Four Pass Loop – Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness, CO (28 mile loop)

Trip Overview: The Four Pass Loop in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness is one of the premiere backpacking loops in Colorado. At 28 miles in length, this loop is typically hiked over the course of 3 to 5 days depending on your fitness level. During the trek you hike over four high elevation mountain passes, reach a peak altitude of ~12,500 feet, and climb nearly 9,000 feet of elevation. Highlights of the Four Pass Loop include epic views of the Maroon Bells and several nearby mountain peaks, expansive views from atop mountain passes, summer wildflower blooms, and views of alpine lakes and idyllic rivers. The majority of the images are from a trip that took place in early August.

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Overall map of the Four Pass Loop in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness – Day 1 (light blue), Day 2 (yellow), Day 3 (purple), Day 4 (red)
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The approximate elevation profile for the Four Pass Loop in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness
  • Overall map of the Four Pass Loop in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness (PDF)
  • Link to purchase a topographic map of the Maroon Bells area (here)

Jump to Day 1 hike – Maroon Lake Trailhead to West Maroon Pass
Jump to Day 2 hike – West Maroon Pass to North Fork
Jump to Day 3 hike – North Fork to Snowmass Lake
Jump to Day 4 hike – Snowmass Lake to Maroon Lake Trailhead

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Preparations:

Click here to read more about Permits

Permits: To backpack and camp within the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, you must self-register and fill out a permit at the trailhead before starting your hike. There is currently (as of 2019) no quota on the number of hikers allowed to start the Four Pass Loop each day, so no advanced reservations are required. Note that group sizes are currently limited to 10 hikers. Because there is no permit quota system and the trail is very scenic, expect there to be some crowds during the peak summer hiking season. If you are looking for more solitude, consider hiking the Four Pass Loop earlier or later in the hiking season or hike mid week instead of on the weekend.

Due to the popularity of the Maroon Bells area, it is very important to follow all regulations. Backpackers are required to store food and scented items in bear resistant canisters. Furthermore, all human waste must either be packed out in human waste (WAG) bags or must be properly buried. Lastly, there are some campfire regulations that prohibit fires near Crater Lake and any above 10,800 feet of elevation. A trail guide listing all regulations provided by the Forest Service can be found here.

Also, note that a permit quota system for the Four Pass Loop may be implemented starting in the summer 2020 hiking season (Aspen Times article). Backpackers planning to visit in 2020, should keep an eye on the Forest Service website to see if permits need to be reserved.

Click here to read more about Logistics

Logistics: The Maroon Lake trailhead is about a 40 minute drive southwest from Aspen, CO. Near the trailhead there is a parking area reserved for overnight backpackers (you must pay a $10 fee if you drive a private vehicle here). Note that the number of parking spots in the overnight lot is very limited. If the lot is full upon arrival, you will be forced to turn back and use the shuttle bus. If you are lucky enough to get a parking spot in the overnight lot, you can stay for up to 5 days. Also, note that traffic on the road to Maroon Lake Trailhead is restricted between 8am – 5pm. If you plan to drive yourself to the trailhead and park there, you should arrive before 8am.

By far the easiest way to access Maroon Bells is to take the Maroon Bells shuttle , which costs $8 per adult (more info here). The shuttle service service that operates between 8am-5pm from June to October leaves from the Aspen Highlands Ski Area.

If you are visiting Colorado from a lower elevation state, it is recommended to spend a couple days acclimating to the elevation before starting your trek. Whether you stay in Denver or Aspen (or somewhere else) is up to you, but acclimating will help prepare you for the hike. The Four Pass Loop starts at roughly 9,500 feet so the air is fairly thin at the trailhead.

The Four Pass Loop can be hiked in either the clockwise or counter clockwise directions. In this report, we describe the clockwise route. I prefer this route because you can hike a relatively easy 6 mile first day where you do not need to cross any mountain passes. If you plan to hike further on your first day and will hike over a mountain pass, you should plan to begin hiking quite early in the morning. Afternoon thunderstorms are common in the Colorado Rockies, and you do not want want to be exposed atop a pass in the afternoon when storms frequently roll in.

Click here to read more about Difficulty and Weather

Difficulty and Weather: The Four Pass Loop is very popular so the trail is well marked. There is little risk to get lost or be stranded. The primary risks are altitude sickness,  lightning strikes, and exhaustion. To mitigate theses risks hikers should acclimate to the altitude before setting off on their trek. You should also remember that this is a strenuous hike with lots of elevation gain. If you are not used to backpacking at high altitude, plan to complete the trek over 4 to 5 days rather than 3. Furthermore, hikers should avoid getting stuck on any of the four mountain passes during the late afternoon when thunderstorms are frequent. Plan to cross passes in the morning and keep a keen eye out for storm clouds. If there is a storm rolling in, plan to seek shelter at a lower elevation and hike over the pass later after the storm has rolled through.

The rest of the risks are fairly typical for backpacking in the mountains. Hike within your fitness and skill level and be cautious at river and stream crossings. Also, be sure to filter all water before drinking.

 

 

SuppliesThere are black bears in the park, so you are required to bring a bear canister. I also recommend pre-treating your hiking clothes and tent with permethrin spray repellent. This repellent keeps mosquitoes, flies, and ticks away. The permethrin treatment stays on your clothes for up to 7 washes, so it helps reduce the amount of spray you need to put on your skin.

The temperature can be quite cold at the higher elevation campsites in the evening and mornings. I highly recommend having some warm wool-based clothes for camp. Wool is great because it doesn’t pick up funky stenches as fast at cotton or synthetic clothes and also because it dries out quickly if you get caught in the rain. You also want to make sure your hiking clothes are made of synthetic (or wool) fabric that will dry out if you get caught by a thunderstorm and get wet. That last thing  you want is to be drenched in cotton clothes that will stay wet and keep you cold.

Below is a list of recommended gear for the Four Pass Loop:

Hiking clothes

Clothes for camp

Hiking gear

Camp gear

Random

Food and drink

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Day 1: 6 miles; +2,530 / -440 feet; Maroon Lake Trailhead to West Maroon Pass

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Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Four Pass Loop hike, Day 1 map (light blue route)

Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Four Pass Loop hike, Day 1 map (PDF)

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Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Four Pass Loop hike, Day 1 elevation profile

The itinerary described in this report tackles the Four Pass Loop over four days. The hikes on any given day are between 6 and 9 miles long. If you plan to hike the loop in more or fewer days, you can use this guide from the Forest Service to decide where to camp. Note that there is a lot of elevation gain, so only very fit backpackers should tackle this loop in fewer than 4 days.

On day 1 of the clockwise itinerary, you start the hike at the Maroon Lake Trailhead. There are vault toilets at the trailhead, but there is not potable water access. Plan to fill your hydration bladders before arriving or filter water from near Maroon Lake. The loop starts by following the Maroon Snowmass Trail (#1975) along the north shore of Maroon Lake. Along this stretch of the hike you are treat to the famous view of Maroon Lake with the Maroon Bells in the background.

After roughly 1.7 miles, you reach a junction near Crater Lake. Take a left and proceed south onto the West Maroon Trail (#1970), which heads to West Maroon Pass. This trail meanders along the shore of Crater Lake and then heads up into the valley that Maroon Creek runs through. After about the three mile mark you will reach some of the first campsites. I suggest pushing up to the ~6 mile mark and making camp about mile from West Maroon Pass. The views in the this area are great and you can then rest after a short first day.

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View of the Maroon Lake Trailhead. There are trash cans and vault toilets, but no potable water.
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From the Maroon Lake Trailhead, the trail starts off with a level stretch along the shore of Maroon Lake. You get great views of the Maroon Bells on the other side of the lake.
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View of the Maroon Bells and Maroon Lake (credit: mrubenstein01)
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The famous view of the Maroon Bells framed behind Maroon Lake (credit: mrubenstein01)
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The Maroon Snowmass Trail then continues west past Maroon Lake. In this section, you get great views of Pyramid Peak and the surrounding mountains to the south (credit: Alejandro Aviles)
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The trail heads towards Crater Lake and you maintain the view of the Maroon Bells in the background (credit: Alejandro Aviles)
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In some sections, the trail meanders in and out of aspen forests (credit: mrubenstein01)
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Eventually you reach the shore of Crater Lake. The Maroon Bells sit right behind the lake (credit: mrubenstein01)
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You then transition to the West Maroon Trail, which skirts along the shore of Crater Lake and heads into the valley to the south (credit: Todd C)
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You continue hiking into the valley along the West Maroon Trail. This view is looking back at Crater Lake (credit: mrubenstein01)
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There were some mountain goats hanging out on the scree pile along the West Maroon Trail (credit: mrubenstein01)
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View looking back at Crater Lake from further up into the West Maroon Valley (credit: mrubenstein01)
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The West Maroon Trail follows the West Maroon Creek, which flows from West Maroon Pass to Crater Lake. Around the 3.5 mile mark you must cross the creek (credit: mrubenstein01)
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The trail steadily climbs up in elevation as you get closer to West Maroon Pass. This is a view looking back towards Crater Lake, which is blocked by the trees (credit: mrubenstein01)
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Camp for the first night was set up about 1 mile short of West Maroon Pass. There are several campsites along the West Maroon Trail (credit: mrubenstein01)
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The views from the campsite were great at sunset when the valley walls lit up red (credit: mrubenstein01)
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View of the milky way from the campsite near the West Maroon Creek (credit: mrubenstein01)

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Day 2: 7 miles; +1,660 / -2,900 feet; West Maroon Pass to North Fork of Crystal River

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Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Four Pass Loop hike, Day 2 map (yellow route)

Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Four Pass Loop hike, Day 2 map (PDF)

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Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Four Pass Loop hike, Day 2 elevation profile

On day 2 of the Four Pass Loop, you climb up over West Maroon Pass and Frigid Air Pass. Both passes provide great views and you have plenty of time to relax and take photos since the hike is only 7 miles long.

The hike starts with a 1 mile, ~850 foot climb to the top of West Maroon Pass. From there, the next two miles traverse along a ridge leading towards Frigid Air Pass. At the ~3 mile mark, you reach a junction. At this point you transition onto the Fravert Basin Trail (#1974). Take a right at the junction and head north to the top of Frigid Air Pass (about a 400 foot climb from the junction). At the top of Frigid Air Pass you get great views of the Fravert Basin and of the backside of the Maroon Bells. The trail then heads north and descends into the Fravert Basin. You drop some 2,000 feet over the next 3 miles. Starting at about the 5 mile mark, there are several campsites along the trail. The campsite in this itinerary is near a couple small pools of water near the 6.5 mile mark.

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View of the West Maroon Valley looking back towards Crater Lake (credit: mrubenstein01)
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The day starts with a ~1 mile climb to the top of West Maroon Pass. As you get closer to the pass, the terrain changes and becomes much more sparse with no trees (credit: mrubenstein01)
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View looking west from the top of West Maroon Pass. The trail continues along the ridge on the right towards Frigid Air Pass (credit: mrubenstein01)
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Our group of hikers taking a break at West Maroon Pass. Frigid Air Pass sits to the left and the West Maroon Valley we just hiked thorough sits to the right (credit: mrubenstein01)
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View looking east from the top of West Maroon Pass. This view shows the valley we hiked through on the Day 1. The mountains in the distance make up the Len Shoemaker Ridge (credit: mrubenstein01)
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From West Maroon Pass, you then descend ~800 feet and begin a traverse over to Frigid Air Pass. This section of the trail has some wide open views of the basin between the two passes (credit: mrubenstein01)
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View of the basin between the West Maroon Pass and Frigid Air Pass (credit: mrubenstein01)
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Continuing to hike towards Frigid Air Pass (credit: mrubenstein01)
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Hiking up the final climb leading to the top of Frigid Air Pass (credit: mrubenstein01)
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View looking southwest from the top of Frigid Air Pass. The view here is really great (credit: mrubenstein01)
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View from Frigid Air Pass looking southeast along the ridge that connects Frigid Air Pass and West Maroon Pass. The basin you just hiked through is on the right side of the image (credit: H Thomas)
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View from Frigid Air Pass looking north towards the Fravert Basin. After taking a break on the pass, you hike down into this basin where the night two campsite is located. At this point you transition onto the Fravert Basin Trail (credit: H Thomas)
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As you descend into the Fravert Basin, you get a great backdrop with the backside of Maroon Peak and a long mountain ridge that runs west-to-east (credit: mrubenstein01)
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Taking a break during the descent into the Fravert Basin (credit: mrubenstein01)
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As you descend along the Fravert Basin Trail there are some great views of the valley that the North Fork of the Crystal River runs through (credit: mrubenstein01)
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The Fravert Basin Trail eventually descends all the way down to the North Fork and continues along the shore of the river. This is a view of the North Fork from above (credit: mrubenstein01)
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Near a waterfall, the trail makes a final descent down to the level of the North Fork. From here the Fravert Basin Trail is flat for several miles (credit: mrubenstein01)
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We made camp for the second night shortly after the final descent. In this area there was a waterfall and small pond (credit: mrubenstein01)
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View of the North Fork of the Crystal River from near our night two campsite (credit: mrubenstein01)

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Day 3: 6.5 miles; +2,540 / -2,010 feet; North Fork of Crystal River to Snowmass Lake

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Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Four Pass Loop hike, Day 3 map (purple route)

Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Four Pass Loop, Day 3 map (PDF)

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Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Four Pass Loop hike, Day 3 elevation profile

The Day 3 hike is just over 6 miles long and includes a hike over Trail Rider Pass. The trail starts with a flat ~1.5 mile hike northwest along the Fravert Basin Trail (#1974). There are continued nice views of the valley and North Fork of the Crystal River along the trail. At the ~1.5 mile mark, you reach a junction. Take a right at the junction and follow the North Cutoff Trail (#1976) northwest up the ridge towards Trail Rider Pass. Roughly a mile into the climb, you will reach a stream and another trail junction. Follow the trail going to the right which meanders via switchbacks north along the stream.

Around the 3 mile mark, this trail meets up with the Geneva Lake Trail (#1973). Take the Geneva Lakes Trail to the east towards Trail Rider Pass and Snowmass Lake. From the junction it is a ~1.2 mile hike to the top of Trail Rider Pass. From the top of the pass you get great views of Snowmass Lake and the surrounding area. After a rest, you then descend down to Snowmass Lake. It is a ~2 mile hike down to the lake. Near the lake, there is a junction. Take the route to the left, which heads towards the shore of Snowmass Lake. This trail leads to a stream crossing and there are several campsites in the area past the stream.

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On day two, you start hiking west along the flat section of the Fravert Basin Trail. About 0.75 miles from camp the trail cross the North Fork (credit: mrubenstein01)
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After the river crossing, the trail continues following the river west for another mile or so (credit: mrubenstein01)
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Throughout the valley, there are some really nice views of the surrounding mountains and the wildflowers in the meadows around the river (credit: mrubenstein01)
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Between miles 1.5 and 2.5, you split off onto the North Fork Cutoff Trail. This trail steeply climbs northwest away from the North Fork river and towards Geneva Lake. This is the view looking southwest into the Crystal River Valley after climbing up the first part of the cutoff trail (credit: mrubenstein01)
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The North Fork Cutoff Trail continues up in elevation via several large switchbacks. Here is the view looking southwest from further up the trail near where you connect to the Genevea Lake Trail (credit: mrubenstein01)
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Along the Geneva Lake Trail headed towards Trail Rider Pass, you reach a meadow and small pond. The trail continues past the pond and then heads up the final ascent to Trail Rider Pass (credit: mrubenstein01)
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Panoramic view looking southwest from the top of Trail Rider Pass (credit: mrubenstein01)
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Zoomed in view looking southwest from the top of Trail Rider Pass. You can see the meadow and pond below where we just were hiking (credit: mrubenstein01)
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View looking northeast towards Snowmass Lake from the top of Trail Rider Pass (credit: mrubenstein01)
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As you descend along the Geneva Lake Trail from Trail Rider Pass, you maintain a great view of Snowmass Lake (credit: mrubenstein01)
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View of Snowmass Lake and Heckert Pass, which sits to the north of it (credit: mrubenstein01)
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Wildflowers and Snowmass Lake in the background (credit: mrubenstein01)
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The trail goes over some loose scree as you traverse along the south shore of Snowmass Lake (credit: mrubenstein01)
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When you reach Snowmass Lake, cross the stream on the east side of the lake and then make camp in the trees. There are several developed campsites in the area (mrubenstein01)
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View of Snowmass Lake and Snowmass Peak (credit: mrubenstein01)
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View of Snowmass Lake and Snowmass Peak as the light begins to change (credit: mrubenstein01)
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View of the milky way over Snowmass Peak from the east shore of Snowmass Lake (credit: mrubenstein01)

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Day 4: 8.5 miles; +2,180 / -3,560 feet; Snowmass Lake to Maroon Lake Trailhead

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Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Four Pass Loop hike, Day 4 map (red route)

Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Four Pass Loop hike, Day 4 map (PDF)

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Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Four Pass Loop hike, Day 4 elevation profile

On Day 4 you hike 8.5 miles from Snowmass Lake back to the Maroon Lakes Trailhead. This is the longest hike in this itinerary, but your packs should be a bit lighter on that last day since you have eaten most of your food! Start the hike by crossing to the north side of the stream that flows from the east side of Snowmass Lake (you may have already crossed yesterday). Roughly a quarter mile northeast of the stream crossing, you reach a junction with the Maroon Snowmass Trail (#1975). Take the Maroon Snowmass Trail southeast towards Buckskin Pass. Around the 2 mile mark the trail begins to steadily climb up to Buckskin Pass. After climbing ~1,700 feet, you reach the top of the pass at the 4 mile mark. There are some great views near Buckskin Pass, so this makes for a good lunch spot. From here, you just continue east along the Maroon Snowmass Trail as it descends nearly 3,000 feet down to the trailhead.

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The start of the hike on day 4 goes through a forest with occasional meadows as you make your way towards the ascent to Buckskin Pass. The first ~2 miles are relatively flat and forested (credit: mrubenstein01)
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Crossing over one of the creeks on the way to Buckskin Pass (credit: mrubenstein01)
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You begin the ascent to Buckskin Pass at about the 2 mile mark. At the ~3 mile mark, you pass the treeline and get some great views when you look back towards Snowmass Lake (credit: mrubenstein01)
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View looking back towards Snowmass Lake and a high alpine meadow from near Buckskin Pass (credit: mrubenstein01)
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At the 4 mile mark, you reach the top of Buckskin Pass. This is the view looking west back towards Snowmass Lake from the top of Buckskin Pass (credit: Thant Thu)
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View looking east from the top of Buckskin Pass. The Maroon Snowmass Trail heads down into the Minnehaha Gulch. Crater Lake sits down at the bottom of the gulch (credit: Thant Thu)
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Hiking down into the Minnehaha Gulch, the trail follows some large sweeping switchbacks (credit: mrubenstein01)
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During the descent from Buckskin Pass you have Pyramid Peak framing your view in the distance (credit: mrubenstein01)
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The views hiking through the Minnehaha Gulch are great (credit: mrubenstein01)
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View of Pyramid Peak with wildflowers in the foreground. From this point, the Maroon Snowmass Trail heads down to the shore of Crater Lake. You then follow the trail back to the Maroon Lake Trailhead where you started the hike (credit: mrubenstein01)

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Here are some related trip reports:

Rocky Mountain National Park – Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (45 mile loop)

Three Sisters Wilderness – Broken Top Loop (24 mile loop)

Trinity Alps Wilderness – Four Lakes Loop (20 mile trek)

Teton Crest Trail – Grand Teton National Park (48 mile loop)

33 Replies to “Four Pass Loop – Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness, CO (28 mile loop)”

    1. Hi Eric, I’d say it’s best to bring a rain shell and the rain fly for your tent. There often brief thunderstorms in the late afternoon in the rockies, so it’s good to be prepared. You don’t need rain pants or anything like that. It’s likely to be sunny for most of the hike – you just don’t want to get soaked if a storm rolls through one afternoon after you set your tent up. The shell and rain fly will help keep you warm at night too.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Tom, I like the clockwise direction for the Four Pass Loop. This direction gives you great views of Snowmass Lake after your hike up Trail Rider Pass and gives really nice views as you hike down into the Minnehaha Gulch. Some prefer CCW, so you can’t go wrong with that either.

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  1. Awesome pictures and write up… do you know when the maroon lake trail head will open this year? Heard there is a lot of snow

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    1. Hi Jared – the latest report I have seen said they hope to have the road to Maroon Lake open by the end of May (https://www.aspendailynews.com/news/maroon-creek-road-tentative-opening-moved-up-to-may/article_ea204342-76c7-11e9-a407-bfec70b311b2.html).

      Note that even if the road opens in May, the shuttles will not start running until June 15. Also, the trail is likely to be very snowy into July this year so I think the real hiking season will start pretty late this year.

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      1. Great write up! My buddies and I are thinking about backpacking this trail. They have backpacked before, however I haven’t. I’ve done 6-8hour hikes before, nothing overnight though. Would you recommend this trip for a novice? Any tips?

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      2. If you can handle 8 hour hikes at altitude without much issue, I think you would be fine! This is a tough loop, so a novice would want to go with others who have backpacking experience (your buddies). They can help you figure out what to pack and not pack.

        For tips:

        -Beginners usually pack too much weight, so try not too over pack. It’s tough to hike with a big backpack on.

        -Make sure your boots are worn in and your backpack fits well.

        -Bring trekking poles for the downhills.

        -Practice setting up your tent before camping the first time. You don’t want to get stuck setting up a new tent in the dark!

        -Average less than 10 miles hiking a day on your first backpacking trip. Backpacking is harder than normal hiking!

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  2. Do you know any other treks in the area that might have similar views but fewer other hikers? I really want to see great Colorado Rockies views but like more solitude on the trail.

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    1. Hi Kyle – One alternative is the Capitol Creek Loop starting at the Capitol Creek Trailhead (https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/colorado/capital-creek-loop-to-haystack-mountain).

      This loop is roughly 40 miles long and is just northwest of the Four Pass Loop (the trail is shared in one short section near Snowmass Lake and Trail Rider Pass). The reviews I have read say this loop is just as beautiful as the Four Pass Loop and has significantly fewer hikers. The Trailhead is much less busy too so parking at the trailhead is likely less of an issue.

      The obvious difference is that Capitol Creek Loop is longer than the Four Pass Loop, so you may need to take an extra day (or two). Hope that helps!

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  3. My husband and I hiked this loop 2 years ago.. Hiking up the four passes really make your legs burn and the altitude is tough but the views make it all worth it!

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    1. Hi Kevin – The temperatures should be nice in late July. I would expect daytime highs in the 70s and lows in the 40s (maybe in the 30s at night if you camp at higher elevation). There are likely to be some afternoon thunderstorms, so prepare to have a rain jacket and some layers because the temperature can temporarily drop quite a bit when the storms roll in. These storms are usually short lived and things get nice after a couple hours.

      Your main concern hiking the Four Pass Loop in July this year is that the snow pack is currently very high. You will want to keep an eye out for reports of the trail conditions. If the snow doesn’t melt quickly in June/early July, you may have to deal with some snowy and sloppy hiking near the passes. Hopefully things melt out nicely, but I would call the rangers a week or so before you are due to hike. They can let you know if the trail is clear or if they recommend crampons or gaiters or anything else.

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  4. Hey — Thank you for this excellent resource. I am hoping to attempt the Four Pass Loop in mid-August. But I understand this may fall within “Monsoon Season.” Is mid-August a good time to try the FPL?

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    1. Hi Tony – the “monsoon season” you heard about is really just the tendency of there to be afternoon thunderstorms in the Colorado Rockies during the summer. Mid August is typically a totally fine time of year to hike the Four Pass Loop. You have the potential for thunderstorms in Maroon Bells in July, August, and early September, so August is not much worse than other months of the hiking season.

      The main rules of thumb to stay out of trouble is to bring proper gear and to stay off the mountain passes during the afternoon or when ominous clouds are present. For gear, bring a rain jacket and have a tent with a rain fly. You also want either synthetic or wool clothing because these dry out much faster than cotton clothes. If you get caught in a storm and are soaked, you want your clothes to dry off so that you don’t get too cold.

      For negotiating mountain passes, you want to start hikes early in the morning so that you can be down off the passes by the afternoon when storms are most likely. If you are on a mountain pass and see storm clouds moving in, hike down to lower elevation asap to avoid lighting strikes. Lighting is probably the biggest safety issue in the Rockies in the summer. Avoid being stuck on a open mountain pass during a storm. You also want to make sure you do not camp right next to a river or in a canyon so that you avoid flash floods. This is not much of an issue for the Four Pass Loop though because there are plenty of safe camping sites. If you follow those rules, you will have a safe hike!

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    1. Hi Nicole – I assume you are asking about where to camp for a 2 night itinerary instead of a three night one?

      If so, I would recommend hiking further on the first day and camping North of Frigid Air Pass on the first night. Then, you can camp near Snowmass Lake on night 2. The site for night one could be #32, 33, or 34 on this map (https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fseprd542652.pdf). Alternatively, you could camp before Frigid Air Pass (sites #35, 36, or 37) if you get tired on day 1.

      Good luck and hope you have a good trip!

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    2. To answer your other questions (sent via e-mail):

      There is no guarantee for parking at the Maroon Lake Trailhead if you drive up in the evening after the road opens (after 5pm). It’s just really hard to estimate if the lot will be full. You’ll probably have the best luck finding a spot if you drive in mid week. I imagine the lot will be full on a Friday or Saturday evening. If you can’t find a parking spot in the evening, you are bit out of luck since the the last shuttle drops people off at Maroon Lake around 5pm. The shuttle only runs between 8am and 5pm. I think the only option at that point would be to drive back to Aspen and get a taxi or rideshare to drop you off at Maroon lake.

      Regarding dogs, on the shuttle website (https://www.rfta.com/routes/maroon-bells/) it says leashed dogs are allowed on the Maroon Bells buses. I can’t confirm this first hand, but there is a number you could call if your want to verify!

      For camping near the Maroon Lake Trailhead, there are a few campsites along Maroon Creek Rd (info at bottom of this page https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/whiteriver/recarea/?recid=82346#mbcampgrounds). If you are able to reserve a site there, perhaps you could just drive to one of those camps the evening you plan to arrive. The next morning you could take your car to the trailhead before 8am. I imagine the campsites are in pretty high demand though, so try to reserve early.

      Camping is prohibited at the Maroon Lake overnight parking lot, so you cannot legally stay the night there. Some people say if you discretely sleep in your car in the lot, you can get away with it, but others have been busted by rangers and gotten fines. Whatever you do, I would not plan to pitch a tent at the overnight lot. This is absolutely against the rules.

      If you are arriving in the evening and want to start the hike that night, you can hike in a couple miles to the Crater Lake area before camping the first night. Camping is allowed in designated campsites in the Crater Lake area. You just need to make sure you make it past Maroon Lake because camping is not allowed there.

      Hopefully that all helps and you have a great trip!

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  5. How early do you recommend beginning each hiking day in order to avoid storms later on? For an intermediate hiker, what is the average amount of time that it takes to complete each day?

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    1. Hi Kristen – Assuming you camp near the sites suggested in the itinerary described in this post I would go as follows:

      Day 1 – Not pass to go over, so probably not much worry about lightning.
      Day 2 – Going from West Maroon Pass to Frigid Air Pass and then the first 1-2 mile descent after Frigid Air are quite exposed. We can conservatively say you want to cover ~5 miles this day before Noon to avoid getting caught in the exposed area during a storm. Assuming you hike at 30 minutes a mile, you can start hiking at 9am and be ok!
      Day 3 – Miles 3 to 5 when you go over Trail Rider Pass are pretty exposed. I would again try to be through ~5 miles before Noon. Again, leave by 9am and you are probably fine.
      Day 4 – Again you probably want to get over Buckskin Pass by Noon, which is about 5 miles of hiking. Probably leave around 9am to do this (I guess there is a theme here?).

      With the itinerary as written in this report, most of the hikes go over the passes within 5 miles. I think the main issues would be if you try to cut down on the number of days and need to tackle a pass at like mile 10 on a day. Then you are likely to be hitting the pass right in the heat of the afternoon.

      Also, note that it is most important that you just pay attention to the weather and the sky as you hike. If it’s clear and beautiful, there probably is not a big reason to rush. But, if you see dark clouds moving in, you want to get to lower elevation to protect yourself. Hopefully that helps, have a great trip!

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  6. Best right up I have come across, nice job and great pics. My son and I are planning a trip this summer. Our first opportunity is next week, but I just talked to the Ranger station and it’s a no go with the current snow conditions. Our next chance is the week of the August 12th. Hopefully things start to improve.

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    1. Thank you for posting this update on the conditions! What a crazy snow year… Hopefully you are able to get out in August and catch some wildflower blooms!

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  7. My son and I just attempted the loop on July 10th. Still a lot of snow and avalanche debris. Had to turn back about a mile prior to West Maroon Pass. Very tough getting that far and in some cases had to rely on the gps in the snow covered areas and while picking our way through debris. I was told if you have snow picks and a few extra days it may be passable.

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    1. Great update – glad to hear you made the safe choice to turn around. Hopefully you can get back out there sometime when the snow has melted and the flowers are blooming!

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  8. A Wilderness ranger for the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District hiked the Four Lakes Loop July 12-15, 2019 and posted a detailed update of conditions in the Four Lakes Loop facebook group. You can find the update here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/581773065256376/permalink/1960353324065003/

    Based on everything I have read and seen, I would expect there to be rough trail conditions until mid August at the earliest. There is a lot of snow to melt and a lot of trees need to be cleared. Here are the Ranger’s conclusions from his post (thank you ranger Jerome Olp!):

    “Some things to note:
    1. There is a LOT of snow above 11000 feet.
    2. Expect wet feet the entire loop. Trails are muddy and often have running water in them. Please stay on trails to avoid creating new ones.
    3. Allow for slower travel than usual. Travelling on sun cupped soft snow for most of the trail isn’t easy. Get over passes early in the day to allow yourself to get into lower elevations by thunderstorm time (after 12 PM)
    4. Microspikes and an ice axe is highly recommended for insurance if you do fall on steep snow slopes.
    5. Route finding is necessary as 60% of the loop is under snow and avalanches”

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  9. Wonderful review of the trip. Thank you for documenting it so well and providing the beautiful pictures. Quick question: based on your description, night 2 and 3 are right next to water sources, but what about the campsite on night 1? I hate needing to carry extra water in my pack and love just pumping water. Thanks for your help!

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    1. Hi Jacob – In the itinerary I wrote about, the night 1 camp is pretty close to a couple streams that feed into the West Maroon Creek. You can usually find some nice campsites in the area that are close to these feeder streams. If you are backpacking very late in the season and the streams have dried up, then you can camp closer to the main West Maroon Creek.

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  10. Thanks for the detailed logistical info. Have you/ do you know of anyone who has hiked in late September or early October? Want to know what to expect weather/ temperature-wise.

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    1. Hi GS – I personally have not backpacked the Four Pass Loop in late September or early October. However, most of what I have seen/heard says that you should be prepared for anything from sunny and 60s to cold and snowing. At night I would expect pretty cold temperatures as well. The weather in the mountains in October is very hit or miss. Your best bet is probably to be prepared for cold temperatures and snow (i.e. have plenty of layers and a good sleeping bag, have at least trekking poles, and have good navigation skills/tools in case the trail gets obscured).

      Best case, you get a nice weather window and can enjoy crisp moderate temperatures and see lots of fall colors. Worst case, it snows and is cold, but you are prepared and do not get into trouble. If planning a trip for myself in October, I would check the weather report frequently before the trip and would have a backup plan in place in the event of a sketchy looking forecast. Hopefully that helps!

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