With 2x the views, this challenging alternate trail to Conundrum Hot Springs packs a punch.
Please Note: As of this year, Conundrum Springs camping requires an overnight permit. You must get a permit in order to camp at the springs. Below are details on how to tackle the hike. To read my story of how I nearly died in Maroon Bells, click here.
If you’re looking for an incredibly challenging hike, Copper Creek to Triangle Pass to Conundrum Springs is the hike for you! When you plug in “Conundrum Springs” into your GPS it will give you two options – Aspen or Crested Butte. If you’re looking for the 16-18 mile trip, go to Aspen. If you’re looking to pack on closer to 22.5 miles, start from Gothic/Crested Butte. This trip is much more enjoyable broken up – a one-night trip is honestly not worth it unless you’re a fast, avid hiker. This is important – people have died attempting this trail assuming it was the 16 mile trip. The additional 4-6 miles may not sound like much, but it is over 4000ft in elevation gain on slippery, loose rock. I personally had to give up right before reaching the top of Triangle Pass because I came down with altitude sickness.
If the warning hasn’t scared you away – great, this trail is absolutely gorgeous. You will see endless types of wildflowers, glacier melts and beautiful trees. The first 2 miles you pass sunflower lined passages that lead to epic waterfalls as well as some serious incline. Note that there will be TWO signs once you near the end of Copper Creek – once will direct you on to the lake, one will send you to the right avoiding it. You can do either! The trail to the lake eventually works its way back around to Triangle Pass. You will know you’ve reached Triangle Pass because of the rock slides. The once tree-lined path will become barren as you surface above the treeline. You will fight prickly shrubs as you begin your ascent to the ridge line. This is the toughest part of the trail. About 4-6 miles of straight incline, no shade and loose rocks – be careful. Take breaks. Drink water. To your right, you’ll pass several small glacier ponds/lakes that have formed. We actually ended up emergency camping at one of these spots right before the ridge of Triangle Pass due to a storm. Which leads me to also say – summer in the mountains means inevitable storms in the afternoon. Try to plan your hike to not have you at the top of Triangle Pass (13,500ft) when the lighting comes. Find lower ground or get to camp before.
Once you get to the top of the ridge, it’s imperative you be very careful where you step. The rocks are extra loose in this area and you can slip very easily. This is not for the faint of heart and not for those unskilled with a pack. Once you get to the top, you begin your descent into the Conundrum Springs bowl which turns into Conundrum Creek Trail. From here, you’ll hike another 3 miles to reach the hot spring!
The hike out is the exact same way you came in, after you hike about 2000ft back up and out of the bowl for 3 miles, your trip is primarily downhill the rest of the way which is really nice. Wildlife is ABUNDANT. We heard a pack of coyotes throughout the night and woke up to deer. This is bear country and a bear canister is required. As always, leave no trace. Conundrum Springs has gone permit only due to people trashing the natural spring. Don’t be that guy!
Additional things to note – there is VERY LITTLE water between Copper Creek and Triangle Pass. You cross 5-6 streams on your way before you hit the pass, be sure to fill up and have some kind of water filter with you.The elevation gain can cause altitude sickness. This trail is very rarely trafficked and the possibility of help finding you is slim. Pay attention to your body.