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Trekkin’: Hike the Four Pass Loop

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The Four Pass Loop, a 27-mile backpacking route in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, is one of the most popular and stunning backpacking trips in Colorado. As the name implies, you hike through four passes, all higher than 12,000 feet. There are breathtaking lakes, rugged mountains, and just enough threat of wildlife (bear-canisters required) to keep you mesmerized and on your toes.

Christin Healey, in partnership with Backpackers.com and Enlightened Equipment, trekked the Four Pass Loop. Read a piece of her story below, and see the full Four Pass Loop Trip Report on Backpackers.com.

Hitting the Trail

We started out at Maroon Lake near Snowmass, and before you ask, yes, that’s where the crowds are. Why? The lake sits right in front of you, the bells rise around you and golden aspens (depending on time of year) frame everything. It’s stunning.

But it is a lot of people. Colorado recently partnered with the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics to help educate visitors on how to care for pristine wilderness like Maroon Bells Wilderness. There are seven main practices to make sure you leave no trace of your experience. 

Our little group set out just after 5pm and hustled to camp at Crater Lake with almost no daylight. There are 11 sites to choose from, but they’re on a first-come, first-served basis, so we made sure to get there early.

Climbing Passes

Day one was easy and short, but the next day we had much bigger goals: two passes and a good chunk of the 27-mile trip. After coffee and muffins we set out to tackle West Maroon Pass (12,480 feet) and Frigid Air Pass (12,415 feet).  

The high mountain passes are tough and take both dedication and time, but it’s all worth it. I got lost in the clear blue skies and stunning scenery. We needed to camp near water, so we wrapped day two at Fravert Basin, which is seriously in the backcountry!

Read the rest of the trip at Backpackers.com, and enjoy these tips for Leaving No Trace and the Maroon Bells Wilderness!

Use the tips below, but also consider educating others you see on the trail or at camp to pass on the knowledge. If you see something that could be damaging to the environment, speak up!

A few key tips for traveling the Four Pass Loop (and general area):

  1. Self-register permits are required. You can get one at the ranger station, the overnight parking lot or on the trailhead on the way to Crater Lake.
  2. Bear canisters or bags are required for this area. We used the Ursack Major.
  3. Pack out all toilet paper. We saw so much TP just off of the trail — a serious problem as this area gets more and more popular.
  4. The weather changes quickly in the Elk Mountains, so be prepared for anything. This means rain jackets, warm gear and timing your hike to avoid the worst of it.

Have fun out there everyone!