Buckskin Pass, Willow Pass, and Willow Lake Trek

An epic day hike featuring multiple alpine passes and lakes.

Hiking Difficult

Distance
22 km
Ascent
1.4 km
Descent
1.4 km
Duration
6-7 hrs
Low Point
2.9 km
High Point
3.8 km
Gradient
19˚
VIEW ON MAP
Buckskin Pass, Willow Pass, and Willow Lake Trek Map

Description

This is easily one of the top day hikes in the Maroon Bells. The route features part of the famous Four Pass Loop as well as another gorgeous lake and pass that aren't as well known. The views from this route rival any other in the great state of Colorado.

The trail starts off with a bang as it departs from the famous Maroon Lake. Because of the spectacular sunrise shots that this lake presents, it is one of the most photographed lakes in the entire country. Despite the crowds that may be present, the scene is still worth it. And, the crowds will thin as you begin the route.

The route climbs almost the entire way up to Buckskin Pass—one of the prettiest passes in the Rockies. The climb goes through different landscapes—it starts in an aspen forest, opens up partially, and then gets above tree-line. Once above tree-line the views really open up. Crystal clear views of the Maroon Bells await.

Getting to Buckskin pass is a journey in itself. The 360-degree views up top are just incredible! I even spotted a mountain goat here, which is rare to see in Colorado. The contrasting views from the pass are also unique—facing one way presents an entirely different view of the mountains than the other.

Once you are done with Buckskin Pass, head downhill back to the Willow Lake trail junction. You will have to climb to Willow Pass, but you will again be rewarded with great views. Catch your breath and take in the vistas. The lake is not much further from the pass, so you have almost reached the final destination.

This is a fantastic lake to visit. Despite being near the heavily trafficked Four Pass Loop, this lake rarely has many visitors, making it a treat. You will want to spend a good amount of time here taking in the views, and the peace and quiet.

Once ready, descend back to the trail junction and then finish your way past Crater Lake—another gorgeous lake—and then finally Maroon Lake.

This day packs a lot in, but it is definitely one of the most rewarding routes in the Rockies. You will not regret it!

Difficulty

Difficult

Hiking trails where obstacles such as rocks or roots are prevalent. Some obstacles can require care to step over or around. At times, the trail can be worn and eroded. The grade of the trail is generally quite steep, and can often lead to strenuous hiking.

Medium Exposure

2 out of 4

The trail contains some obstacles such as outcroppings and rock which could cause injury.

Remoteness

2 out of 4

Away from help but easily accessed.

Best time to visit

June, July, August, September, October

Features

  • Alpine
  • Wildlife
  • Picturesque
  • Wild flowers
  • Water features
  • Forestry or heavy vegetation

Similar routes nearby

Guidebooks in this area