

    Views of the Pyramid Massif from just below East Maroon Pass.
    Views of the Pyramid Massif from just below East Maroon Pass.
    It’s always hard to decided exactly which way to go! Both have their benefits and downfalls. Many people choose to hike from Aspen to Crested Butte via East Maroon, then return via West Maroon the next day or two later (or vice versa).

    To help you make your decision, and to help you plan your hike a bit better, you should check out my trip reports from my hikes from Crested Butte to Aspen via West Maroon Pass and East Maroon Pass.

    Either way, if you like hiking and the weather is good, you won’t be unhappy with your choice 🙂 Have fun out there!

    Brittany Walker Konsella

    Aside from skiing, biking, and all outdoorsy things,Brittany Walker Konsella also loves smiles and chocolate 🙂 Even though she excels at higher level math and chemistry, she still confuses left from right. Find out more about Brittany!

    Summary
    Hiking between Crested Butte & Aspen: Comparing West Maroon and East Maroon Passes
    Article Name
    Hiking between Crested Butte & Aspen: Comparing West Maroon and East Maroon Passes
    Description
    Want to hike between Aspen and Crested Butte but aren't sure which way to go? This post compares the hikes between West Maroon & East Maroon Passes to help!
    Author

    Brittany Walker Konsella

    Aside from skiing, biking, and all outdoorsy things, Brittany Walker Konsella also loves smiles and chocolate :) Even though she excels at higher level math and chemistry, she still confuses left from right. Find out more about Brittany!

    12 thoughts on “Hiking between Crested Butte & Aspen: Comparing West Maroon and East Maroon Passes

    • September 25, 2015 at 9:10 pm
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      Hi there! I am excited to do this trail! Do you have any info about how I can shuttle from Aspen to the West Maroon trailhead and then again from the end of the trail to Crested Butte that evening. We’re doing the trail this weekend and Dolly’s Shuttle seems to be closed for the season. (We’re doing Aspen Crested Butte in one day and then Crested Butte back to Aspen the next, so we’ll need the shuttle again for our second day). Internet is failing me for options!

    • September 26, 2015 at 6:21 pm
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      Hi Nicolette! I sent you an email as well. Have you tried the Alpine Express?

    • May 20, 2016 at 11:25 am
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      Thanks for this great article & chart comparison! My family and I want to do this hike in early June. Do you think this would be a good time to go? We are also planning to bring my 8 month old daughter along. Do you think one trail is better than the other for carrying a little one in a pack?

    • May 20, 2016 at 5:18 pm
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      Hi Grace. Doing this hike in June is not advisable – unless you are prepared to walk miles in the snow and are knowledgeable about navigating through avalanche terrian. This hike becomes possible for the average hiker beginning in early to mid July most years.

    • November 30, 2016 at 12:44 pm
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      Is hiking this trail in the winter out of the question completely or does it occur when breaks in snowfall permit hiking?

    • December 1, 2016 at 1:30 pm
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      Hi John! Thanks for your comment. Hiking West Maroon and East Maroon are extremely treacherous during winter. You’ll be traveling through very dangerous avalanche terrain and if you are not equipped with the right skills for traveling in avalanche terrain and gear (beacon, shovel, probe, avalanche airbag backpack) and know how to use them then traveling in this terrain is unsafe. Additionally, the dirt roads used to access these trailheads are closed on both sides during the winter, which makes your journey roughly 20 miles longer both ways.

    • August 8, 2018 at 8:12 am
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      Hi I am wondering if you recommend we hike east maroon pass both ways or if we do one way on each pass? The group is concerned 16 miles may be too much but with the elevation being lower is it still that much harder?

    • August 8, 2018 at 11:10 pm
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      I would recommend taking one trail one way and the other trail back. They are both unique experiences and worth it! The 16 miles on East Maroon went pretty fast really. West Maroon is a bit slower due to the steeper and rockier terrain. Honestly, I feel that they are both similar in effort… I would probably suggest using East Maroon pass to hike to CB, and West Maroon to hike to Aspen. Going these ways on each makes for a slightly easier ascent.

    • September 9, 2018 at 6:15 pm
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      Would you recommend either hike in late September? Would love any thoughts

    • September 20, 2018 at 3:21 pm
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      Doing this hike in late September can be beautiful! But, it can also depend on the year we are having as it can also be snowy. This year, you’re probably good to go!

    • September 25, 2018 at 9:39 am
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      I am thinking of doing the CB to Aspen West Maroon hike next year…late August early September. Do you have any suggestions re preparing for the hike physically as I live in a suburb of St. Paul, MN. Pretty much flat land here.

    • September 26, 2018 at 10:49 pm
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      Hi Karen,

      Training will be a little difficult where you are. I would focus on overall fitness and endurance. The hike usually takes people around 8 hours. So make sure you can sustain exercise for a long time. Also, you might want to workout on an elliptical machine with an incline or a treadmill with an incline to simulate steepness!

      Hope you have fun!

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