Beginning at the shores of Maroon Lake, this 12.7-mile out-and-back is a difficult day hike or a moderate overnight trip among some of North America’s most photographed peaks.
The trail climbs beneath aspen in the White River National Forest before traversing a lichen-covered rock garden and turning south. Skirting Crater Lake—and 11 designated campsites—the trail settles into a lush valley sandwiched between 13,000-foot Len Shoemaker Ridge and the 14,000-foot Maroon Peaks. As it follows West Maroon Creek, the trail crosses its path several times—consider bringing trekking poles, especially in early spring when snowmelt can make crossings treacherous.
Heavy understory thins near treeline where a mind-boggling array of wildflowers await: Indian Paintbrushes, Colorado Columbine, Geyer Larkspur, and dozens of other species bloom throughout late summer. In its last two miles, the trail gains over 1,000 feet, dipping into a valley saddle at mile 5.5 before the final push up rocky slopes to the 12,480-foot pass.
Wilderness camping in the White River National Forest is free but expect to pay a per-car fee to drive to the trailhead, or a per-person fee for the shuttle bus.
-Mapped by Kristy Holland and Anne Whetzel