After a handful of challenging hikes in Crested Butte during the Wildflower Festival in mid-July, I picked an easy one Friday, Judd Falls Trail. This short, out-and-back 2.2-mile hike was perfect to get Annie a little exercise before I completed my “on the road” chores such as laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning VANgo and the like.
Getting to Judd Falls Trail
The Judd Falls Trail is located in the Gunnison National Forest about 8-9 miles outside of town. Part of the drive is on a dirt road, so it takes about 20 minutes to reach the trailhead, lush with wildflowers. In fact, practically the entire drive on Gothic Road and FS 317 is lined with meadows awash with every shade of yellow and patches of purple, white, and orange.
While there are turnouts at the beginning, as the drive continues, through the intermittent aspen groves and meadows, one must admire nature’s beauty from afar. Additionally, portions of this area is being studied by the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL), so signs posted warn to, “Keep Out.”
I’ve never heard of RMBL, but it was established in 1928 in the ghost town of Gothic. The research station attracts many of the world’s top ecologists and evolutionary biologists. Located in a meadow of wildflowers, I can see why! Had I known there was a job to study wildflowers because plant DNA is similar to human DNA, perhaps I would have found a different calling. Oh well, I’m retired from my career now, so I’ll just admire them.
The Hike to Judd Falls
- Distance: 2.2 miles
- Type: Easy, out-and-back
- Elevation Gain: 462 ft
- Other: Dogs Allowed
- All Trails Link
The area near the Judd Falls Trail is popular, thus the small dirt parking area includes a pit toilet, which were not Gothic Mountain, Scarp Ridge, or Snodgrass Trail from Washington Gulch, my recent wildflower hikes in Crested Butte. It’s always nice to know about the potential amenities at the trailhead.
To begin the hike, trekkers can either head up the road or meander along the single-track trail through the field of SPECTACULAR wildflowers which soon meets up with the rocky road in an aspen grove. Since I’m not the biggest fan of road hikes, I of course took the single-track trail as long as possible. That said, following the road for just a quick stretch of the legs, thereafter, was fine. Luckily, the trail turns back into a single-track toward the end and provides magnificent views of the Gothic Nature Area.
The trail culminates at a vista overlooking Judd Falls. Judd Falls is named for Garwood Judd who arrived in Gothic during the short-lived silver rush in 1880. He worked in the real estate business, owned a saloon, and held several elected positions. As the miners left, he became a caretaker for absentee owners and became known as the “man who stayed.”
There is a bench with his name located on the small overlook with a view of the two-tiered falls. After enjoying the lovely wildflowers at the start of the trail, I hoped Judd Falls would not be anti-climactic. Though in the distance, the powerful falls did not disappoint!
Judd Falls Trail reminded me a perfect hike for tourists, short and easy, featuring flowers and a waterfall. What more can you ask for when visiting Crested Butte? There were even a few interpretive signs along the way. Fortunately, the signs were limited and spread out, so it didn’t feel too developed despite wildlife cameras and scientific studies lining the trail, including a weather station. In all, it was rather interesting! I suppose I’m a scientist at heart.
While I wouldn’t pick Judd Falls as a rugged, National Forest hike, for a quick outdoor jaunt, its worth a visit. And the icing on the cake was seeing a fox cross FS 317 as I headed back to town. ETB