Crested Butte is our new favorite place! Our planned three-day stay turned into six. Luckily for our trip-extending needs, we visited juuuust as the weather was starting to get cold, and our campground was empty. The weather was chilly but still warm enough to allow for covid-friendly outdoor eating and drinking, and of course as much hiking as possible.
Crested Butte is an absolute hiking (and I’m sure biking and skiing) dream. The town is so cute and everyone is friendly. We kept wondering–how do they control growth? There are no big buildings in town; the big hotels are up the hill at the ski resort. Downtown is small and quirky and full of shops and restaurants and bars. We had so much fun there.
We stayed at Crested Butte RV Resort, a small power- and water-only resort a couple miles from downtown. As we landed at the end of the season, we didn’t have water at our site. The solution to that problem, as we reported from Jackson Hole, is to eat out as many meals as possible and let other people wash your dishes.
There are many, many gorgeous places to park a car or trailer for dispersed camping outside Crested Butte, and there are highly-rated Forest Service campgrounds sprinkled all around. Do your homework before driving out the sometimes-sketchy forest roads to be sure it’s somewhere you want to pull your trailer!
The hiking near Crested Butte is INSANE. The hard part is choosing which trails to hike, but you can’t go too wrong. Maybe our experiences will help you choose your trails, and please tell us if we missed your favorites! Several roads lead into the mountains north and west of town, and the quality of the roads varies, and some are closed seasonally, so check road descriptions and conditions before heading out.
Our hikes were generally out either Kebler Pass Rd or Gothic Rd. We found both roads fine to drive on, and saw regular cars at all our trailheads–just be smart in the tight/steep/potholed/cliffside areas. Warnings: Gothic beyond Schofield Pass is only passable with a serious ATV, and we found Slate River Rd (734) climbing up to Paradise Divide to be absolutely terrifying in a big truck as the road becomes a narrow ledge hanging over the valley below. Please be careful!
Everywhere we hiked was dog-friendly! And as we always say, go early to beat the crowds.
The day we arrived we squeezed in a couple hikes just minutes from downtown. They were both nice, convenient walks without the huge wow factor of trails slightly farther afield, but we recommend them if you’re tight on time.
Brush Creek: this easy 4.2-mile out-and-back follows the creek with views of mountains, and wildflowers in summer. Watch out for bikes, and look for bald eagles!
Lower Loop: Assemble a route of whatever length you’d like mixing Lower Loop, Upper Lower Loop, Budd Trail, and Woods Walk. You’ll get mountain views across Peanut Lake, aspen forests, and more mountain bikes.
Two more nearby and longer hikes we considered but didn’t get to: 8.5 starting right in town, up to a lake with mountain views; 10.5 miles from the ski resort up to Mt Crested Butte for aspens and views
Kebler Pass Rd
Drive west of Crested Butte on Rt 12 toward Kebler Pass and you’re on your way to a zillion amazing trailheads. This road seemed like it would be fine to drive in a regular car, but if your trailhead is off the main road, you may need more clearance and AWD. Here are the trails we hiked in this area:
Scarp Ridge: This is a trailhead that you’ll want AWD for. Just a half hour drive from CB, the views from this tough trail are bananas. We considered a couple hikes along Scarp Ridge–a 7-miler and a 5-miler and chose the shorter one. You’re exposed on the ridge, so bring a windbreaker and/or sunscreen. This is a must-do hike!
Horse Ranch Park: If you’re in CB during peak foliage, go to Horse Ranch Park! This moderate 6-mile loop wanders through the largest contiguous aspen forest in Colorado. We were past prime leaf peeping but the remaining color was gorgeous. You get some mountain views too, but the aspens are the main draw here. The drive is 25 minutes from town.
Three Lakes: This trail is a relaxing 3.5-mile loop around, yes, three pretty lakes. You may not get the huge vistas, but you don’t have the associated climbs either. Our legs thanked us for the break! The drive to this trailhead from CB is the longest on this list: close to an hour.
Gothic Rd runs north out of Crested Butte, past the Mt Crested Butte ski area and toward Schofield Pass. Beyond the pass you’ll need an ATV, but a regular car can get you to the hikes below.
Rustlers Gulch: As described here, the hike is 9 miles total. But! With medium clearance you can drive a quarter mile past the parking lot to a second small parking area, and if you’re a daredevil with a high-clearance vehicle, you can drive another three-quarters mile beyond that. We parked in the main lot and regretted it as cars passed us on the hike up the road–which was the toughest mile of the hike. Whatever length your hike ends up being, it will be insanely scenic. We loved this hike. It is a half hour from town.
West Maroon Bells Pass: This 7.8 mile out-and-back with views, views, views turns around at the pass after a steeeeeep climb; if you keep going east from the pass you’ll get to Aspen! That 11-mile point-to-point requires a long shuttle, or I guess you could hike back the next day. Based on the breathtaking western half, it must be a magical hike. Google tried to kill us by sending us out Slate River Rd (734) over Paradise Divide and through Paradise Basin (you need high clearance, 4WD, and a short wheelbase to try that). Please sanity check any automated directions on these wild mountain roads! Driving out Gothic Rd, it’s about a 45-minute drive to the trailhead. This hike is amazing; we barely preferred Rustlers Gulch.
To do: The beertender at Eldo recommended Trail 401 for hiking. Warning! 401 is a famous and extremely popular mountain biking trail. If you want to hike it, go when the ground is wet and the bikes aren’t out, as suggested here.
Washington Gulch Rd
Washington Gulch Rd is less well-groomed than Kebler Pass and Gothic; you’ll want a higher-clearance vehicle for the deep ruts in places.
Trail 403: You can do the full 7.5-mile out-and-back between Gothic Rd and Washington Gulch Rd, or you can start on the Washington Gulch side and just hike up to the overlook for a total of about 4 miles. That’s what we did, and it was fantastic. If you’re looking for a big bang for your hiking buck, do what we did. The trailhead is a half-hour from CB.
To do: Our neighbors at the campground told us on our last day that we absolutely MUST hike to the summit of Gothic Mountain, a very strenuous 7.5-mile hike. Next time! The first part of the hike goes up 403 to the overlook and then you climb, climb, climb to the top of the mountain.
We ate and drank a lot in CB to fuel all the hiking! Due to Covid, we focused on restaurants and bars with outdoor seating or just got carryout. CB seems to be a very dog-friendly town and Bugsy was welcomed on all the patios we visited.
Butte Bagels: these bagels ended up being our favorite food in CB! Breakfast for the drive, lunch for the trail… SO delicious. The saucy sandwiches were a little messy to eat after riding in a backpack for a few hours, but YUM. Go early and expect to wait in line, or call in your order for pickup.
Montanya Distillery: Our second favorite food was bowls from Montanya Distillery (and our favorite drinks were from there too!). We were on the hunt for healthy bowls for dinner and Montanya’s options were perfect.
Public House: Drawn by the spacious outdoor seating, we had lunch at Public House when we first got to CB. The food was good but on the pricier side. Get the burrata if it’s on the menu! The interior looks cool, like a modern saloon, for when we can hang out indoors again.
Pitas in Paradise: We’re always on the hunt for healthy salads and bowls. Carryout rice bowls from Pitas in Paradise were tasty and filling. Their patio looked fun for outdoor dining.
Bonez: More bowls to go from Bonez! And guac. My salad was served over an open face quesadilla! Genius! They have fish tacos on the menu, but I couldn’t resist the quesadilla salad, add fish. Sort of a fish taco. My dinner was fab; J thought his bowl was too liquidy and didn’t finish it.
Montanya Distillery: The food is delicious and the cocktails are super fun at this female-owned rum distillery! We sat on the patio and people-watched and sipped creative cocktails on more than one day.
The Dogwood: For a long list of interesting cocktails and two outdoor areas to choose from (and a really neat miner’s cabin for post-Covid), we recommend The Dogwood.
To do: someone recommended Cocktails at The Princess
The Eldo Brewpub: Eldo Brewing is the only brewery in Crested Butte with a taproom. We thought the IPA was good. The only outdoor space they have is a tiny balcony. We didn’t try the food.
Public House: I mentioned Public House under Food; another reason we targeted it is because they have Irwin Brewing beers on tap. Irwin, the other local brewery, doesn’t have a tasting room, and the person we spoke to at the brewery directed us to Public House. We really liked the Irwin beers we tried there!
Brick Oven Pizzeria: The beers we had at Brick Oven Pizzeria weren’t anything special, but the big, sunny patio was! On a nice day it’s a great spot to spend some time, and the pizza and burgers that walked past us looked yummy.
Coffee and Tea
I drink coffee, J drinks tea and loves a matcha latte, so we tend to look for coffee places with lots of drink options. Rumors suited us both (and Bugsy) nicely and has outdoor seating. T-Bar, a tea house, has some benches out front, but is more of a carryout kind of place.
We love love loved Crested Butte and can’t wait to return!