Though Crested Butte often comes off as just a sleepy Colorado town, it is actually a place bursting with things for visitors to do, especially if they want to spend as much time as possible in the beautiful outdoors — just as the locals do. The following five activities are not to be missed.
There are few better ways to spend time in Crested Butte than hiking the trails that abound in the area (which is also regarded as the wildflower capital of Colorado). Length and degree of difficulty vary, with some all-day treks involving as much as 1,500 feet of elevation gain and topping out at nearly 12,500 feet. In organizing our hike, Scarp Ridge Lodge secured a guide, and she texted us the night before to see what sort of adventure we preferred. Not wanting to overdo it in the high altitude, my wife and I opted for something on the benign side. And our guide obliged, taking us to the abandoned mining town of Gothic, and from there to Judd Falls. Lasting about half a day, it was the perfect choice, and the trail we took wound through stands of pines and aspens before coming to an end at the falls, which were named after Garwood Judd, a one-time saloon owner who continued to live in Gothic even after the miners left.
Travelers can enjoy a different sort of hike when they take a walking tour of historic Crested Butte. Led by knowledgeable docents and lasting a couple of hours, it starts at the old blacksmith’s shop on the corner of Elk Avenue and Fourth Street, where the town’s Mountain Heritage Museum is now located, and takes people to places that tell the story of this frontier town. One such place is the Forest Queen, an old hotel and bar that later housed a laundry on the first floor and a brothel on the level above it; or the Marshal’s Office on Second Street, a stone structure that was built in 1883 and for many years served as the town’s jail. Other stops include the Mule Barn, where the beasts that pulled the ore carts in the Big Mine were stabled, and different lodges where miners gathered to socialize with one another.
Crested Butte is regarded as one of the birthplaces of mountain biking. It began in the mid-1970s with a handful of locals one day making a rather spontaneous trip to Aspen over Pearl Pass on one-speed Schwinn bicycles they’d dubbed “klunkers” and then returning home on them after feasting on the other side of the mountain on steaks, beers and Schnapps. In time, that ride became an annual event, with klunkers eventually being replaced by bicycles that were modified for off-road riding. Then a festival came to be called Fat Tire Week (known as Crested Butte Bike Week now). Today CB is regarded as among the best mountain biking communities in the world, and the area is blessed with some 700 miles of trails.
On summer Sundays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., the main street of Crested Butte is transformed into a farmers market. Some vendors sell fresh fruits and vegetables, and others offer baked goods. One fellow in a cowboy hat roasted chiles the day I was there, and the aroma was so enticing that I bought a dozen. Another man was slow-cooking pork ribs and beef brisket in a massive smoker, and my wife and I purchased some of both — and a couple of apples from a woman in a neighboring booth.
There was no snow in the mountains during my early-fall visit. But that did not prevent me from dreaming about a return to Crested Butte in the winter months to sample the “cat skiing” offered by Scarp Ridge Lodge. A custom-designed Tucker Sno-Cat picks up skiers in front of the inn and then transports them to the tiny town of Irwin. Just 10 miles west of Crested Butte and situated nearly 10,000 feet above sea level, it generally receives three times as much snow each year as CB and boasts roughly 1,000 acres of skiable terrain on which intermediate and advanced skiers are able to shred. And they can do so knowing that Scarp Ridge employs an in-house avalanche mitigation program to ensure that the times in Irwin are as safe as they are fun. The usual routine is to take some runs in the morning and then repair to the lodge’s mountain chalet for a gourmet lunch before strapping on the skis again in the afternoon.