West Maroon Pass
One of the classic long hikes though the Maroon Bells Wilderness, the trek up to West Maroon Pass is certainly not one to miss. Be forewarned, however, that there are two gnarly creek crossings that separate you from the prize of this high alpine pass.
Head west out of Aspen along Colorado 82. At the first traffic circle take the second exit onto Maroon Creek Rd. Continue along Maroon Creek Rd for 15.1km.
|When to do|
Late June through September
Yes, In the National Forest Wilderness
Yes, at trailhead
Out and back
From the parking area, or the shuttle drop off point, head down to Maroon Lake. The view across Maroon Lake with Maroon Peak in the background is stunning. It’s one of the most photographed shots in the Colorado Rockies, so enjoy this absolutely stunning vista before starting the work ahead of you.
Continue around the north side of the lake. At the end of the lake the trail will begin to climb gently. For another mile or so you will gently gain elevation through sparse trees. After that 1.6km, you’ll reach a junction. Head left along the West Maroon Creek Trail.
You will begin heading up the long valley carved by Maroon Creek. Maroon Peak looms over you on the right, and Pyramid Peak towers on your left. Though trending upwards, the path undulates up and down a little bit.
Along this section of trail you will encounter two treacherous creek crossings. Take extreme care. After large rainfalls or during the ‘melt’ season these creeks can run quite high and are best avoided. Expect to get wet up to your knees. These two creek crossings are the crux of the hike, and a fair number of groups turn around when the rivers run at a dangerous rate.
Finally the trail will start to veer to the right (west) as you find yourself at the bottom of a high alpine cirque. To your right will be Belleview Mountain at 4033m and to your left will be an unnamed 4002m mountain.
Finally begin the ascent up the rocky slopes to West Maroon Pass. After one long switchback you will find yourself at the craggy pass. Looking down the other side, you’ll be able to see down into the Purity Basin, with Galena Mountain looming on the opposite side. Return the way you came, and yes, revisit the creek crossing again. Note that the creeks will run higher later in the day, especially when there is snow-melt feeding them.
Trekking poles and water shoes are practically essential for the water crossings. Do not do these crossings barefoot, as walking with a cut food is way worse than walking with wet shoes!
Afternoon thunderstorms are common in this part of the world. Be sure to be off the pass and down to the trees by early afternoon.
This hike can be completed as part of the Four Pass Loop, one of the greatest backpacking trips in the Colorado Rockies. Inquire at the ranger station in Aspen for more information about this stunning two- to four-night backpack.
A fee is required to enter this section of the park, or a National Parks Pass. Note that for most of the summer, Maroon Creek Rd is closed from around 8a.m.-5p.m. If that is the case, you will have to take the Shuttle from Aspen Highlands Ski Area. Contact the National Forest Service for more information on the shuttle.
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