Four Pass Loop Trail All You Need to Know BEFORE You Go
- Overview of the Four Pass Loop Trail
- Getting there
- On the way
- Tips for hikers
Overview of the Four Pass Loop Trail
The Four Pass Loop is one of Aspen’s best hikes and a perfect backpacking trip to Colorado, passing high alpine passes, valleys filled with wildflowers and dark blue lakes, more than 7,000 feet, and more than 26 miles. It checks the soul and, at the same time, feeds it. The loop moves around and crosses four passes through the famous Maroon Bells peaks: West Maroon (12,500 ft.), Frigid Air (12,415 ft.), Trail Rider (12,420 ft.), Buckskin (12,500 ft.). It’s normally done clockwise for a three to four-day backpacking journey, but can be done in the opposite direction. The loop is also completed in one day by adventurous trail runners.
The trail begins at Lake Maroon and the entrance into the Forest Area of Maroon Bells-Snowmass. Parking procedures have changed from previous years and reservations for shuttles to Maroon Lake, and overnight parking is now needed. For vehicles up to 20 feet, you can reserve a parking spot for $10. As the place fills up fast, be sure to make your reservations in advance.
On the way
The hike begins on the Maroon Lake path on 9,580 feet. Crater Lake is the first 1.8 miles you have to reach through giant groves of aspen. This can be crowded because some of the surrounding sides and numerous trails like Buckskin pass are accessible from this part of the wilderness zone.
However, the crowd is decreasing once you pass Crater Lake. The long climb up to West Maroon Creek is breath-taking. Before reaching into the high alpine tundra above the tree-line, the trail continues along the creek. West Maroon Pass is famous, particularly from mid-July to August, for some of the most breath-taking and colourful wildflowers in the region. This area has several campsites. The last mile is a series of challenging switchbacks to the first pass, but the view at the top is the reward.
It descends rapidly from here, and the trail connects with Frigid Air Pass within 1 mile. Take the right side (other hikers will continue to Crested Butte by staying on the main trail). It is around 1 mile high, and Frigid Air can be seen high above, reached by a series of challenging switchbacks.
Frigid Air, Fravert Basin can be seen below from the second pass. The trail descends and reaches a spruce forest heading towards the Crystal River North Fork through an alpine plain. There are several campsites along the river; remember to camp at least 100 feet from the water. After another 1.5 miles, the trail starts a series of steep switchbacks adjacent to the stream and a magnificent waterfall with high moisture.
Just after a small clearing, the trail branches out for another mile. Here the road turns right. When it branches, turn right for 0.75 miles then turn again. Take the right junction towards Trail Rider Pass. Of course, the road goes up here also! Follow the path and watch where it turns left onto Lake Geneva. Ascend and go up to the third pass, trail rider. From here you can see Lake Snowmass.
Here, a break taking descent take hikers to Snowmass lake. By getting on the Maroon-Snowmass Trail and going towards Buckskin Pass, you can continue on the loop or camp at the multiple campsites in here. The trail reaches the last pass, Buckskin, after crossing Snowmass Creek. There’s some camping about halfway up here, and remember that there’s nothing in the Minnehaha Gulch area until the other side of the Buckskin Pass. For the last views of around 12,000 feet, hit the top of Buckskin Pass, where the Maroon Bells share the ridge and can be seen across the Pyramid Peak valley. And then, it’s all downhill from here, as they say.
Tips for hikers
Dogs are allowed but must be leashed
To avoid from the afternoon thunderstorms plan your trip early
- Don’t leave any trashes
Just leave nothing behind. The high alpine eco-system is fragile, and it is already being over utilized. Remove all garbage and bury human waste 6-8 centimetres deep and more than 100 feet away from your trail.
- Be careful from Bears
In this area, bear activities are expected. A bear-proof container must be worn, and all food, drink and cooking utensils must be included in the container at night.
- Crossing the Streams
During runoff cycles, stream pathways can be harmful. Please take waterproof shoes to cross the stream and ensure that your pack is unbuckled.
- Be prepared for any weather condition
Remember to pack your things properly and be prepared for any weather condition.