“Crested Butte is so far away.”
That was always my excuse for not making the four and a half hour drive from Denver to this small mountain ski town. A couple weeks ago, I finally “sucked it up” and hit the road to “Colorado’s last great ski town.” I won’t lie, it was a long trip. By the time we reached Gunnison, I was itching to get out of the car, but we still had half an hour to go. I was so anxious, I almost missed the “Welcome to Crested Butte” sign (I’m a sucker for those).
All my restlessness melted away as we rolled past the brightly painted buildings and aged wooden homes twinkling with Christmas lights. I was instantly transported back to another time, when small towns were sizeable and life was less complicated.
Some Background on Crested Butte
Crested Butte is located in the East River Valley, about 30 minutes north of Gunnison. Native Americans of the Ute tribe occupied the area for many years, usually during the summer months. European explorers arrived in the mid-1800s, and the region soon filled with several small mining municipalities, mostly focusing on silver and coal supplies.
Crested Butte was one of them. Despite a decline in silver mining, Crested Butte managed to stay afloat thanks to stability from the ranching industry. Still, the town struggled, especially when the coal mines closed. It wasn’t until the ski area was built on Crested Butte Mountain in 1962 that the town began to thrive again.
Today, Crested Butte is a year-round mountain destination. It’s known for its skiing and snowboarding terrain, as well as many other winter activities. In the summer, mountain biking is the activity of choice (Crested Butte is the home of the Fat Tire bike). Fishing is also a common practice among locals and visitors. If you’re a nature buff, then Crested Butte definitely needs to be on your list. It’s the wildflower capital of Colorado.
The Slopes at Crested Butte Mountain Resort
The main purpose of my visit was to snowboard at Crested Butte Mountain Resort. My first reaction: There’s no one here! That’s not an insult. In fact, that’s a good quality for a ski resort to have, especially in Colorado. The ski resorts located along the I-70 corridor (Keystone, Copper, Arapahoe Basin, Loveland, etc.) get the most crowds. This is due, in large part, to their proximity to Denver. As a result, you’re constantly battling long lift lines and hundreds of people on the slopes. This year, it’s particularly bad, since the snow has not been falling as much as we’d like. Fewer open runs means even more people on the same slopes. But this wasn’t the case at Crested Butte.
Clearly, my aversion for long drives is shared with others. Crested Butte was practically empty compared to some of the other locations I’d recently visited. There was never a wait to get on the chair lifts, and we often had runs to ourselves. The skiing conditions were pretty good, considering the lack of natural snow. There were a few icy spots here and there, but the team at Crested Butte has done a good job with man-made powder.
Crested Butte has 1,547 skiable acres, spread across 121 trails. When we visited, only a handful of runs were open. Still, I enjoyed my experience on the mountain, and would love to ride more of the trails when the terrain becomes available.
Plus, who wouldn’t love seeing this on the mountain?
Comfortable Accommodations: Where We Stayed in Crested Butte
Our home for the weekend was the Grand Lodge. A raging fire, log wood decor and soft, cozy couches welcomed us as we entered the lobby. It was a quintessential mountain scene, and I ate it up.
After a quick, seamless check-in, we found ourselves in a spacious king suite with a great view of Crested Butte mountain. Our room consisted of a bedroom and living room area, and a convenient kitchenette. There was plenty of room to store our ski and snowboard gear, without compromising our relaxation space. And the bed? I don’t think I’ve ever slept on a hotel mattress this comfortable. (Well, maybe I have, but I’d really have to wrack my brain to think of one.)
The hotel is equipped with an on-site restaurant, a souvenir shop, a fitness center, and a heated pool and over-sized outdoor hot tub. We spent the last night of the weekend soaking our muscles in the Jacuzzi, gazing up at the clear night sky.
Another bonus to staying at the Grand Lodge: It’s a five minute walk to the ski lifts. How convenient is that?
Exploring the Streets of Crested Butte
Remember those colorful buildings I mentioned earlier? The best place to admire them is on Elk Avenue. This is the main thoroughfare in downtown Crested Butte. It’s where you’ll find several of the historic houses that date back to the town’s early days. Many of the structures have been re-purposed, now housing boutique shops, restaurants, bars and local businesses.
The Crested Butte Mountain Heritage Museum was once Tony’s Conoco, the longest running business in town starting as a blacksmith shop in 1883. It’s the best place to discover a little more about this unique mountain town. Learn about the history of mountain biking in CB, or dive into the background of the coal mining industry. You can even take a historic walking tour of the town, where a knowledgeable guide will point out significant homes and buildings.
We spent an afternoon strolling Elk Avenue and the nearby streets. A few of the stores caught our attention, and we ventured inside to pick up some last minute holiday gifts for our families – and a couple mementos for ourselves. Everyone we encountered greeted us with a wide smile and a warm welcome. It’s not everyday you meet store owners and employees that go out of their way to make you feel at home. But in Crested Butte, it’s certainly the norm.
All along the street, the bright buildings were practically begging to be photographed, and I happily obliged. And amid the blue, green, yellow and purple sidings, I discovered some distinctive touches that had me snapping away for hours.
Crested Butte’s Happy, Hospitable Locals
If you’ve been reading my blog long enough, you know I always seek out the local craft brewery everywhere I go. In Crested Butte, that’s The Eldo Brewery and Taproom.
When we arrived, we expected to find a packed house (as most craft breweries in Colorado draw a decent crowd). To our surprise, the place was pretty empty. A few couples sat at the bar, sipping on drinks and watching football. I figured since it was a little hidden, maybe fewer people knew about it.
We grabbed two seats at the end of the bar. Within a few seconds, the bartender swooped over and gave us a cheery welcome. She handed us some menus and gave us a rundown of the tap list. She was happy to give us a taste of some brews before we committed to a full pint.
A few more folks strolled in, each of them giving the bartender a friendly wave or a hug. She seemed to know all of them by name and drink order. A gentleman next to me struck up a conversation with my husband about football. Before we knew it, we were in a two-hour-long discussion that covered all manner of topics. We soon discovered that this was a popular local hangout, and most patrons were residents of Crested Butte as opposed to tourists. That’s not to say tourists never come to The Eldo (we were proof of that). But compared to some of the other restaurants along Elk Avenue, it certainly had a less commercial vibe. What it is known for is it’s music scene. The Eldo brings in local bands, as well as groups from around the country. As the hour grew later, more people arrived to grab seats for the show.
We quickly made friends with dozens of locals, sharing stories and inside jokes as if we’d known each other for years. The Eldo is the embodiment of Crested Butte. The people are friendly and treat each other with kindness and respect. The mentality of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” is commonplace, but people don’t offer a favor to get something in return. Rather, they do it because they want to. It’s a community, there for support when someone needs it.
Overview of Crested Butte
The drive was my biggest deterrent to visiting Crested Butte. Now that I’ve been, I’m sad I didn’t experience this magical town sooner. It’s personality shines through in its history and architecture, as well as its people. It’s mountain vibes won me over – and the lack of crowds on the slopes didn’t hurt either. I’ll definitely be back for another visit soon. And maybe I’ll get a taste of Crested Butte in the summer.
If You Go
Driving – From Denver, take highway 285 to Buena Vista. In the summer, you can turn right onto route 24 and head up Cottonwood Pass for some stunning views of the Collegiate peaks. Then hop onto highway 135 for a short drive to Crested Butte. In the winter, Cottonwood Pass is closed. After you pass by Buena Vista, veer right on to highway 50 over Monarch Pass, which leads into Gunnison. Then turn right onto highway 135 for a 30 minute drive to Crested Butte.
Flying – Crested Butte has two regional airports. The Gunnison-Crested Butte Regional Airport is about 30-minutes away by car. The Montrose Regional Airport is about 90 minutes away. Both are served by major airlines, but only a few cities in the U.S. have direct flights there. It’s usually best to get a connecting flight through Denver International Airport.
There are several lodging options around Crested Butte. Here are just a few options depending on where you want to stay.
- The Grand Lodge Crested Butte (6 Emmons Loop, Mt. CB)
- The Lodge at Mountaineer Square (620 Gothic Road, Mt. CB)
- Elevation Hotel (500 Gothic Road, Mt. CB)
In the town of Crested Butte
Getting Around: It’s easy to get around Crested Butte by foot, if you’re staying in town. If you’re staying up at the resort, there’s a free shuttle that runs down to Elk Avenue. Driving is also an option, but I recommend the shuttle if you prefer not to deal with parking.
Winter – downhill skiing and snowboarding, snowshoeing, winter hiking (snow conditions permitting), dog sledding, Nordic and cross country skiing, snowmobiling, and sledding.
Summer – fishing, hiking, mountain biking, nature walks, camping, golfing, horseback riding, rafting and kayaking, rock climbing, and stand up paddle boarding.
Crested Butte is filled with great eateries and bars, serving up cuisine of all kinds. We only scratched the surface of what there is to savor. Here’s a few recommendations to get you started.
- Camp 4 Coffee (402 1/2 Elk Ave., Crested Butte)
- Niky’s Mini Donuts (327 Elk Ave., Crested Butte)
- The Eldo (215 Elk Ave., Crested Butte)
- Ryce Asian Bistro (120 Elk Ave., Crested Butte)
Have you ever been to Crested Butte? What did you love about it? Please share in the comments!
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A big thank you to Crested Butte Mountain Resort and AAA Colorado for hosting me and my husband for the weekend. All reviews, opinions and photos are my own.
Also, this post includes affiliate links. If you use them, I may earn a small commission. This helps to pay for costs associated with running Hops on the Road.