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Hit Up Crested Butte, Colorado, for Adventure Without the Flash

Outdoor Insider Guides
by Josh Laskin Oct 3, 2019

Crested Butte doesn’t have the flashy main street of other Colorado mountain towns like Telluride or Aspen. Although it was intended to be a mining town, Crested Butte never struck the precious metals that some of these other mountain sites throughout the state found. Instead, it relied on an economy based around coal. Instead, Crested Butte preserved its laid-back, down-to-earth vibe.

On the western slopes of the Rocky Mountains, Crested Butte lies in a vast valley that serves as the foreground to a backdrop of 14,000-foot peaks. The area is a world-class destination for mountain biking, fly fishing, rock climbing, hiking, skiing and overall outdoor adventure. And while Crested Butte is by no means undiscovered, it remains largely off the radar of crowds heading to Summit County and Colorado’s Front Range. Its location four hours southwest of Denver and minutes from the Gunnison-Crested Butte Regional Airport make it a viable alternative to Colorado’s more popular eastern towns.

It’s heaven for mountain bikers.

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With over 750 miles of single-track mountain bike trails and counting, Crested Butte is a paradise for riders of all ability levels. The Crested Butte resort has 30 miles of lift-served downhill trails intertwined with cross-country trails — most of which connect with the area’s endless network of legendary trails.

At the resort, steep and technical trails mix with low-angle, machine-built flow trails. Awakening and Lower Awakening are great machine-built trails, perfect for those just getting into biking or for the more advanced rider looking for a warm-up.

Once you’re ready to leave the resort and head to some of the nearby cross-country trails, be sure to check out the Lupine Trail, which, like it’s name suggests, is engulfed by wildflowers in the late spring and into summer. This trail can be linked with the Lower Loop Trail to get back into town, where you’ll often find locals having a beer on the patio of The Brick Oven or pizza in the basement of The Secret Stash. From there, a shuttle bus offers service back to the resort.

There is world-class fly fishing minutes away.

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The 164-mile Gunnison River, which is a tributary of the Colorado River, forms at the confluence of the Taylor and East Rivers in Almont, just outside of Crested Butte. Anglers head to the Gunnison in search of brown, rainbow, and lake trout. In the fall, the Gunnison experiences one of the largest kokanee salmon runs in Colorado, drawing fly fisherman from all over the state.

There are a number of guide services in the area surrounding Crested Butte. Three Rivers Resort, located in Almont, offers both wading and float trips on the upper stretch of the Gunnison. In a single fall day, it is not uncommon to catch rainbow and brown trout, salmon, and possibly an occasional cutthroat trout.

It’s close to some of the country’s wildest rock climbing.

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The Black Canyon was carved two million years ago by the Gunnison River, leaving steep walls exceeding 2,700 feet at their deepest point. The 48-mile long canyon — 14 miles of which are encompassed by the Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park — offers intimidating yet exhilarating rock climbing, as well as remote hiking, camping, and fishing.

Only those with prior experience should attempt to climb in the Black Canyon due to its high level of commitment and advanced routes. Even experienced climbers should consider hiring an American Mountain Guide Association (AMGA) — a certified guide who knows the area and is comfortable navigating difficult terrain. Crested Butte-based Irwin Guides offers a variety of guided climbs in the Black Canyon.

For those looking for an introductory climbing experience, Irwin Guides also offers trips to smaller climbing areas close to Crested Butte, like Taylor Canyon and Hartman Rocks, both of which have a variety of beginner routes to choose from.

When hiring a mountain guide, whether it be for rock or ice climbing, skiing or climbing your first Colorado 14er, it is important to make sure they are certified by the AMGA. This internationally recognized certification will ensure your guide is competent and comfortable in the activity they are guiding.

You can’t beat hiking in the “Wildflower Capital of Colorado.”

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Crested Butte is surrounded by the 1.6 million-acre Gunnison National Forest, which is home to seven designated wilderness areas and, during springtime and early summer, countless beautiful wildflowers. The nearby Almont and Taylor Canyons offer plenty of multi-use trails with views of the surrounding mountains and unique rock formations, making it the perfect place for a short day hike.

If you’re looking to bag a higher summit, Mount Crested Butte’s 12,168-foot peak yields panoramic views of the surrounding mountains, valleys, and towns. There are a number of routes to the summit; the shortest (yet among the steepest) of which starts from the top of the Silver Queen lift at the Crested Butte Mountain Resort. This two-mile hike can be extended by starting at the base of the mountain rather than using the lift.

There are also plenty of 14ers around Crested Butte, although many require at least a two-hour drive to reach the trailhead. If heading south to bag one of the summits in the San Juan Mountains, like Uncompahgre or the Wetterhorn, consider spending a night in Lake City, which is a tranquil small town with plenty of restaurants, boutiques, and lodging options, perfect as a base before attempting one of these higher summits. It is important to be hiking back to the car by the early afternoon to avoid potential storms, especially during the summer.

Some call it the last great ski town of the West.

Photo: Paul Antonescu/Shutterstock

Regardless of whether or not you agree, one thing is for sure: The skiing at Crested Butte rivals the best at any of the state’s premier resorts. With 1,547 skiable acres and an annual snowfall averaging 234 inches, skiers and riders of all abilities will be kept busy for days.

Crested Butte was recently purchased by Vail Resorts, allowing Epic Passholders to enjoy the large variety of terrain. Despite this purchase, the town, which is a few miles from the resort itself, will maintain the unique Western feel that sets it apart from so many of Colorado’s popular ski towns.

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