Things to do in Crested Butte
I have visited Colorado almost every year for the past 20 years, and even lived in the state at one point, yet for some reason I never visited the town of Crested Butte – until this past summer. How it went under the radar I don’t know, but I’m so glad I finally discovered this precious little town.
Tiny in size – there’s about 1000 year-round residents – and fairly remote (about a 4 ½ hour drive from Denver), Crested Butte is tucked away into the Rocky Mountains of south/central Colorado. Its size and remoteness are what makes this town so special. Not built up and big like some of the other CO ski resorts, Crested Butte has no chain stores, no stop lights, and no high-rise buildings.
Originally settled as a coal mining town in the late 1800’s, it was one of few towns in the area to weather the storm when production came to a slow in the 1950’s, and continue to flourish. The ski resort, Crested Butte Mountain Resort, opened in the 1960’s and is considered one of the best ski mountains in the state.
Things to do in Crested Butte
Like many Colorado mountain towns, Crested Butte is a four-season town, attracting visitors in both winter and summer. People come here during the winter months to go both downhill and cross country skiing, snow shoeing, fat biking (bikes with extra fat tires that allow you to bike on snow), snow mobiling, and more. Cross-country skiing, also known as Nordic skiing, is huge here as there are over 60 miles of Nordic tracks. The mountain resort itself has 15 lifts and 121 trails, ranging from beginner to expert. It definitely leans more toward advanced than beginner, and is a steep mountain. Experienced skiers love Crested Butte.
The summertime is just as popular with loads of outdoor activities to do. Crested Butte is famous for its mountain biking trails – there are over 750 miles of trails – so if you’re a mountain biker you must visit. Hiking is another extremely popular activity, again with so many gorgeous trails to choose from in the forests, along lakes, through valleys and steams, and of course those that traverse in and around the Butte itself. The entire area is stunning, and you really can’t go wrong with whichever trail you choose.
We asked a local what she thought would be the best trail if we could only go hiking on one day (with the kids), and she recommended the Lower Loop trail. The reason being, she said, is that for one it’s beautiful, and it’s also very accessible from town (the trail head is about a 2-minute drive on the outskirts of town) and therefore is a great trail to see the area and experience what many of the locals do. Indeed, every inch of this trail was gorgeous and the photos speak for themselves.
Crested Butte is known as the “wildflower capital” of the country, with blooming peaking mid-July. There is a wildflower festival (Crested Butte Flower Fest), with all sorts of events, and it’s another reason to come in the summer. Summertime is a great time to visit – besides hiking and biking, there’s horseback riding, white river rafting, kayaking, camping and pretty much any outdoor activity you can think of.
The Crested Butte Mountain Resort is not only open in winter – it’s a big summer destination as well. You can take the chairlift up the mountain and either hike or bike down. There’s the Adventure Center, with activities like bungee jumping, miniature golf, and a climbing wall. We did not spend time on the mountain, as we were limited on time, but if you have the time and you have kids, it makes for a fun day activity.
Then, of course, about a 5-10 minute drive from the actual mountain is downtown Crested Butte itself. This is where we spent a lot of our time, as the setting is divine. The main street, Elk Avenue, is as festive as they come, with colorful buildings reminiscent of its mining past (the buildings that is..perhaps not the colors!), lots of great restaurants, breweries and pubs, locally owned shops, and decorated outdoor seating. From practically every angle, the butte looms in the distance, and the entire town feels abuzz 24/7. You can’t help but feel the energy and happiness in the air – Crested Butte is a very happy place!
I tend to not always write about restaurants in a town or city, as they can often change, but some restaurants we really enjoyed were Bonez for Mexican (excellent margaritas and fabulous atmosphere and food) and Secret Stash and Brick Oven for pizza. They all have fun outdoor seating and a lively vibe. Nicki’s is a popular donut spot, and Third Bowl is awesome for home-made ice cream.
The best time to hang out in downtown Crested Butte, in my opinion, is late afternoon/early evening, after you’ve spent a day outside exercising all day and are ready for that post-work-out beer. The sky is aglow with the setting sun, the butte surrounded by pinks and oranges, and you feel you’ve earned that drink. Drink with a view, I should say, and the town bustling with people winding their day down.
As for lodging, there are various options, including hotels, motels, b & b’s and home rentals, but one place I’d like to specifically mention is Scarpe Ridge Lodge, conveniently located in downtown. It can be rented out during the winter time, and during the summer it functions more like an upscale B & B. It’s a gorgeous property – in an understated way – and I will be following up this post with a dedicated post on it. If you you are interested in staying there, please contact me.
Crested Butte is a very special place, and you can’t help but fall in love with the authenticity and spirit of the town, and the absolutely stunning surrounding area.