Judd Falls, Copper Lake and East Maroon Pass are all great destinations along the Copper Creek trail. The trail ascends to pretty Judd Falls and then heads up the Copper Valley to beautiful Copper Lake. Beyond the lake the path climbs to East Maroon Pass with fine views the peaks rising above the Copper and East Maroon Valleys.
To Judd Falls
Distance from Trailhead: 2.1 miles (round trip)
Ending/Highest Elevation: 9,890-ft.
Elevation Gain: 290-ft.
Note: This description assumes you park in the lower parking area along the Gothic Road (CR 217). Subtract 0.5 miles (one-way) from the mileage in the hike description if starting from the upper 4WD parking area.
From the trailhead at the lower parking area follow the 4WD road, ascending a switchback up the broad dirt track on moderate grades. The path soon curves to the right (southeast) as it continues along the road, traveling through meadows and clusters of trees to the small, upper parking area at 0.5 miles. As you ascend, enjoy nice views of Gothic Mountain to the west.
A short distance past the 4WD parking area, signs point to an old 4WD road, now a trail, branching right toward Judd Falls and Copper Creek. The trail climbs a little bit more before starting its descent to Judd Falls, passing a closed road leading to the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory at 0.75 miles. Past the junction we leave the road and briefly hike on level grades to a display explaining the geology of Gothic Mountain. Beyond the display the trail resumes its descent down a rugged hillside to the junction by Judd Falls at 1.0 mile.
To visit Judd Falls, turn right and walk a short distance to an overlook set atop a steep cliff. Judd Falls (9,780-ft.) spills down a rugged gorge below the overlook. Use caution when taking photos. The edge of the drop off is covered in loose dirt and small rocks. When you are done viewing the falls, retrace your steps to the trailhead for a 2.1 mile hike (1.1 mile hike from the upper parking area).
To Copper Lake
Distance from Trailhead: 10.8 miles (round trip)
Ending/Highest Elevation: 11,370-ft.
Elevation Gain: 1,770-ft.
Continue the hike by returning to the junction and heading east on the Copper Lake Trail, an old 4WD road that we will follow most of the way to the lake. Beyond the junction the trail ascends on easy to moderate grades and soon passes the boundary of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. The pleasant hike travels through scatter evergreens, aspen groves and meadows above the north side of Copper Creek.
At 1.5 miles the track curves to the left (northeast) and enters the Copper Creek Valley. Pretty meadows along the trail offer good views of the rugged ridges, punctuated with 12,000-13,000-ft. peaks, lining both sides of the valley. As you ascend the valley pass a series of beaver ponds along the creek at 2.1 miles.
At 2.5 miles reach the first of three crossings of Copper Creek. Early in a season or after a heavy rain you’ll need to get your feet wet. Otherwise the crossings should not be problematic. After the crossing, enjoy some great views of the colorful ridge rimming the west side of the valley and the peaks at the head of the valley before the path enters the trees.
Cross to the west side of the creek at 3.9 miles and then cross back to the east side of the stream at 4.1 miles. Between the two crossings a small stream flows across the trail.
After the third crossing of Copper Creek the ascent steepens, climbing on moderately-steep grades through viewless forest. After ascending a few switchbacks reach a junction with the trail to Triangle Pass and Conundrum Creek at 4.9 miles. We continue on the Copper Creek Trail. Reach a second junction at a clearing at 5.2 miles. Here a trail heads northeast to East Maroon Pass and Triangle Pass. We continue north to Copper Lake.
Beyond the junction pass a sign showing the location of the eight designated campsites around Copper Lake. (If the sites are full you need to find another place to camp.) Soon views open to the peaks towering above Copper Lake Basin and then pretty Copper Lake (11,321-ft.), set amid brushy meadows and scree covered slopes. Precarious and Cassi Peak dominate the view above the west side of the lake. Look closely and you can see the trail ascends along the scree slopes rising above the east of the lake to East Maroon Pass, a saddle on the ridge to the north of the lake.
Extend the hike by continuing to East Maroon Pass, Cooper Pass or Triangle Pass, which connects with the trail to Conundrum Hot Springs. East Maroon Pass is used by hikers traveling between Crested Butte and Aspen and features fine views of the high peaks of the Maroon Bells towering above the East Maroon Valley. One popular overnight option is the hike the loop around East Maroon, Cooper and Triangle Passes. Note: An overnight permit is required for camping near the Conundrum Hot Springs. The restricted area includes all of the Conundrum Creek Valley from Silver Dollar Pond to Triangle Pass. See the White River National Forest site for more information.
To East Maroon Pass
Distance from Trailhead: 12.9 miles (round trip)
Ending/Highest Elevation: 11,820-ft.
Elevation Gain: 2,220-ft.
From Copper Lake, return to the junction with the trail climbing to East Maroon Pass. The trail to the pass ascends through a few trees and then climbs on moderate grades through rocky meadows and scree covered hillsides along the steep slopes rising above east/northeast side of the lake. As the trail gains altitude enjoy ever improving views of the Cooper Lake and rugged 13,000-ft. peaks rimming the Copper Basin. White Rock Mountain (13,540-ft.) fills the skyline to the southeast.
After hiking 0.7 miles from the junction the scree gives way to rocky meadows. A few switchbacks facilitate the final moderately steep ascent to East Maroon Pass (11,820-ft.). Reach the broad pass, marked by a large cairn on the border of the Gunnison and White River National Forests, after walking about a mile from the junction. Continue a short distance beyond the cairn for views of Pyramid Peak (14,018-ft.) and a host of 13,000-ft. summits lining the East Maroon Valley to the north.
When you are done taking in the views retrace your steps to the trailhead. The direct trip from the lower parking area to East Maroon pass is 12.4 miles (round trip). Add 0.5 miles for a visit to Copper Lake either before or after hiking to the pass for a 12.9 mile hike.
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Driving Directions from Crested Butte: From the intersection of Elk Avenue (main street) and 6th Street in Crested Butte, head north on 6th Street, which turns into Gothic Road (sometimes referred to as the Schofield Pass Road). Follow the Gothic Road (CO 317) for 8.5 miles to the Judd Falls/Copper Creek Trailhead. The trailhead is located 0.6 miles past the Gothic Townsite, home to the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory. Parking is available along the left side of the Gothic Road and in a small parking lot to the right, off the Copper Creek 4WD Road. Drivers with a 4WD can turn right and drive 0.5 miles up the Copper Creek 4WD Road to a small parking lot near a grove of Aspen trees. This lot fills early in the day during the summer.
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