Snowmass Lake

Round Trip Distance: 16.6 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation: 8,394 - 10,983 feet
Cellphone: 0 bars
Time: 8 hrs. 30 mins.
Trailhead: Snowmass Creek
Fee: none
Attractions: Alpine lake

Snowmass Lake is located in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area of the White River National Forest near Aspen, Colorado. The lake is reached via the Maroon-Snowmass trail which travels up Snowmass Creek and over Buckskin Pass where it descends Minnehaha Gulch to Crater Lake and then on to the trailhead at Maroon Lake. The hike to Snowmass Lake is 8.3 miles one-way while continuing on to Maroon Lake stretches it out to 17 miles.

Entering Maroon-Snowmass trailhead into your driving app will get you turn-by-turn directions which will lead you up the Snowmass Creek Road if you are coming from the direction of Glenwood Springs and up the Brush Creek Road to the Divide Road if coming from Aspen. Both routes are suitable for most any vehicle during dry conditions.

The trail begins with a gentle climb from the trailhead through a bright grove of aspens to where it enters a right of way through private property that lasts for the next 1.76 miles.

Somewhere around the 1.2 mile point the West Snowmass trail branches off on the right and crosses the valley, climbs along West Snowmass Creek for awhile, and then continues over the ridge between Mount Daly (13,305 ft.) and Haystack Mountain (12,205 ft.) before dropping down into the next valley and meeting up with the Capitol Creek trail.

Shortly after going through the last gate that marks the end of the private property the trail passes into the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. (For some reason the Forest Service map shows the wilderness boundary cutting across the private property which of course would be incorrect.)

Around the 3.5 mile point the trail starts getting a little steeper as it winds its way up through the aspens and across a talus slope of basalt.

An interesting view of Capitol Peak (14,131 ft.) can be seen just past the 5 mile point. Look close and you can pick out a large waterfall where Bear Creek plunges out of the basin as it brings water from the Pierre Lakes.

The climb levels off for the next mile around the 5.5 mile point as the trail enters a high mountain valley where the elevation ranges right around 10,000 feet. The creek exchanges its turbulence for a gentle laminar flow and becomes wider, feeding various ponds and marshes, as it passes lazily down the meadowy valley.

To avoid the necessity of wading across the creek a ribboned path over a log jam can be taken. Careful attention to navigation will reveal a relatively safe and quick route through the tangled jumble of pines.

After crossing the creek the trail travels along the west side of the valley and just past the 6.5 mile point it begins an earnest climb that quickly raises the elevation by 500 feet.

The trail levels briefly before gaining another 200 feet of elevation and then leveling again as it comes to a fork where going straight ahead leads to Snowmass Lake while going to the left leads to Geneva Lake via Trail Rider Pass and to Maroon Lake via Buckskin Pass.

From the fork the trail gains another 150 feet or so of elevation before arriving at Snowmass Lake where Snowmass Mountain (14,091 ft.) provides a majestic background to the exquisit scene of the tranquil pristine waters that reflect the bulky mass with its prominent peak. Primitive campsites within the trees lining the lake await the daily troop of backpackers. If staying overnight at Snowmass Lake an overnight permit is required and must be purchased in advance at recreation.gov.

For us the trip back to the trailhead was a mere 30 minutes faster than the climb to the lake but, of course, required much less effort to accomplish. Our times include the taking of hundreds of photos along the way but we very rarely stop for breaks so who's to say how they compare to the experience of others. On this day, besides a score of backpackers, we saw at least 4 of Aspen's tenacious fleet-footed trail runners that brisk their way along the many trails the area has to offer sometimes causing the more heavily burdened backpackers and day hikers to question their own methods and fitness. But alas, the enjoyment of the wilderness is a personal experience for which each of us has our own way of pursuing. If you would like to pursue yours to Snowmass Lake all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.