(Last Updated On: July 12, 2017)
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
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
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.
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.
To make comparing the two trails easier, I decided to organize a quick comparison chart:
|East Maroon Pass||West Maroon Pass|
How Do I Decide?
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).
Either way, if you like hiking and the weather is good, you won’t be unhappy with your choice 🙂 Have fun out there!