HERE ARE A COUPLE OF THINGS WE LEARNED AFTER SPENDING 8 AMAZING MONTHS IN THE COLORADO MOUNTAIN TOWN OF CRESTED BUTTE.
We were lucky enough to spend the last 8 months in the beautiful mountain town of Crested Butte (CB) in western Colorado. From October to June (with a month-long break/road trip in April) we lived, worked and played in and around the town. After packing up all our stuff and planning our next adventure (hello South America), we finally got around to reflecting on our time. These are the eight things we learned after living in Crested Butte:
8 THINGS WE LEARNED AFTER LIVING IN CRESTED BUTTE
\\ Summer is better than winter…. at least for us
We are starting with possibly the most controversial idea on the list - the idea that summer in CB is better than winter. Now a quick disclaimer: we have always known that we were more summer people long before we moved out to Crested Butte. So the fact that we think summer is better than winter might not be the biggest surprise.
In truth, we loved the winter season in Crested Butte. The snow was beautiful, the skiing was amazing and the overall feeling of coziness in CB was great. Don’t get us wrong, we probably wouldn’t want to spend a chilly, snowy winter anywhere else. But in the end, the cold and the darkness really did a number on us.
So once summer started to roll around and the temperatures started to rise and the sun stayed out later, we just felt ourselves feeling much happier and more energized overall. And then the trails started to clear and become accessible and our happiness totally skyrocketed. Because at the end of the day, CB is one of the best spots in Colorado - and maybe in the western USA - for outdoor activities during the summer (see more below). So while the skiing was awesome (no argument there) and the snow was beautiful, it just didn't compare to the long evenings spent outside biking through aspen groves and wildflowers.
\\ The title “Wildflower Capital of Colorado” is legit
We had seen the signs and heard the stories, but it wasn’t until late May that we finally saw it with our own eyes: the incredibly colorful array of wildflowers all around the town of Crested Butte.
Honestly, in some instances it felt unreal - like a painting or a movie scene. Lush green fields interlaced with large fields of yellow, purple, red, pink and blue flowers. On many occasions, we would just have to stop mid-bike ride, run or hike and just marvel at the drop dead gorgeous scene. As one person put it, it was like your very own garden out on the mountain - just a rainbow array of colors and shapes.
Some of our favorite flowers were the bright purple lupines, the red shooting star flowers and the vibrant yellow sunflowers.
If you are looking to spot your own Garden of Eden out in CB we suggest adventuring on the Lupine Trail (mountain biking and hiking), Teddy’s Trail near Snodgrass and Deer Creek Trail near the town of Gothic.
\\ It is not as touristy as you might expect
Growing up in Colorado, we had heard all about Crested Butte so when we moved there we half expected it to be incredibly busy with tourists. And while we should put a disclaimer in that we were there during Covid, in truth, the town never felt like it was overrun with people. Even when Covid regulations were lifted and summer was in full swing the number of people, especially in the downtown area, was always very manageable.
This was also true on the more popular trails, for both hiking and mountain biking. Even on the 401 mountain bike trail, likely one of the most famous trails in the area, the number of people was not crazy at all. We did the trail on a beautiful Sunday morning and by the end, we had seen only five people on the trail (including near the end at the more popular Judd Falls trail).
So if you are worried about having to deal with loads of people out on the trails, we promise it won't be a problem. The amount of people was never insane, and even during the weekends you could still easily find a quiet spot to explore in the mountains.
\\ The access to trails is top-notch
In the same vein, the access to outdoor adventures in Crested Butte is truly top-notch. In fact, we might go as far as to say that CB has the best access to outdoor adventures as anywhere in Colorado.
From the middle of downtown CB, you can head out on singletrack hiking and mountain biking trails in all directions. Or you can hop on the recreation path and ride all the way up to the ski resort (and beyond) and find even more trails - including some of our favorites, Lupine and Snodgrass.
And in the winter, the amount of cross country ski trails - many of which are groomed and very well-maintained - is insane. Plus, you also have access to an amazing ski resort and backcountry ski areas.
Honestly, if you are looking for amazing outdoor adventures and you don't want to drive for hours to find them, Crested Butte is a great spot to base yourself. You could probably spend a whole summer in the town and still not ride every trail in the vicinity - there is just too much to explore!
\\ The town is very young and very active
One thing we learned right away is that CB is full of young, active people. We don’t know why this was so shocking to us but for some reason it was. But once we started to think about it, we realized it totally made sense. CB is an exciting, highly active area so of course it attracts people looking for that - just like us. Plus, the fact that there is not only a college nearby (Western Colorado University in the town of Gunnison) but also a ski resort, summer guiding services and a hip downtown/food scene, really draws a lot of people in.
It only took us a couple of weeks before we were meeting people that will likely be long-term friends. And that is mainly because a lot of those people have similar aspirations, goals and lifestyles as us: the love of adventure, the great outdoors, a more environmentally conscious disposition, etc.
If you have similar values and ideas and are looking for a spot to make lifelong friends, then spending a good amount of time in CB is a great idea.
\\ Happiness is more important than work.
It didn't take us long to realize that CB is all about happiness. For example, many of the people who live in the area arrived not because there was a high likelihood of making a ton of money. No, instead it was the ability to spend time outside in nature, and truly enjoy life to the fullest.
The work-life balance is really, really strong in CB. People don’t live to work, instead they 100% work to live. And man no matter the season the locals live it up. Skiing, mountain biking, hiking, trail running, SUP-ing. People here just love to be outside doing any and all activities year-round. And that feeling is totally pervasive. You aren’t expected to work 50+ hours, in fact, you would likely be in the minority if you did. Even when working on the mountain at the ski resort, one of the biggest incentives was to take ski breaks during your shift. Luke probably took lunchtime ski breaks 99% of his workdays. And that was totally okay - and even recommended.
Overall happiness is a huge driving force in Crested Butte, and not just in the younger crowd but in the older generations as well. So if you are wanting to find a town that really focuses on a strong work-life balance, then working in CB (even as a remote worker) is a great idea and one that your physical and mental health will thank you for.
So that was all of the good lessons we learned during our 8-month stint in Crested Butte. And while overall our time in the town was absolutely amazing, there were a couple of things that weren't exactly great.
\\ Working at a ski resort is great if you don’t mind the bad pay
We had both always wanted to spend a winter season as a “ski bum.” So after realizing we couldn’t travel internationally last winter due to Covid, we decided to finally do it - which is actually how we found ourselves in CB in the first place.
We both got jobs at the ski resort (Crested Butte Mountain Resort) and vowed to ski as much as possible (and we did). But after a couple of months at the resort both of us realized that this was not the job for us. Now don’t get us wrong, the people we met at our jobs and the free ski pass was amazing. But the pay, and in Madalyne’s case the hours, was not worth it in the end.
Instead, we would suggest either having a remote job and then paying for your pass (which is expensive, we know) or working at a place in downtown Crested Butte where they sometimes help pay for your ski pass. Don't get us wrong, the free ski pass was an amazing perk - and probably 90% of the reason people work at a ski resort in the first place - but when you factor in other things (the pay, the hours) it doesn’t really seem to be worth it (at least in our perspective).
Note: we did take full advantage of our ski passes, which also gave us free access to other Vail Resorts, including Breckenridge and Telluride. Read our full breakdown of the best ski resorts in Colorado here.
\\ Having to drive to Gunnison for groceries kind of sucks
CB was the first place we lived that you actually had to make a plan to head to the grocery store. Unlike in most other towns, Crested Butte doesn’t have a very large grocery store. While there is a smaller market - Clark’s - it is a bit more expensive (about $1 extra per item) and the selection is not as diverse.
Because of that we would have to set aside one afternoon a week to head down to Gunnison to stock up on groceries. The drive, though quite pretty, would cost us at least 45 minutes each way. And that doesn’t include the time it takes to shop at City Market (or Safeway), run a couple of errands - like dropping off recycling or grabbing quarters for the laundry machine - and maybe filling up on gas.
And after checking off all of our errands and then making the drive back up to CB, our afternoon would pretty much be gone and we would be too tired to want to go do anything else like go for a bike ride. And this negative would only be magnified in the winter when we would usually be doing the drive in the dark, or worse, in a snowstorm.
Now, in the grand scheme of things this was not a huge issue for us. But after a few too many times of not getting all the ingredients we needed for a recipe or having to say no to plans because we had to do a "Gunny Run," the overall situation started to kind of wear on us.
We absolutely LOVED our 8 months in Crested Butte and definitely would not trade them for anything. Even though living in CB was Plan B (Plan A was Argentina), in the end, we completely fell in love with the small mountain town and 100% understand why so many people love the area and choose to settle down there.
The last eight months will always have a special place in our hearts, not only because it allowed us to have some amazing adventures, but it also gave us the opportunity to make some great friends - some of which will hopefully be lifelong friendships.
If you are looking for something similar then we honestly cannot recommend CB enough. Every time we stepped outside our door we realized just how magical the town really was. And even though we have some awesome adventures coming up, we are dearly going to miss this amazing place.
72 HOURS IN CRESTED BUTTE | The best things to do if you are spending a long weekend in CB
72 HOURS IN ESTES PARK | The best things to do if you are spending a long weekend in Estes
72 HOURS IN PAGOSA SPRINGS | The best things to do if you are spending a long (winter) weekend in Pagosa
THE BEST SCENIC DRIVES FROM ESTES PARK | The best mountain drives from the town of Estes Park
THE BEST COLORADO MOUNTAIN TOWNS FOR A FALL ADVENTURE | Including some lesser known fall destinations