When we are in Crested Butte, we are close to several wilderness areas and often day-hike in Maroon Bells. My wife has been urging me to do a backpacking trip there, but I’ve always avoided it because of the hassle and the crowds. This time she was insistent and offered to handle all of the logistics, so we agreed to an overnight.

Our first “first” was buying a bear-bag, because they are required there. We bought the middle size Ursack at REI. Our second “first” was buying a permit. I thought it was going to be free or a nominal cost, but I couldn’t believe it when she told me how much they charged for one night, I think it’s offensive TBH. I guess you need to have a computer and disposable income if you want to camp in a “popular” wilderness area.

We spent some time exploring less-traveled basins, so I’d prefer not to name them here, but I’m happy to give details to members by PM.

After a short climb from the trailhead, we came out above timberline into a pretty valley (Photo1) and climbed up to a ridge (Photo2) where you can see some of the namesake peaks and a pass that is part of the popular loop hike in this wilderness.

From there, we could look down into the next basin, where we would spend most of the afternoon. (Photo3, Photo4)
After a quick peek at a nearby pass, we made our way down into the basin and across to a pretty area with some small ponds (Photo5). It would have been a nice place to camp in less windy conditions. Max spent most of the day hunting and eating huge grasshoppers.

Going back to the trail, we went down a couple of thousand feet to a heavily traveled trail by a river, where we were very lucky to find a campsite with some shelter and privacy, far from the trail and closer to the river (Photo6). It’s amazing to me how most people will choose to pitch their tent right by the side of the trail.

The next morning we first followed the trail down through aspens (Photo7), then crossed the river and climbed steeply to reach a social trail that traverses the side of a different basin. We enjoyed some views of the river valley and famous peaks (Photo8), with a bit of color on our way back to the trailhead (Photo9), and avoided the crowds until rejoining the main trail. While some of the neighboring wilderness areas are probably better for true leaf-peeping, this is a pretty place, and if you venture off the most traveled trails, you can enjoy an illusion of solitude.