Willow Lake, Maroon Snowmass Trailhead, Aspen - Snowmass, Colorado
Willow Lake - 12.4 miles
Maroon Snowmass Trailhead
|Round-Trip Length:||12.4 miles|
|Start-End Elevation:||9,580' - 11,795' (12,572' max elevation on Willow Pass)|
|Elevation Change:||+2,215' net elevation gain (+4,095' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
Willow Lake - 12.4 Miles Round-Trip
Willow Lake is located 6.2 miles from Maroon Lake in the Maroon Bells - Snowmass Wilderness. It lies just above treeline in a stunning alpine basin east of Willow Pass (12,572').
While the lake is exceptional, the hike itself is equally compelling. It follows the Maroon Snowmass Trail with iconic backdrops to the meadows under Buckskin Pass, where the Willow Lake Trail splits for Willow Pass and an airy descent to the lake.
This segment is not connected to most other backpacking routes in the area, and sees lighter traffic. It’s also one of the few over-and-back pass hikes that can be completed in a day, though time management is important with an exposed climb on the return.
The trail begins on the north side of Maroon Lake to the Scenic Loop split (.3 miles). It rises away into thick aspens that break across an open rock field on the valley floor (1.2 miles : 10,070’).
The Maroon Snowmass Trail steepens considerably over Crater Lake and bends NW up Minnehaha Gulch. Enjoy great morning light on the Bells and Sleeping Sexton on this rapid climb.
The trail crosses a rocky stream channel (2.95 miles : 11,030’) to a meadow, then funnels up a shallow gulch that opens in a gorgeous alpine setting (3.45 miles : 11,480). Note camping is not permitted in these meadows. Buckskin Pass is in sight, but Willow Pass is hidden by a ridge.
The trail resumes a steep, sinuous path to the Willow Lake Trail split (3.8 miles : 11,745’), which breaks north on similar terrain with stunning views down valley. Scan these high slopes and meadows for goat, sheep and elk.
It levels briefly on the rim of a large bowl in the upper valley (4.2 miles : 12,075’), crosses a stream and arcs up the bowl’s right side to the base of the pass (4.55 miles : 12,315’).
Here it climbs 257’ in just .15 miles to Willow Pass, a small notch in the craggy walls between drainages (4.7 miles : 12,572’). The pass offers rangy views over the route leading to it, and across Willow Creek basin. Willow Lake and large outlying ponds can also be seen from the pass.
The descent is initially steep, but gradually moderates through high alpine meadows rife with flowers. It drops gently to the East Snowmass Trail split (5.5 miles : 12,005’), a faint point marked by a low-lying sign that can be obscured by snow or brush.
The trail continues on a rolling, narrow-cut path that may lose clarity on the final approach, though the lake’s location is never in question. It laces through krummholz-topped knolls to the north side of Willow Lake (6.2 miles : 11,795’), an expansive area that begs exploration.
Scale the south wall for great aerial views, explore the outer ponds, or continue down valley for a great chance to see wildlife in this seldom-visited drainage.
- N39 05.911 W106 56.452 — 0.0 miles : Maroon Lake - Maroon Snowmass Trailhead
- N39 05.886 W106 56.761 — .3 miles : Split for Maroon Lake Scenic Loop
- N39 05.576 W106 57.373 — 1.0 miles : Trail rises up north side of West Maroon Creek
- N39 05.327 W106 57.962 — 1.7 miles : Crater Lake - Maroon Snowmass Trail split
- N39 05.261 W106 58.423 — 2.3 miles : Steep, winding climb up Minnehaha Gulch
- N39 05.614 W106 58.697 — 2.95 miles : Cross left over rocky stream channel
- N39 05.690 W106 58.894 — 3.2 miles : Steep climb over treeline into meadows
- N39 06.016 W106 59.098 — 3.8 miles : Buckskin Pass - Willow Pass split
- N39 06.216 W106 59.092 — 4.2 miles : Steep push moderates in bowl under pass
- N39 06.482 W106 59.175 — 4.55 miles : Begin very steep push to pass
- N39 06.532 W106 59.119 — 4.7 miles : Willow Pass (12,572')
- N39 06.647 W106 58.691 — 5.2 miles : Descent moderates in alpine meadows
- N39 06.791 W106 58.471 — 5.5 miles : East Snowmass Trail split
- N39 06.650 W106 57.798 — 6.2 miles : Willow Lake (11,795')
- Day hikers should manage time wisely, as 70% of the trail runs above treeline, and scaling Willow Pass can be strenuous on the return.
- Crater Lake is an easy .1 mile excursion from the West Maroon Creek Trail split.
Camping and Backpacking Information
- Dispersed backcountry camping is permitted in the Maroon Bells - Snowmass Wilderness. Self-registration permits are available at each trailhead and/or Wilderness Boundary. There is no fee or limit to the number of permits issued. Backpackers must carry a completed registration form with them for the duration of the trip.
- Camping is prohibited within 100' of any trail, lake or stream. Group size is limited to 10 individuals (or 15 with people + stock).
- Campfires are permitted in the Maroon Bells - Snowmass Wilderness, with potential seasonal restrictions. Campfires are not permitted above or within .25 miles (440 yards) of treeline, or within 100' of any lake or stream. Location-specific restrictions may also apply.
- Contact the Aspen Ranger District (970.925.3445) for the latest weather, trail conditions and trail-specific guidelines when planning your trip.
- Fishing is permitted at Crater Lake, Willow Lake and along all related streams with a valid Colorado fishing license.
Rules and Regulations
- Dogs must be leashed at all times.
- Camping is permitted in Minnehaha Gulch, but not in the meadows leading to or above the split for Buckskin Pass - Willow Pass. See Camping and Backpacking below for more information.
Directions to Trailhead
The Maroon Lake - Maroon Snowmass Trailhead is located 9.2 miles west of Highway 82 on Maroon Creek Road. From Highway 82 in Aspen, follow the roundabout 1 mile NW of town onto Maroon Creek Road. Follow Maroon Creek Road to all designated parking lots. Call 970.925.3445 with specific questions about seasonal road access and shuttle schedules:
- There's a $10 fee to access the Maroon Lake - Maroon Snowmass Trailhead by car. The Welcome Station is located 4.7 miles up Maroon Creek Road. Use the self-pay station just past the Welcome Station if no attendant is on duty.
- Access by car is limited in the summer from 7am - 9am, and 5pm - 7pm. Visitors from 9am - 5pm must park at Aspen Highlands Village Parking Lot and take the Shuttle Bus to the trailhead. This parking area is located approximately 2 miles up Maroon Creek Road and is well-marked.
- Road access restrictions do not apply to overnight backpackers. Backpackers must pay the fee, but can proceed to the overnight parking lot and bypass the shuttle.
- There's a $6 fee to take the shuttle from Aspen Highlands Village ($3 on select weekdays). The shuttle operates everyday from mid-June to Labor Day.
- After Labor Day, the road is open to all cars Mon-Thurs; restrictions only apply Friday-Sunday. The shuttle runs Friday-Sunday as described above.
- Cars with infants (children under 2) and handicap plates are exempt from road restrictions, year round. The $10 access fee still applies.
Maroon Bells - Snowmass Wilderness | Aspen Ranger District
806 West Hallam
Aspen, CO 81611
Maroon Bells - Snowmass Wilderness | Sopris Ranger District
620 Main Street
Carbondale, CO 81623
White River National Forest
900 Grand Ave.
P.O. Box 948
Glenwood Springs CO 81602
970.945.2521 | 970.319.2670