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Colorado Four-Pass Loop (3 days/2 nights)

Aspen, Colorado



28 miles

Elevation Gain

3080 ft

Route Type



Added by Ian Glass

Hailed as one of the classic Colorado backpacking trips, this 3-5 day sojourn is an absolute must for anyone that loves to romp around in the woods.

One of the difficulties about backpacking in Colorado, is you usually need to secure a backcountry permit. If you don't lock down a permit early in the Spring, you will out of luck of the nicer areas. HOWEVER, the Four-Pass Loop has your self-register at the trailhead and there is no registration fee! Woot!

Before you start your trip, it is mandatory that you have a bear canister to store your food. For safety, you should have a map of the area (because maps don't run out of batteries). Both of these items can be gotten at Ute Mountaineering in Aspen. You can rent a bear canister at Ute for $8 per day.

You can access the Forest Service Entrance Station on Maroon Creek Road and get an overnight parking pass after 8:30am. The recreation fee for the park is $10. Be sure to get there earlier in the day. There are only 35 overnight parking spots in the first lot. The over-flow parking lot will add another 4 miles to your trip (which you'll be bummed about on your last day walking back to the car).

After parking, be sure to fill out the self-registration permit and attach the copy to your pack. Also, on multi-day trips, I advice putting your car keys the "No-No" pocket in your backpack. The "No-No" pocket is a small compartment on your pack that stays closed the duration of the trip. No one wants to get back to their car after three days in the woods and realize they lost their keys. That immediately kills the fun level.

Day 1: Parking Lot - past Frigid Air Pass (10 miles)Follow the trail from the parking lot until your reach at Crater Lake, then turn on to West Maroon Creek trail. This trail will take you to the summit of West Maroon Pass. You will descent the other side by a series of switchbacks and cross some beautiful alpine meadows. About a mile below the pass, the trail intersects with Frigid Air Pass. Go right and take the trail to the summit of Frigid Air. From the pass, descend about a mile until you reach a spruce forest. There are wonderful, level campsites here with a water source nearby. *Note: Use the "3-Point" technique with food. Imagine a triangle with each point 200 feet apart. One point should be your camp, the second where you cook your food, the third is where you store your food (i.e. bear canisters & stoves) after dinner. **Note-Note: The Park Service also requires that you camp 100 feet from the both the trail and water sources.

Day 2: Frigid Air Pass - Snowmass Lake (8.5 miles)Break camp and get ready for beauty! The trail descends, following the North Fork river through the forest. After a series of switchbacks, the trail will open into an amazing alpine meadow. If you look back up towards were the river is, you will see King Falls, a breathtaking 200+ ft waterfall. At this point, the Four Pass Loop Trail, although poorly defined, turns right and heads toward the North Fork of the Crystal River. Cross the Fork river and go through another spruce forest. After a mile, you will leave the woods. Take the right marked by the sign and begin to head up towards Trail Rider Pass. The trail after 1.5 miles will reach a stream, take a right and follow to the summit of the pass. From the summit of the pass you will be able Snowmass Lake. Descent from the summit and follow the trail to a tranquil campsite near the lake shore (100 feet away). *Note: Trail forks left to lake campsites after pass descent.

Day 3: Snowmass Lake - Parking Lot (9.5 miles)Beta* have breakfast along the lakeshore as the sunrises! The sun hits Snowmass Peak's summit and it's just awesome. Break camp and get back on the trail and within 200 yards you will reach the intersection for the Maroon-Snowmass Trail. Follow the trail to the right towards the Buckskin Pass. You will hike along a marsh area which is prime moose real estate. (Moose are cool, but at a distance. If moose are startled, they can cause some real damage.) Buckskin Pass will come into view and you will follow the trail up to the pass' summit. From the summit you will have an amazing 360 view of the Maroon-Snowmass area, especially of Pyramid Peak and Maroon Bells. Descent from the pass and follow the trail until you reach Crater Lake. Take a left a Crater Lake and follow the trail back to the overnight parking lot.

Woot! Colorado classic hike accomplished!

Last minute details:* Dogs must be on leashes* Human waste should be buried 6 inches deep, 100 feet from water.* Group size limited to 10 people.* Campfires not permitted at Crater and Snowmass Lake. Ask ranger about exceptions.* Camp in established/designated sites in backcountry.* Be sure to summit passes PRE-NOON to avoid thunderstorms.* Contact the Aspen Ranger District (970.925.3445) for the latest weather and trail conditions.

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