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Four Pass Loop

Intermediate/Difficult
  5.0 ( 143 ) Favorite

Trail

27.1 mile 43.6 kilometer loop
Intermediate/Difficult

Elevation

Ascent: 7,327' 2,233 m
Descent: -7,329' -2,234 m
High: 12,454' 3,796 m
Low: 9,571' 2,917 m

Grade

Avg Grade: 10% (6°)
Max Grade: 54% (28°)

Dogs

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Trail shared by Jason Smith

An all-time journey over four 12,500' alpine passes, circumnavigating the Maroon Bells.

Jason Smith

Features Birding · Fall Colors · Lake · River/Creek · Views · Waterfall · Wildflowers · Wildlife

If you're planning on doing this as an overnight, you must perform a self check-in and fill out an overnight permit. For more information on camping, download this PDF.

Bear canisters are currently required in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. More information on current regulations can be found here.

Overview

Up and over four incredible 12,000'+ mountain passes around the Maroon Bells Wilderness. People do this as a 4-day backpack... and it's a common 1-day run!

Need to Know

To access the trailhead at Maroon Lake, you must enter the Maroon Bells Scenic Area before 8am or after 5pm to access with a vehicle, which a $10 entrance fee is required. Otherwise, shuttle buses run for all visitors arriving between 8am-5pm. For more info click here.

Description

Begin at the Maroon Snowmass Trailhead. This route is described counterclockwise, going Buckskin Pass, Trail Rider Pass, Frigid Air Pass, West Maroon Pass. Either way is great.

Proceed South on Maroon Snowmass Trail, climbing gradually over 1.5 miles. Make a right at a signed T-intersection headed for Buckskin Pass (Buckskin Pass Trail). Nowhere to go but up with spectacular views of N. Maroon (14,014') blowing up to your left as you crest treeline.

From the top turn around to savor the early morning sun on Pyramid Peak (14,018'), eye up the trail descending right and take it down toward the densely forested Snowmass Creek drainage. After about 3 miles from the top of Buckskin, take the first left onto Geneva Lake Trail at a t-intersection. In early August 2014, this critical juncture was not signed. Consult the Hiking Project mobile app here to make sure you make the turn.

Let the pain begin as you ascend southwestward to Trail Rider Pass over the stunning Snowmass Lake and under the eastern flanks of the hulking Snowmass Mountain (14,092').

From Trail Rider summit (12,500'), enjoy sweeping views of the remote West Elks & brace your skeleton for the steepest, most jarring descent of the day.

Note: If you encounter dangerous weather, a possible bailout is to exit to the southwest at the Geneva Lake trailhead, where you can probably hitch a ride with a 4x4 on the Lead King Loop down to Marble to make a pickup call.

About two miles off the top of Trail Rider, keep a sharp eye out for your next critical left turn, onto the unsigned North Fork Cutoff Trail. For the next mile you'll traverse southeast on a steep hillside until merging with North Fork Crystal River. If you need a break, this is a good spot to fill up water and get off your feet. After another mile, look for a ridiculous waterfall & enter the pain cave once again as you switchback above the falls to enter the otherworldly Fravert Basin.

From here, it's 2.75 miles under Maroon Peak (14,156') through unreal alpine terrain to the top of Frigid Air Pass. Keep some gas in the tank to savor this section. From Frigid Air summit (12,500'), take heart because you have just two miles and much less vertical relief to Maroon Pass.

Halfway between the passes, go straight toward Maroon at a T, meeting West Maroon Trail. Punch it over your final 12,500' pass, and cruise the last seven miles down the West Maroon Creek drainage to your cooler.

Flora & Fauna

More wildflowers than you can count...

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Check-Ins

Sep 22, 2019
Brooks Tellekamp
27.1mi — 69h 00m
Sep 18, 2019
Bill Kaelin
Sep 18, 2019
jos vandebos
Best scenery ever. Did the trip clockwise in one overnight stay (at Fravert Basin). 28mi — 40h 00m
Sep 12, 2019
Sai b
Sep 12, 2019
John Sweeny
Went with Mike and Bennet. Great trip. counter clockwise. 3 days 2 nights. 29mi
Sep 12, 2019
Michael Drabenstott
Single-day loop in counter-clockwise direction starting at 4:15 a.m. Had 1-2 inches of snow above 11000 ft. Spectacular scenery throughout. 27mi — 14h 15m
Sep 10, 2019
Lightning Buddha
Sep 6, 2019
Jeff Gordon

Trail Ratings

  5.0 from 143 votes

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  5.0 from 143 votes
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Photos

One hell of an evening at the Maroon Bells
Sep 27, 2015 near Snowmas…, CO
Looking up the West Maroon Valley on a crisp fall afternoon.
Oct 24, 2016 near Snowmas…, CO
Oh yeah.....high above magical Snowmass Lake on Trail Rider Pass. Photo: Michelle Smith
Aug 31, 2015 near Snowmas…, CO
Moose
Feb 9, 2015 near Snowmas…, CO
Starting the Four Pass journey. Dawn light on North Maroon Peak. Photo: Michelle Smith
Aug 31, 2015 near Snowmas…, CO
Taking a break on the way to Snowmass Lake on the Maroon Bells 4-Pass Loop.
Aug 13, 2016 near Snowmas…, CO

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