Friday A and I woke up early and drove to Aspen in an effort to get a walk-on campsite for the weekend. This is how we have always camped and have had luck in finding a campsite…except for this past weekend. Apparently Aspen is NOT the place to find a walk-on campsite on a holiday weekend. Next time we will try to reserve one, or at least go on a different weekend. Since the three campgrounds we looked into were full, we decided to still do the Crater Lake hike to see the Maroon Bells since that is the main reason we went to Aspen.
The road to the parking lot near the trail head is restricted for the most part; you have to buy a bus ticket (really inexpensive – $6/person) and it is a 15-20 minute historical tour up the road. I enjoyed learning about the history of Aspen and seeing some of the geological points of interest along the road. Your bus ticket includes the ride back down; once you are finished hiking, just wait for the next bus to arrive, or hail one down with a wave.
There are a couple of options for hiking. The scenic trail is about 1 mile long and travels along Maroon Lake at the beginning of the trail head, near the ranger’s station. We didn’t walk that one, but instead headed up the Crater Lake Trail. It is a moderate trail, with most of the elevation gain in the first half. I think the total out and back trip mileage is 4 miles.
A and I are faster hikers and while the recommended time is 2 hours, I think we did it in much shorter of a time. There were many people we passed on the way up that were still working their way up the trail while we were on our way down. That being said, this trail is accessible to all levels of hikers.
Once at Crater Lake, you can picnic, go back down the way you came up or continue on the trail to Willow Lake or even to ascend some of the area mountains. We might have gone further to Willow Lake if we had time, but since we decided to drive back home the same day, we wanted to get back on the road as soon as possible.
Try to reserve a campsite in advance! Or at least go early in the week, and not leading up to a major US Holiday.
Come back in the fall – mid-late October for some fall foliage! It is highly recommended!