The Four Pass Loop

Crested Butte

An epic jaunt through Colorado's Elk Mountains.

Hiking Difficult

Distance
42 km
Ascent
2.4 km
Descent
2.4 km
Duration
1 day +
Low Point
2.9 km
High Point
3.8 km
Gradient
19˚
VIEW ON MAP
The Four Pass Loop Map

Description

Beginning at the Maroon Snowmass Trailhead, this challenging loop crosses over 4 high altitude passes and provides stunning views of mountains, lakes, and open stretches of alpine meadows. The distances, elevations, and difficulty of trails vary, though overall the whole loop is rated as strenuous.

Ambitious trail runners may complete the loop in a day, but most hikers choose to travel at a more leisurely pace and camp, completing the loop over 2-3 days. Campers should review locations of designated campsites prior to setting out. Improvised wilderness camping is also allowed in accordance with wilderness guidelines. Starting the loop at Maroon Lake and traveling clockwise, hikers will go over West Maroon Pass, Frigid Air Pass, Trail Rider Pass, and Buckskin Pass in that order. Leashed dogs may accompany their owners. The trail also allows horses, but bicycles are prohibited. Maroon Lake to West Maroon Pass takes hikers through a forest thick with aspens, an open rock field, over creeks, past Crater Lake, and over rockslides near the base of Maroon Bells. The trail continues through a valley and over West Maroon Creek (water can be high and swift—hikers should check conditions beforehand and use caution). Short but steep sections of the trail will take hikers into the pass.

From West Maroon Pass hikers will travel on to Frigid Air Pass. This is the shortest and easiest of all the routes between passes. The trail climbs down from West Maroon pass and through open alpine meadows that offer terrific scenery and views. Frigid Air Pass opens up to panoramic views of Maroon Bells and Fravert Basin. Frigid Air Pass then travels downhill and through a large alpine meadow which can be easily traversed with some speed or if hikers choose, they can stop and rest at campsites in the area. This trail continues on down a steep incline with close up waterfall views before continuing on through meadows and forest. The trail meets North Fork Cutoff Trail which continues steeply down and then back up, climbing to Trailrider Pass. Views from the top of the pass and on the following descent reward hikers with excellent views of Snowmass Lake and the surrounding peaks.

From Trailrider Pass, hikers have beautiful views as they hike towards Snowmass Lake and then onto spacious Buckskin Pass. This widest pass lets hikers see impressive views of the Elk Range, Snowmass Lake, Maroon Bells, and Pyramid Peak along with the possible bonus sighting of goats grazing on adjacent slopes. The trail over Buckskin Pass descends using a series of switchbacks that wend down lush slopes carpeted in wildflowers. The trail crosses Minnehaha Gulch and another stream before returning to Maroon Lake. Hikers should note that loose boulders, unclear trails, and steep, snowy drops may create hazards along the loop. Before beginning, hikers should review and take a detailed trail map and contact the Aspen Ranger District for updates on conditions, guidelines, and other helpful information.

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

3 out of 4

Little chance of being seen or helped in case of an accident.

Best time to visit

July, August, September, October

Features

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

Similar routes nearby

Guidebooks in this area