Round Trip Distance: 3.8 miles
Elevation: 9562 - 10,172 feet
Cellphone: 0 bars
Time: 2 hrs. 30 mins.
Trailhead: Maroon Lake
Fee: $6/adult, $4/youth bus pass
Attractions: Scenic views of Maroon Bells
View Crater Lake in a larger map
The Crater Lake trail is located in the White River National Forest and Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area near Aspen, Colorado. The hike begins at Maroon Lake and follows the Maroon Snowmass trail to a fork near Crater Lake. The Crater Lake trail is a great way for visitors to the area to experience a real Colorado hike. Colorado is the highest state in the union with a mean elevation of 6,800 feet. With all of its mountains and valleys a good deal of the hikes in Colorado can really test your legs. From the unparalleled vistas to the abundance of wildlife visitors soon find out why thousands of people come here every year to take a hike. Be sure to bring plenty of drinking water and wear a sturdy pair of shoes for hiking this moderately steep and rocky trail.
Vehicle access to Maroon Lake is restricted between 9am and 5pm to help reduce the impact on the area's environment.Visitors can still get to the trailhead by purchasing an RFTA tour bus ticket. Tickets can be purchased at the Aspen Highlands Village where free parking is available and busses departing every 20 minutes. As the bus travels up the valley to the trailhead riders are treated to a guided tour of Maroon Creek Road and its surroundings. Each bus has a bicycle rack that can accommodate up to 3 bikes for anyone that would like to coast back down the road. For those that choose to get there early and drive their own vehicle be aware that there is a mandatory $10/vehicle fee. Those with a valid handicap placard or license plate are exempt from the travel restriction. The road opens on Memorial Day and closes when the snow levels make it impassible which usually occurs by mid October. For more information and other exemptions visit the Forest Service website.
From the bus stop or parking area follow the trail down to Maroon Lake.
As the trail approaches the end of the lake follow the fork to the right. The sign designates this as the Crater Lake trail. Your map might also have it labeled as the Maroon Snowmass trail or something similar.
The lower part of the trail progresses through lovely stands of aspen trees.
After a short distance the trail enters the Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness Area. Anyone that is planning on more than just a day hike must register here.
The valley that the trail is climbing was created by a glacier and later filled with rocks by landslides. This is what is commonly referred to as talus. It makes the hiking much slower and it can be tedious at times constantly looking for the best place to plant your feet. It is highly recommended that hikers wear either a sturdy pair of boots or shoes. Don't be surprised though to see someone wearing a pair of sandals and seeming to be having an easy time of it. I saw a guy on another trail hiking barefoot with a dog and a goat so you never know what you might come across.
The last part of the trail descends from the hikes high point at 10,172 feet down to the lake where the elevation is 10,076 feet. While Crater Lake is only 500 feet higher in elevation than Maroon Lake the overall elevation gain for this hike is just over 700 feet. Just before reaching the lake the Maroon-Snowmass trail splits off on the right.
From Crater Lake hikers are rewarded with a much closer view of the Maroon Bells.
There are 11 primitive campsites on the west side of the lake hidden away in the forest. At the time of this post they were all closed due to bear activity in the area. Backpackers may want to check with the Forest Service for the campgrounds current status before planning their trip.
From a few places along the trail hikers can catch glimpses of Pyramid Peak. It squeaks its way onto the list of Colorado's 14ers with an elevation of 14,026 feet.
With dozens of visitors every day the Crater Lake trail can be very busy. On the day we made the hike for this post we saw people of all ages from couples with babies in carriers and toddlers in tow to several apparent octogenarians. A group of very well behaved elementary school children on a field trip looked to be having an easy time with the hike. There are plenty of places along the trail to rest your legs and there seems to be a real feeling of satisfaction from making it all the way to the lake. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.