72 Hours in Crested Butte, Colorado

38°54'3.59" N -106°58'1.79" W

Billed as “the last great Colorado ski town,” Crested Butte (CB) has quickly gone from a backwoods mining outpost to a premier outdoor paradise. Today it is a popular destination for skiing, mountain biking, hiking, and a myriad of other adventures. We were lucky enough to spend nearly 8 months in town, both during the cold winter season (hello snow!) and during the lush spring/early summer months. Over the months we quickly found ourselves falling in love with the quirky little town - and the stunning surrounding scenery.



Below is what we believe is the perfect way to spend 72 hours in this magical mountain town.


| Day 1

Wake up nice and early and go for a refreshing morning walk. If you can, try to get out the door just as the sun is starting to peek over the eastern mountains. Once the light hits the peaks (especially Whetstone, Mt. Gothic and Red Lady/Mt. Emmons), the whole valley starts to glow in a beautiful golden haze. 100% worth the slightly chilly air.


Then head to downtown Crested Butte for a cup of warm, delicious coffee at Camp 4. It’s a local staple and one that should be acted upon at least once (or twice… or three times). Once you are all caffeinated up, start walking up Elk Avenue towards Butte Bagels, a small, adorable bagel shop in an alleyway. Our recommended bagel: the Laverna (vegan and heavenly).


Soon the time will come to check out what all the hubbub is about with mountain biking.


Crested Butte has quickly become a mountain biking hotspot and with so many trails, of various difficulty and length - not to mention drop dead gorgeous scenery, it is easy to understand why so many people flock to this otherwise out-of-the-way destination.


The Best Mountain Bike Trails

While there are dozens of trails to choose from in and around CB, below are four of our favorites. Note: all three are especially amazing during wildflower season (June-July).


\\ Lupine: this trail is not incredibly difficult (rated as medium) but oh man the flowers, especially the lupine flowers (bright purple), are absolutely STUNNING. The only thing to know about this trail is that to reach the trailhead you have to either bike from town (up the rec path), from the ski resort, have someone drop you off at the top or park at the bottom of the trail on Slate River Road and then ride up to the trailhead for there is absolutely no parking at the trailhead.


\\ Snodgrass: if you are looking for wildflowers, and also want a trail that is relatively easy (green-blue), then Snodgrass is the place to go. Located at the end of Gothic Road (before it turns to dirt), this popular trailhead is a great way to spend an afternoon exploring aspen groves and discovering all the various wildflower varieties CB has to offer.


\\ Strand Hill: you could consider this trail to be one of the more off-the-beaten-path areas to ride since it is on the far side of town in the Brush Creek area (which you reach from Highway 50). The climb up to the actual start of Strand Hill is pretty steep - but it is on a nice wide road and then a double track, plus it is absolutely drop dead gorgeous. Once you reach the trail, it is pretty much all downhill (with a few short little hills) before you reach the same dirt road you rode in on. Altogether, Strand Hill will likely take a couple of hours to complete.


\\ 401: if there was one trail in the CB valley that had the most following and fame, it would be 401. Located up the valley past the town of Gothic, this singletrack is world famous due to its insane alpine views and flowers. To reach the trailhead, park in Gothic or just past at the Judd Falls Trailhead (where you will actually end the ride) and then head up the dirt road to Schofield Pass. The ride up is about 5 miles and pretty easy. Then it is another mile or so of climbing on singletrack before the fun begins. Note that you can finish the ride early by heading out on the dirt road near Rustler's Gulch. Otherwise, the ride will end just above the road you biked up. In total, the downhill section is just under 8 miles long.


Note: if you are visiting and need to rent a bike, head to either Big Al’s Bicycle Heaven (prices ranging from $45 to $115 for a full day) or The Alpineer.



Once you are done riding, head back to town for a well-deserved lunch at Teocalli Tamales, a Mexican restaurant serving up delicious (and cheap) tacos, burritos, and of course, tamales. Either hang out at the restaurant, walk around town, or get back in the car for another exciting Crested Butte adventure.


This time head out on 6th Street, which quickly turns onto Gothic Road (also known as County Road 317). Stay on this road as it twists through Crested Butte Mountain Resort and up into the nearby valleys. Soon the road will turn to dirt (this is where it closes in the winter). From here you drive through aspen and pine forests and stay almost parallel to the East River, which you can spot down below in the open valley.


Eventually, you will see a grouping of small, wooden buildings in front of you - this is the town of Gothic, an old mining town that today plays host to the Rocky Mountain Biological Lab and a few hardy residents (4). Gothic, like many ghost towns in the area, originated due to the fervor of silver. At its peak in the late 1800s, it supported around 1,000 people - and was even visited by President Ulysses S. Grant. While it once had 200 buildings, even today you can spot a good number of them in pretty solid states (many are houses for the lab). You also can stop in, during the summer months, and grab a delicious coffee at Coffee Lab, located in the old Town Hall. All proceeds go to the lab.


With a good number of historic buildings, and absolutely stunning surroundings, making the journey up to Gothic is a great late-day adventure. Note: if you are looking to add on another adventure to the trip, consider going half a mile past Gothic and doing the Judd Falls hike.



You can also keep driving up the road towards Schofield Pass, where there was once a town (really no remnants left). The area up near the pass is really beautiful, and if you are looking for some great mountain views, then this is a good option.


Soon it will be time for a nice relaxing dinner, especially necessary before tomorrows adventure (but more on that in a second). There is no better place to load up on delicious food than at Sherpa Cafe, a chill spot in downtown Crested Butte serving up tasty Nepalese food (the veggie momos and veggie lo mein are especially good).


| Day 2


This is the big adventure day, so make sure to get up nice and early (and drink plenty of coffee). Crested Butte, while famous for having world-class mountain biking routes, also has some pretty stellar hiking trails. One of the best is the Oh-Be-Joyful Trail, a 13.9-mile hike up to Blue Lake, a beautiful mountain lake with amazing views of the surrounding peaks.


To start the hike, head out on County Road 734 (Slate River Road) towards Nicholson Lake. From the gas station in town, it is just under 6 miles to the Oh-Be-Joyful Campground, where the hike begins. Park at the campground and start-up the trail, making sure to turn left at the intersection towards Blue Lake.



Now, while this is an out & back trail (meaning you go just under 7 miles out) you can actually make it a loop. Once you get to Blue Lake, you can instead hike out on Daisy Pass Trail (404). If you do this in the right season (not that there really is a bad one in Crested Butte) you can hike along countless waterfalls, take in extraordinary mountain vistas and even spot some wildflowers or colorful fall foliage. Stay on Daisy Pass until you reach Gunsight Pass Road. From the intersection head downhill (left). Eventually, you will reach the road you drove in on, County Road 734 (Slate River Road). From there it is a relatively short walk back to the campground and your awaiting car.


Or if you are wanting to hike a peak (to get an even better view of the numerous mountain ranges that encircle the town) then consider doing Mt. Gothic. Measuring 7.5 miles (round trip), this trail is a great way to get a birds eye view of the surrounding area. To reach the trailhead, head up Washington Gulch Road (reached by heading out of CB towards the ski resort). The trailhead is called 403, and it is about 10 miles from town (the road is mostly dirt).


Mt. Gothic is a beautiful mountain to hike up, not only because of the vies, but because of the flowers and scenery in general. Just know that the last two miles or so up is quite steep, and that there are at least 2 false summits :)

 

Once you finish your hike, head back into CB for a nice hearty, delicious meal - and maybe a drink or two.


And there is no better place to reload on calories than at Secret Stash, a Crested Butte mainstay with legendary status. Settle into their outdoor seating area, order a large pizza (or two), and maybe a bottle of beer or glass of wine. You’ve earned this.


Now if you are looking to really treat yourself - and somehow have the space after Secret Stash - head down Elk Avenue to Third Bowl Homemade Ice Cream. This ice cream shop makes everything from scratch - all in small batches, all in Crested Butte. Grab a scoop and either wander around town or head back home and put your legs up and relax.


| Day 3


This is the day to have a nice chill morning. And the day to scope out what breakfast options CB has to offer.


We recommend checking out McGill’s, a locally owned breakfast spot right off Elk Avenue. Serving up all the expected fare, this restaurant is a great place to enjoy a good meal, people watch and take in the beautiful mountains that surround the town.


While your third and final day might not include any physical adventures, it does include some pretty sweet exploring. Start by heading out of Crested Butte on Highway 135. About 15 minutes in turn left at the small town of Almont, onto County Road 742 (look for the sign for Cottonwood Pass). Keep going on that road, keeping Taylor River on the left for another 45 minutes or so. Just make sure to watch out for cows!


Eventually, you will get to Taylor Park Reservoir. This is a picturesque lake and one that is perfect for summer activities. It also offers up some of the best vistas of the nearby mountains - including North Apostle, Mount Harvard and Mount Yale (the last two being part of the 14-ers club).



From the reservoir, turn onto County Road 765 right at the Taylor Park Trading Post (where you can rent cute cabins and ATVs). Now the road becomes dirt, though it is super well packed and not rocky at all. Keep on Rd 765 for another 8 miles or so.


Before long you will get to your first ghost town - the first of many on this quasi-step back in history drive. The first one is called Abbeyville and the one right next to it (not that there will be a clear deviation) is Hillerton. While there is not much left today, Hillerton at least, was once a bustling town (it even had its own newspaper). To reach the ghost towns you do need to turn off the main road (the only right turn on the road) into a small mountain neighborhood.


After checking those two out - likely seeing nothing more than a sign - you get to the town of Tincup. Now this small hamlet is actually not technically a ghost town. There are still a few summer residents and even a few businesses - including an adorable café. Tincup is a great spot for photos, capturing the Wild West spirit of Colorado’s famous (and infamous) mining past.


After Tincup, keep driving out on 765 (passing the Tincup cemetery along the way - worth checking out for sure). You’ll head deeper into the mountains from here and up a couple of switchbacks. This area is full of ghost towns - all in various states of decay. If you look closely you can see a couple faint traces of towns such as Woodstock (which was destroyed by an avalanche), Quartz, Sherrod and Trimble Stage Stop.


Soon enough you will reach Pitkin, a semi-ghost town that lies back on the paved road (as of 2019, 69 people still called the small town home). Pitkin was founded in 1879, and is said to be Colorado's first mining camp west of the Continental Divide. It was originally named Quartzville, but was renamed to honor Governor Frederick W. Pitkin. Today, there are still historic hotels you can stay the night in, grab some snacks at the general store and rent a couple UTVs to explore the rougher roads of the area.


Including heading out on Forest Road 839 which will wind around a couple more mountains, up to Hancock Pass (where it becomes FR 299) before dropping down to Hancock, another ghost town. But what really makes this area cool is the fact that it lies along the Continental Divide Trail, and if you are up for a hike, you can head north on the trail for a couple of miles and check out the Alpine Tunnel - and the nearby remnants of the similarly named ghost town.


The hike up to the now closed tunnel follows the old railway line, which was finished in 1882. While it is no longer active, it is still the highest railroad tunnel in the world: it sits at a staggering 11,523 feet above sea level. It was also the first tunnel to cross the Continental Divide, making it a true innovator of its time. While the railroad didn’t run there for very long - it closed in 1910 - it definitely made an impact on the area. Because of the treacherous conditions on nearby passes, the train was the fastest way to get mail and supplies over the Divide to towns such as Pitkin. It also was a fun adventure for locals who wanted to explore the high country.


Once you finish checking out the Alpine Tunnel (and the nearby old engine house and telegraph office) head back towards Pitkin and further onto the ghost town of Ohio City and eventually to Parlin and the awaiting Highway 50. From there turn right towards Gunnison.


Gunnison is the largest town in the county, and the one with the most services. So if you are looking for a spot to get some food, or coffee after the long drive, then make sure to check out W Café, a laid back diner, and its next door neighbor Tributary Coffee Roasters.


From Gunnison it is about a 35 minute drive back up to Crested Butte along Highway 135.

 

While Crested Butte might be known as the last great Colorado ski town, in reality it has a lot more to offer people seeking off-the-beaten-path places no matter the season. Stellar mountain biking, unforgettable hiking trails (with pretty incredible mountain views), unbeatable wildflowers and fall foliage, and plenty of Colorado history to get lost in. CB really does have everything you could want from a cozy mountain town.


So if you are looking for a unique, entirely off-the-beaten-path Colorado high country experience, we highly suggest checking out Crested Butte for at least 72 hours (heck, you could spend a week or more here and not get bored - we've been here 8 months and there is still a lot to explore). Hopefully, this itinerary helps you find some of the best hidden gems the town and area has to offer.


Let us know what your favorite thing about CB is, and what we missed!