Crater Lake is a 3.6-mile out-and-back trail in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. Because the trailhead starts near the Maroon Bells Scenic Area, getting to and from the trailhead can be difficult.
Due to the high demand of visitors, and the low supply of parking spaces, the gate to the park is closed from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. Outside of those times, parking spaces are first-come, first-served. They fill up fast. When the gate is closed, visitors must take the bus from Aspen. There are some exceptions for overnighters, group vans, and cars with child seats (not booster seats).
The Maroon Bells bus/parking area features privies and information boards. The trailhead for Crater Lake begins on the northern side of Maroon Lake. The trail is well marked with signage and is easy to follow. It starts in an Aspen grove and slowly begins to climb into the evergreens.
The pathway soon becomes very rocky and trekking poles are worth their weight. The walk to Crater Lake is entirely uphill, but it’s not bad. You never climb for very long without the trail leveling out to provide some relief. There are switchbacks in the few places where the slope is steep.
Once the trail starts to go downhill, you’re almost to Crater Lake. It’s funny because you dodge rocks the entire way to the lake, and then they all disappear into meadow and forest. It’s absolutely beautiful and an apt reward for the climb.
This is the area where the 35-mile 4-Pass Loop begins. It’s also where the campsites are located for people who want to spend the night in the wilderness. Campsites are designated and numbered around the lake. They’re offered on a first-come, first-served basis.