History of Crested Butte
Crested Butte, once home to the Ute Indians, became a thriving coal mining town in the 1870s. The coal mining survived many setbacks and lasted until 1952. Thereafter, less industries relied on coal and the railroad removed its tracks. Consequently, Crested Butte dwindled in size until 1958.
In such year, Texan Hubert Winston Smith established the Law Science Academy, an organization which provided educational programs for doctors, lawyers, and their families during the summer. It resulted in the first large attraction of tourists.
Seven years later, in 1960, Dick Eflin and Fred Rice opened a ski area and added Colorado’s first gondola a few years later. Today, Crested Butte continues to be a popular ski destination.
Located at 8,885 feet near the Gunnison National Forest and Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area, Crested Butte also offers plenty of summer time activities. Below are some things to in Crested Butte.
Take a Hike
Obviously with every mountain town, there are many trails. Most of the trails in Crested Butte require driving on a dirt road, though many are still accessible by two-wheel drive. A couple, however, are conveniently located in town or are reachable on a paved road.
Green Lake Trail is 8.5 miles and begins at the Nordic Center. It features evergreen forests, aspen groves, wildflowers, and ultimately a beautiful lake. While it is a little long for the average tourist and a portion of the trail follows a private road, the lake at the end is worth the effort.
A shorter and easier hike may be found at Long Lake Trailhead is located just outside of town on the way to the ski mountain. The turn to Long Lake is at Washington Gulch Road and the parking area is located at the cattle guard, just as the pavement ends.
The posted sign claims the 0.3 mile hike takes 20 minutes each way. I’d have to disagree. It took me six minutes to climb the switchbacks through the forest to the appropriately named lake. Thereafter, just strolling the LONG northeast shore takes a good 20 minutes one-way. It is a nice stop, especially during wildflower season.
For other alternatives, you may like my post, Wildflower Hikes in Crested Butte.
A lot of people come to Crested Butte for the mountain biking. One popular trail is Snodgrass. Others enjoy riding up Washington Gulch Road. I personally, am not a mountain biker, but did enjoy biking the paved trail from Mount Crested to the Town of Crested Butte. The 4.6 mile route, one-way, climbs a few hills of wildflowers and weaves through wetlands.
It may be accessed across the street from the Elevation Hotel and Spa on the mountain, or from Teocalli Avenue among other places in town. Bikes may be rented on Mount Crested Butte or in town. See a list here.
Admire the Wildflowers
There is a reason Crested Butte calls itself the wildflower capital of Colorado. The wildflowers are magnificent, and they are everywhere (at least in mid-July)! Two of the best scenic drives to take for wildflowers are on Gothic Road (paved) to FS 317 (not paved) and Washington Gulch Road (not paved).
If you don’t want to drive on the dirt road, you don’t have to, as plenty of wildflowers grace the hillside along Gothic Road. That said, you can drive several miles on both dirt roads before needing a high clearance vehicle.
Ride a Horse
WOW! Seeing the horses wander off through the hillsides of wildflowers off Gothic Road will make anyone want to take a ride. The scenery is magnificent and for those who don’t wish to hike, riding a horse might be a good alternative. Fantasy Ranch offers trail rides on Snodgrass Mountain or wilderness adventure tours. The fees and hours vary. Check their website for more information.
Stroll the Historic Town and Market
The streets of Crested Butte are quite nice. Elk St is the main avenue which is lined with boutique stores and restaurants. If that isn’t enough, visit downtown during the farmers market held on Sunday mornings from 9am to 2pm.
Not only does the market feature fresh vegetables, amazing baked bread, and other food items, it also has a small art market. Grab a breakfast taco and take a look.
Listen to Music
During the summers, Crested Butte features two music series. The Alpen Glow series is on Mondays in July from 5:30 to 7:30 pm the Center for the Arts. When I visited Crested Butte in July, I sat on the grass lawn and listened to the Easy Jim, a Grateful Dead Tribute band.
The Mt Crested Butte Summer Series begins on Wednesdays in August and runs six weeks. This late night music event doesn’t get started until 11:30pm, so drink some coffee to stay awake!
Taste the Best Coffee in Colorado
Speaking of coffee, Camp 4 Coffee is known for the best coffee in Crested Butte and according to the Denver Post, the best coffee in Colorado. I’ll let you be the judge, but when I visited at 6:45am on a Thursday, the line was at least 10 people deep at the license plate covered shack.
The small, local shop also serves a choice of pastries. Fortunately, the wait was 20 minutes plus, as the trays of food arrived late, so by the time I got to order, I added a cinnamon roll to the bill.
Grab a Butte Bagel
Another ridiculously popular breakfast spot is the Butte Bagel. The bagels are made fresh daily. The $9 Hippie with a fried egg, avocado, greens, pepper jack cheese, and pesto melted in my mouth after a 30-minute wait! They take call in orders, so I advise ordering by phone as it cuts the line by 20 minutes.
Savor a Burger
The Last Steep makes the best burger in Crested Butte. I called in an order after my hike to Green Lake and prior to noon. To my surprise, the restaurant was nearly full when I arrived to pick it up. My mushroom Swiss burger was big and juicy. The fries were cut similar to McDonald’s. Perhaps I hadn’t had beef in a while, or perhaps there is a reason why it is voted the best burger in Crested Butte. I savored every bite as juice dribbled from the corners of my mouth!
Sip a Beer
Interestingly enough, at its brewery location, the Irwin Brewing Co. doesn’t have seating. If you want to sit for a beer, visit the Public House. If you want to grab a can of beer, six pack, or growler to go, stop in its brewery location. That’s what I did. I was a perfect way to try a few brews at my campsite!
Not a huge drinker or an IPA fan, I was happy to find I could sample a can of their award-winning amber. It won gold at the Great American Beer Festival in 2020. I also picked up a light and refreshing Mexican Lager.