Central Colorado

Location: 41 miles southeast of Glenwood Springs, 100 miles southwest of Denver and 28 miles north of Gunnison.

Featured Hikes

Hagerman Peak, Snowmass Mountain and Capitol Peak from Buckskin Pass
Buckskin Pass

Distance: 3.4 - 9.2 miles (Round Trip)

This popular trail climbs to a 12,462-ft. pass with panoramic views of the 14,000-ft. peaks towering above the heart of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. Visual delights along the trail include lofty peaks, two stunning alpine lakes and beautiful alpine meadows.

Pyramid Peak, Snowmass Mtn and Capitol Peak from Electric Pass
Electric Pass

Distance: 9.2 miles (Round Trip)

A strenuous hike to the highest trail pass in Colorado featuring spectacular panoramic views of the high peaks and ridges of the Elk Mountains, including Castle and Cathedral Peaks to the southwest and the Maroon Bells, Snowmass Mountain, Pyramid Peak and Capital Peak to the northwest.

The Maroon Bells
Frigid Air Pass

Distance: 9.6 miles (Round Trip)

Hikers ascending the beautiful East Fork Valley to Frigid Air pass are rewarded with stunning views of the Maroon Bells, Snowmass Mountain and the nearby peaks of the Elk Mountains. In season the East Fork is famous for its spectacular displays of wildflowers.

Close-up of Capital Peak and Snowmass Peak
North Pole Basin

Distance: 7.0 miles (Round Trip)

Few hikers know about the gorgeous North Pole Basin. Scenic highlights include pristine meadows, cascading waterfalls, wildflowers and rugged peaks. A short off-trail stint leads to a saddle with breathtaking views of the high peaks of the Elk Mountains.

View of the peaks towering above Texas Creek
Browns Pass via Denny Creek

Distance: 7.6 - 10.2 miles (Round Trip)

The ascent of the Denny Creek valley to Brown’s pass features terrific view of the 14er’s in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness. Extend the hike with a high traverse to a saddle overlooking the North Cottonwood Creek with more great views of the high peaks of the Sawatch Range.

Flyfishing at Geneva Lake
Geneva Lake

Distance: 4.2 miles (Round Trip)

This trail, our personal favorite, has waterfalls, wildflowers, a pristine lake and gigantic views of the Lead King Basin and backside of the Maroon Bells. Additionally, you can and should combine this trip with 4WD or ATV circumnavigation of the Lead King Basin road with stops in Crystal City and the Crystal Mill.

View of the Pyramid massif
West Maroon Pass

Distance: 3.4 - 13.0 miles (Round Trip)

Imposing peaks, pretty waterfalls, stunning lakes, a huge alpine basin and panoramic views from a 12,500-ft. pass encompassing the Maroon Bells, Pyramid Peak and Treasure Mountain are the scenic rewards on this 13-mile (RT) hike to West Maroon Pass.

Trail to the saddle above Capitol Lake
Capitol Lake (aka Capitol Creek Trail)

Distance: 12.8 miles (Round Trip)

This long hike ascends a pretty valley through aspen groves and spruce-fir forest interspersed with meadows to Capitol Lake, an alpine jewel nestled beneath the massive west face of Capital Peak (14,130-ft.).

Cathedral Peak from Cathedral Lake
Cathedral Lake

Distance: 5.6 miles (Round Trip)

This popular day hike steeply ascends Pine Creek canyon, traveling through forests and meadows, to Cathedral Lake, a gorgeous alpine gem nestled in a dramatic cirque beneath rugged granite peaks.

Peaks at the head of the Cross Creek Valley
Fancy Pass - Missouri Pass

Distance: 8.1 miles (Loop)

This great loop hike climbs to two scenic passes and visits a pair of gorgeous lake basins surrounded by 13,000-ft. granite peaks and ridges in the Holy Cross Wilderness.

The iconic Maroon Bells
Four Pass Loop

Distance: 26.6 miles (Loop)

This popular 3-4 day backpacking loop around the stunningly beautiful Maroon Bells climbs over four 12,000-ft. passes and traverses some of the most amazing scenery in the Maroon Bells / Snowmass Wilderness area.

Mt Huron and Lake Ann from the saddle
Lake Ann

Distance: 6.6 - 12.0 miles (Round Trip)

The hike to Lake Ann, cradled in a pretty alpine basin beneath the Continental Divide, features great views of Huron Peak and the Three Apostles. Continue the hike to a saddle on the divide with stunning views of the Taylor Valley and the peaks riming the Clear Creek valley.

Bear Lake with Mt. Yale in the background
Bear Lake

Distance: 11.0 miles (Round Trip)

Great views of three Colorado 14ers; Mt. Harvard, Mt. Columbia and Mt. Yale, are the rewards of this hike up the scenic Horn Fork basin to Bear Lake, an alpine jewel nestled in a rugged bowl beneath the Continental Divide in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness.

Purple Mountain towering above the head of the valley
Yule Pass

Distance: 4.9 miles (Round Trip)

Panoramic views accompany every step of this great, easy hike along an old mining road to Yule Pass, where sweeping views extend to the peaks rising beyond Yule Creek, Purple Canyon and the Upper Slater River Valleys. Near at hand Purple and Treasure Mountains tower overhead.

Blue Lake
Oh Be Joyful and Blue Lake

Distance: 13.2 miles (Round Trip)

This hike ascends the beautiful Oh Be Joyful Valley through wildflower-filled meadows to pretty Blue Lake cradled beneath Purple Mountain and Afley Peak. Along the way views unfold to the panorama of 12,000-ft. peaks ringing the head of the valley.

Beautiful Mormon Lake
Lyle and Mormon Lakes

Distance: 5.8 miles (Round Trip)

One of the most scenic hikes in the Hunter Fryingpan area starts at 10,730-ft. and climbs at a moderate pace through acres of meadows with stunning wildflowers displays to two beautiful lakes.

View of the Missouri Lakes Basin from Missouri Pass
Missouri Lakes and Pass

Distance: 7.1 miles (Round Trip)

A great little hike to a beautiful lakes basin and scenic pass in the Holy Cross Wilderness.

The Fryingpan Lakes from the saddle
North Fork Lake Creek

Distance: 8.1 miles (Round Trip)

This trail travels up a beautiful, secluded valley to wind swept tarn and then a saddle on the Continental Divide overlooking the Fryingpan Lakes. The quiet valley offers good opportunities to spot wildlife and features fine views of the surrounding high peaks.

View toward the head of the valley
Rustler Gulch

Distance: 7.4 - 9.2 miles (Round Trip)

This moderately easy hike to a high alpine basin beneath Precarious Peak is recommended during mid-July through August when the meadows of Rustler’s Gulch are filled with colorful wildflowers

Snowmass Mtn and Hagerman Peak from Avalanche Pass
Avalanche Pass

Distance: 7.4 miles (Round Trip)

This lightly used trail ascends beautiful Buckskin Basin to a stunning pass with wonderful views of Capitol Peak, Snowmass Mountain and Mount Daly.

Ptarmigan Lake, Turner Peak and Mount Yale
Ptarmigan Lake

Distance: 6.2 - 6.8 miles (Round Trip)

This family-friendly scenic hike climbs on moderate grades to a lovely lake with terrific views of Mount Yale (14,196-ft.) and Turner Peak to the north, the Gladstone Ridge to the east and Jones Mountains to the West.

The Maroon Bells and Pyramid massif from West Maroon Pass
West Maroon Pass from Crested Butte

Distance: 7.8 miles (Round Trip)

Starting in Schofield Park near Crested Butte, this lovely hike ascends through the wildflower-filled meadows of the East Fork Valley to West Maroon Pass. From the pass enjoy grand views of the Maroon Bells, Pyramid Peak and Treasure Mountain massifs.

View of Native Lake and Mt. Massive
Native Lake / Highline Trail

Distance: 4.6 - 11.2 miles (Round Trip)

A pretty lake along with terrific views of the Continental Divide and Mt. Massive are a few of the scenic delights along this beautiful trail paralleling the eastern flanks of the Continental Divide west of Leadville.

Close-up of Snowmass Mountain and Hagerman Peak from the Hasley Basin overlook
Frigid Air and Hasley Pass

Distance: 9.6 miles (Loop)

This great loop hike travels up wildflower-filled meadows to two scenic passes with stunning views of the high peaks of the Elk Mountains including the Maroon Bells, Snowmass Mountain and Hagerman Peak. Route finding and off-trail travel is required to complete the loop.

Mt. Yale and the peaks lining the northern wall of Missouri Basin
Missouri Gulch / Elkhead Pass

Distance: 9.0 miles (Round Trip)

The strenuous hike to Elkhead Pass, one of the highest passes in Colorado, steeply ascends scenic Missouri Gulch to a 13,220-ft. pass with panoramic views of the 13,000-ft and 14,000-ft. peaks looming above the expansive meadows of Missouri Basin.

Pretty landscape around the old railroad bed
Colorado Midland

Distance: 6.0 - 7.0 miles (Round Trip)

This hike follows the railroad bed of the first standard gauge line to cross the Continental Divide and ends at the Hagerman Tunnel (11,528-ft.), the highest railroad tunnel in the world at the time it was built in 1887.

View North to Mt. Daly. All photos copyright G. Trantow.
Raspberry Creek Loop

Distance: 9.4 miles (Loop)

This great loop hike starts by ascending the pretty Raspberry Creek Valley to Marble Peak (11,314-ft.). The trail then descends to Anthracite Pass and returns via the Raspberry Creek/Anthracite Pass trail. From the peak enjoy panoramic views of Snowmass Mountain, Capital Peak, Treasure Mountain and beyond.

The Region, the Hikes & the Base Camps

The Sawatch and Elk Mountain ranges around Aspen, Leadville, Buena Vista, Crested Butte and Marble, offer the quintessential Rocky Mountain hiking experience with glacial valleys leading to vast alpine expanses sprinkled with glistening lakes amid soaring peaks. Three national forests and six wilderness areas protect this amazing landscape. Over 200 peaks rise above 13,000-ft. with 20 of the summits topping 14,000-ft.

Trails galore interlace the high country of the Sawatch and Elks ranges. This hiking guide highlights the area’s best trails, the trails that take you above timberline to beautiful mountain lakes nestled in dramatic cirques, to passes with see forever views and to glorious alpine meadows filled with wildflowers. The trails, best hiked between mid-July and mid-September, range in length from 2 to 26 miles and gain between 900-ft. to 3,600-ft. in elevation. Many of the trails offer great intermediate turnaround points for those seeking shorter hikes. All are reached in less than an hour drive from five great base camps; Aspen, Leadville, Buena Vista, Crested Butte and Marble.

The base camps, each with its own distinct character, are linked by scenic drives traversing beautiful river valleys and crossing the high passes.

  • Aspen to Leadville: The Top of the Rockies Byway between Aspen and Leadville, follows the narrow and winding CO-82 southeast through breathtaking scenery over 12,096-ft. Independence Pass to Twin Lakes, where it turns left (north) onto US-24 to Leadville. Along the way the route passing two of Colorado’s tallest peaks, Mt Elbert (14,333-ft.) and Mt. Massive (14,421-ft.). Total Distance: 58.5 miles.
  • Leadville to Buena Vista: To reach Buena Vista from Leadville, follow US-24 south for 34.5 miles on the Top of the Rockies Byway and Collegiate Peaks Byway. The scenic drive along the Collegiate Peaks Byway features wonderful views of the 14,000-ft. peaks of the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness rising above the valley floor to the west. Total Distance: 34-miles.
  • Aspen to Marble and Crested Butte: From Aspen take CO-82 northwest through the scenic Roaring Fork Valley to Carbondale and turn left onto CO-133, which is the start of the West Elk Loop Byway. The route ascends the beautiful Crystal River Valley, passing County Road 3, the turnoff to Marble.  Beyond the turnoff the route climbs over McClure Pass (8,755-ft.), travels by the Paonia Reservoir and turns left (east) on the Kebler Pass Road (aka Gunnison County Road 12). The Kebler Pass Road, a good gravel road passable by passenger cars, climbs through beautiful forest to its namesake pass at 10,007-ft. before descending to Crested Butte: Total Distance: 104-miles.
  • Crested Butte to Buena Vista: From Crested Butte head south on CO-135 to Almont and turn left (east) onto CO-742 toward the Taylor Park Reservoir. Just past the Reservoir, turn right onto the Cottonwood Pass Road (CO-209 that turns into CO-306). The route climbs over Cottonwood Pass (12,126-ft.) to Buena Vista, along the way enjoying great views of Taylor Park and the Collegiate Peaks. (Part of the Cottonwood Pass Road is a good gravel road passable by passenger cars.) Total Distance: 75.5-miles.

Base Camp Information: Aspen / Buena Vista / Crested Butte / Leadville / Marble