The Four Pass Loop (in a day)

A sublime day on Colorado's most beautiful backpacking loop.

By: Kyle Frost + Save to a List

The Four Pass Loop is generally considered the best backpacking trip in Colorado, and has a strong argument for being one of the most stunning loops in North America. As the name implies, the loop hits four high passes -- Buckskin (12,462'), Trail Rider (12,415'), Frigid Air (12,500'), and West Maroon (12,490'). At 27 miles and 8,000 ft of gain, most people choose to backpack it in 2-4 days.

We decided to run it in a day (a fairly "common" thing for Colorado trail runners).

Our first challenge of the day was Buckskin Pass (and an early start). We hit the trail in the dark around 5:30 and quickly gained altitude up towards the pass, gaining 3,000ft in the first 4.5 miles. We caught sunrise just at the top of the pass, with views east of Pyramid Peak, and west towards Snowmass and Capitol Peak.

After cruising our first downhill of the day, we reached Snowmass Lake and stopped for a quick refill on water. This is a popular campsite for folks climbing Snowmass (a 14er). 9 miles down.

We had a great crew for this mission. Spirits were high all day, and we were feeling great at the top of pass 2/4, Trail Rider Pass. 11 miles down. And time for a long down, and and long way back up to Frigid Air.

Fravert Basin is simply one of the most stunning places I've ever hiked/ran. It was a long grind to re-gain the elevation we lost, but it was offset with these wild landscapes and views around every turn.

You get views of the backside of the Maroon Bells, and this wide basin was so full of color that you forgot about how tired you were. Mostly. The climb up to Frigid Air Pass is pretty brutal as you're coming up on 18 miles. Thank goodness for the burrito I brought. And the Snickers.

It felt like we were "over the hill" at this point. 3/4 done, only one pass to go and not a ton of mileage left. The descent off of Frigid Air was just as gorgeous as the ascent.

The descent off Frigid Air and ascent up West Maroon Pass was short, but taxing. Tired leges definitely coming into play. But it was a special moment to reach the top and see the long descent back down to the trailhead. Almost done!

A long, rocky downhill brought us back the the car at Maroon Lake. What a perfect day in the alpine. Great weather, great crew, incredible views. This has been on my Colorado bucket list for a long time so it felt good to check it off. It was my longest day out, and my longest trail run so far. Pretty happy with our 10 hrs elapsed time!

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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