Colorado Backpacking: Crested Butte / Maroon Bells

Sometime during the winter, when hikers start to get cabin fever, my friend Deborah put out a call on Facebook seeking backpackers to plan a summer trip to coincide with peak wildflower season in the Rocky Mountains. A Facebook group was created, preferences discussed, and we eventually settled on a trip near Crested Butte, hiking into Copper Lake for a basecamp trip. This area falls within the Maroon Bells-Snowmass wilderness, but sees far fewer visitors than the popular Four Pass Loop near Aspen. Minus the crowds, traffic and permit process, Crested Butte hiking is far preferable in my opinion!

Trip Planning

As noted, most planning took place through a private Facebook group. We all combed through the maps we had on hand, made suggestions, and responded with feedback. Most of us are members of the Backpacker Magazine forums, so we did a lot of research here, looking through past trip reports. Once we settled on the Crested Butte area, we all purchased our maps and began planning the logistics of our hike. With this self-sufficient group, gear coordination was not necessary. Depending on the group, it may make sense to double up and share some gear like stoves, tents or water filtration, especially if you have beginners joining you.

Travel to Crested Butte

I was fresh off another backcountry trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, so I was home for one day to catch up on laundry, work and bills, unpack, repack and head West to meet the rest of the group at Deborah’s house in Aurora, Colorado on a Sunday morning. Crested Butte is quite a ways from Denver, so after meeting up and grabbing lunch at a Thai restaurant, we made our way to the trailhead well after noon! The best thing about vacation is leaving schedules and watches behind, other than the fact that we were hitting the trail just as afternoon storms were building.

Getting ready to leave behind civilization for 5 days!

Hiking to Copper Lake

We were just on the back side of Scofield pass, which leads to Crystal and Marble, some of my favorite spots in Colorado!

"Before" group shot - Leigh, Deborah, Nancy, Rob and Lina

Our basecamp for the week wasCopper Lake, about 5 miles in from the trailhead. Due to our late start, we decided to stop short and camp along the way. We found a great campsite on a bluff above the river, and had nice background music of rushing water to lull us to sleep.

The next day, we arrived at Copper Lake, which is a beautiful alpine lake, situated right at treeline, with several established campsites. This is apparently a popular stop on the way to Conundrum Hot Springs, so we did have hikers at the other campsites, but it was far from crowded.

Copper Lake is also situated near several trails, so we had some great options for dayhikes. Many “hardcore” backpackers will do a loop where you pack up your tent every day and move sites, but I have to say, I’m a big fan of the basecamp trip, and this was the perfect location to come home to each night!

Dayhikes from Basecamp

On our first dayhike, we traveled over East Maroon Pass, to East Maroon Creek. We started off on a ledge trail up above Copper Lake and immediately found fields of gorgeous wildflowers.

Crested Butte Hiking

We got back to camp just as the late afternoon thunderstorms rolled in, perfect for a pre-dinner nap.

The next day, we hiked to the Triangle Pass trail. This was the longest hike of the trip, and featured the most breathtaking scenery as well.

We made it up to Triangle Pass for a much needed break, then realized we had missed our turnoff and had to double back a bit.

View from Triangle Pass

We even did some off-trail hiking and I let Bailey off leash for the first time since there were no other hikers around to disturb. She was pretty good and didn’t let me out of her sight!

Another great day of hiking, followed by dinner and conversation before we all passed out in our tents for the night. The next day, we packed up and headed back to our cars to go our separate ways.

Photo Credit:  Deborah C

As everyone else headed back to Denver, or home, I had a few more days to spend in Colorado. Bailey headed to our dog-friendly standby, the Holiday Inn Frisco, for laundry and a shower. Even several years later, this trip is one of my favorite backpacking trips of all time. We had a great group, good weather and excellent scenery! This was really a fantastic trip and I felt super lucky to also have Bailey with me!

For all photos from this trip, click here!

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Crested Butte Hiking

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10 thoughts on “Colorado Backpacking: Crested Butte / Maroon Bells

  1. the walk along the wildflowers look so beautiful. I love hiking and enjoy my moments amidst nature. It must be so wonderful to camp in the wilderness. Love your pictures 🙂

  2. Wow what a beautiful place to hike! Camping with the stream running beside you and the mountains to wake up too, doesn’t get much better than that 🙂
    Also love how your brought your dog along, his little pack is so cute haha

  3. This looks like a great hiking trip. I was just in Colorado, but we didn’t visit this areas. I love your traveling pup and her little pack. I’d never be able to trust my dog off leash like that, but I love taking him on adventures.

  4. I love that you did this, and just put out the word on Facebook to coordinate a group with similar interests. Excellent idea! And the dog is super-cute, I’m glad he got to go along. 😀

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