For those looking for an amazing backpacking experience in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, this one is not to be missed!
Many people take on the Cathedral Lake trail as a day hike, with the most adventurous (and in shape) pushing on towards Electric Pass. However, following a recommendation I read online, I decided to make this trail into a weekend backpacking trip. This was our general itinerary:
On Friday afternoon we hiked in the ~3 miles to Cathedral Lake. We set up camp just off the trail, about a 1/2 mile before the lake, below the tree line (see more below about the camping sites). On Saturday morning we intended to make the hike to Electric Pass but woke up to a rainstorm that lasted until about noon. We spent the afternoon hanging out by the lake and fishing where we caught some rather impressive trout! We were delighted when all of the lingering rain clouds began to clear out in the late afternoon and decided to make an evening attempt at the Electric Pass hike (~6 miles RT from the lake) where we were rewarded by amazing sunset views. We then returned to camp and spent another night. We left mid-morning on Sunday and had a much easier (all downhill) hike back to the trailhead.
About the camping at Cathedral Lake:
If you plan to make this a backpacking trip, you will really be able to enjoy the area far more than the day hikers who only spend a bit of time at the lake and have to turn around. I would highly recommend staying a night or two and attempting to summit the Electric Pass as we did. Be sure to fill out a permit (no cost) at the trailhead, per wilderness regulations. There is plenty of water available near the lake and in the surrounding creeks, but a water filtration device should be used for safety of course. Following wilderness regulations, campsites cannot be within a certain distance of the lake, which is no issue as there are plenty of sites just off the trail after the grueling last set of switchbacks. You’ll know when you have finished the switchbacks I am referencing because they are quite strenuous, especially with a heavy backpack on! The primitive sites are marked by previously built stone ring fire pits, many of which have well placed logs and stumps to sit on. The sites are all far enough apart that you cannot see your neighbors and have plenty of seclusion to enjoy the woods. Dense forest surrounds the camping area which adds to the privacy and provides protection from the sun and storms that often roll through this area. A note on the storms-due to the high altitude and mountainous location, this area is frequented by strong thunderstorms and caution should be taken to avoid lightning strikes, especially on Electric Pass which was named for just this reason! Even on the sunniest day, I would not set out on this trail without proper rain gear and lots of layers in my pack. It also gets quite cold up here! We stayed in early August and it definitely felt like the air temperature was below freezing at night. Bear canisters are required for camping here and the proper precautions should be kept in mind to avoid any potentially dangerous encounters with the amazing wildlife in this area. Please also follow all of the additional wilderness regulations and leave no trace principles to keep this beautiful place in pristine condition!
Overall, I would recommend the Cathedral Lake and Electric Pass hikes to anyone visiting the Aspen area…but for those willing and able to turn this into a backpacking trip, you will be rewarded with an even more amazing backcountry camping adventure!
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