38°54'3.59" N -106°58'1.79" W
Billed as “the last great Colorado ski town,” Crested Butte 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.
Here is how to spend 72 wonderful, off-the-beaten-path hours in the wildflower capital of Colorado.
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, the whole valley starts to glow in a beautiful golden haze. 100% worth the slightly chilly air (depending on when you are there).
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 (the David is especially good).
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, it is easy to understand why so many people flock to this otherwise out-of-the-way destination.
Either ride your own bike or rent one at Big Al’s Bicycle Heaven (prices ranging from $45 to $115 for a full day). Once you have your trusted metal stead, head out of town on Highway 135 to the Strand Hill Trail, right off Brush Creek Road. This loop is 7.5 miles with 80% of it being on singletrack. It is rated as intermediate to difficult, and if you want to make it longer, there is the option to add on 3 miles on Farris Creek Road (intermediate) or 2.2 miles on Brush Creek Trail (easy to intermediate). OR if you are really feeling like a big adventure, we recommend taking on the entire Deer Creek Loop - which is 28.9 miles with over 3,000 feet of elevation gain (but talk about some stellar views…).
Once you are done riding Strand Hill, 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.
Head out on 6th Street, which quickly turns into 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. You’ll 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: you have reached 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). With a good number of historic buildings, and the stunning surroundings, this is a great late-day adventure that is under a half hour from town.
And if you aren’t too tired from biking, you can also explore some of the trails nearby. Including, Judd Falls and Copper Creek, the latter of which will eventually lead you to Copper Lake and on to the Maroon Bells area (along the East Maroon Trail). You can also keep driving up the road towards Schofield Pass, and the very famous 401 mountain bike trail. Or turn around at Gothic and head back to Crested Butte for some relaxation before heading out to dinner.
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 (and carb-heavy) food than Marchitelli’s Gourmet Noodle Restaurant, a laid-back Italian spot near the main street.
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 bike routes, also has some pretty stellar hiking trails. One of the best is 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.
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 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.
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 spot 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 (there may or may not be a 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 ATV’s). Now the road becomes dirt, and a bit rough - this is a popular 4-wheeling spot in the summer and snowmobile park in the winter. Keep on 765 as it passes more cabins and rental spots. Soon the road will meander to the right, with Willow Creek running parallel to it.
Before long you will get to your first ghost towns - 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).
After checking those two out - likely seeing nothing more than a sign - you get to Tin Cup. Now this town is actually not technically a ghost town. There are still a few summer residents and even a few businesses - including a café. Tin Cup is a great spot for photos, capturing the Wild West spirit of Colorado’s famous (and infamous) mining past.
After Tin Cup, keep driving out on 765 (passing the Tin Cup cemetery along the way). 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 this 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 here and not get bored). 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!