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Crested Butte, Colorado

Story by Vicki Andersen  August 1, 2009

Images courtesy Gunnison-Crested Butte Tourism Association & indicated photographer
  Nestled in Colorado’s glacier-carved Slate River Valley and encircled by three wilderness areas and more than a million acres of national forest are a pair of “buttes” -- Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte -- with an ambience and "attitude" like no other.  Founded in 1880 by European immigrants lured by rich strikes of gold and silver, Crested Butte prospered as a supply town to the neighboring mines. When the precious metals ran out, the town was kept alive by coal mining.
  Welcome to Crested Butte, CO sign   Elk Ave, Crested Butte, C"O  
Welcome to Crested Butte
  Historic false-front buildings line Crested Butte’s Elk Avenue  

Today it bears a National Historic District designation in honor of its mining-camp origin and authentic false-front buildings, including an ingenious two-story outhouse. That’s one place you would have wanted to check out the upstairs occupancy before entering the main floor! The town hasn’t let anything go to waste. Old license plates were used to construct a wall, and bumpers and grills from old vehicles have become sidewalk benches. 

Quaint Victorian buildings are home to a wide variety of boutiques, art galleries, lodgings and eateries. Legendary for its madcap winter events, Crested Butte offers just as many zany happenings during the rest of the year. Of particular note is the Vinotok, held during the autumnal equinox as a harvest celebration and storytelling festival.

  Vinotok festival   4th of July in Crested Butte, CO  
  The Vinotok festival celebrates the fall harvest with food, parades, storytelling and dances     Joseph Rehana photo   Any patriotic Fourth of July Parade must include a visit from Uncle Sam   

Mt. Crested Butte, situated three miles up the road, is world-renowned as a winter paradise for hardcore skiers and other snow enthusiasts, but its “off-season” provides just as many diversions. Crested Butte is known for its funkiness and attracts visitor loyalty as a self-contained mountain village resort atmosphere. 

Between them, the two Buttes serve up more than 30 restaurants, cafés and nightspots featuring everything from family-style to intimate dining. Whatever cuisine might peak the appetite - French, Mexican, Italian, Asian, Cajun/Creole, prime rib, seafood or picnic fare - there will be no problem indulging epicurious cravings. People shake their booties to live entertainment, partake of lively happy hours or relax with fireside or patio dining. One thing not in evidence here are franchised, chain-style eateries. Dining at the Buttes is innovate and palate-pleasing.

  Wildflowers at Crested Butte, CO   Mt. Crested Butte  
A profusion of wildflowers swathe the land around Crested Butte                                                                                    Tom Stillo photo
The Slate River winds its way past the foot of Mt. Crested Butte                                                             Tom Stillo photo
  The slopes of this remote-feeling valley are blanketed by an abundance of wildflowers, so many that the governor named it the Wildflower Capital of Colorado. Surrounding mountain peaks soar 12,000 to 14,000 feet into the sky. Ghost towns, mining relics and old mule-train paths dot the countryside, making this the perfect playground for outdoor activities.  
  Elk Mountains   Summit Trail, Crested Butte, CO  
A hiker takes a break in the Elk Mountains above Crested Butte Jan Runge photo
Chairlifts at Mt. Crested Butte provide easy access to the Summit Trail
  There are many trails off the 11,400-foot top of the chairlifts at Mt. Crested Butte. One includes a climb to the 12,162-foot Crested Butte Mountains that affords an incomparable view. Other hikes take the adventurous to  high alpine meadows and back country lakes. Another option for those less hardy might be a game of Frisbee golf on the way back to the village.  
  Mountain bike riders, Crested Butte, CO   Fat Tire Bike Week, Crested Butte, CO  
  Riders of all ages and ability level will find trails to suit their interest                                                                 Tom Stillo photo   Fat Tire Bike Week includes all sorts of competitions (including a “chainless” race from Kebler Pass to CB), demo tests, group rides and workshops                                           Alex Fenlon photo  

Considered one of the birthplaces of modern mountain biking, this area offers riding possibilities that are as limitless as the hiking choices. The town is encircled by single-track trails and a maze of old mining roads, while Mt. Crested Butte village presents more than 15 miles of varied terrain to entice all ability levels. 

Many consider this area to have some of the best mountain biking in the world, and turn out in force to celebrate the oldest mountain bike festival in the country, Fat Tire Bike Week which started in 1980. The Mountain Bike Hall of Fame is housed in the town’s Mountain Heritage Museum. Rentals and equipment are available at numerous shops in both Buttes.

  Lake Irwin   Gunnison River  
  Fishing the calm waters of nearby Lake Irwin Tom Stillo photo  

 Fly fishing on the Gunnison River is a rewarding experience  Tom Stillo photo

Another big draw to this area is fishing. The world-famous Gunnison River is the second-largest river in Colorado and, according to the Colorado Division of Wildlife, has more fish per miles than any other river in the state. Starting where the East and Taylor rivers meet up, about a half-hour from Crested Butte, the Gunnison provides countless miles of excellent fly-fishing and large, tasty trout. The largest run of Kokanee salmon in the world is reputed to inhabit the East River. Sections of water above and below the Roaring Judy Hatchery, situated 13 miles south of town, are home to small rainbows and record-breaking browns.
  Rafting the Taylor River, CO   Blue Mesa Reservoir, CO  
Rafting the Taylor River          Tom Stillo photo

The Blue Mesa Reservoir, largest body of water in Colorado  and largest Kokanee salmon fishery in the country, draws boaters and fishing enthusiasts                          Tom Stillo photo


The Taylor River, winding its way through a rocky canyon, boasts large northern pike, lake and brown trout, Kokanee salmon, and some of the state’s largest rainbow trout. Taylor Park Reservoir teems with cutthroats, rainbows and browns. The Taylor River is also a popular destination for white water rafting. Countless other lakes and rivers offer boating, kayaking and water sports. Enjoy a trail ride to many of these watering holes or take in the spectacle from a hot air balloon. 

For golfers, long drives at The Club at Crested Butte are made easier by the 9,000-foot elevation. Designed by Robert Trent Jones III, this 18-hole par-72 course has been described by Mountain Golf Magazine as the “Best Golf Course in Colorado.”

  Golf at Crested Butte, CO   Horseback riding at Crested Butte  
  Golfers could easily be distracted by the eye-catching scenery surrounding the greens Tom Stillo photo   Horseback riding is another popular way to access the back country surrounding The Buttes Tom Stillo photo  

Nearby Kebler Pass, topping out at 9,980 feet, has one of the largest contiguous stands of aspens in the world. Aspen trees are clones growing from a common root base. The grove at Kebler Pass is reputed to one of the largest in Colorado. 

Gothic, a town perched on the east bank of the East River where it intersects with Copper Creek, is another visitor attraction just eight miles from town. A silver boomtown in the mid-to-late 1890s, it is now home to the famed Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory

  Arts festival at Crested Butte   Crested  
The Arts Festival, now celebrating its 37th year, is ranked one of Colorado’s top five fine art and craft shows
The Music Festival features a month of symphony, opera, chamber, bluegrass and jazz performances

The Buttes also offer a wide range of stimulating and cultural activities. Numerous festivals celebrate the arts, music, food and plants. There are walks, runs, triathlons and races for everything from mountain bikers to rubber duckies. Almost anytime you visit, you can enrich your mind, expand your senses and have a heck of a good time with the fun-loving Butteans. 

Lodging options include quaint B&Bs, hotels, condos and luxurious lodges. The Gunnison-Crested Butte area includes almost 50 campgrounds, from National Park Service locales to privately run parks, with facilities ranging from primitive to those with all the amenities.
Pick an activity. Pick an interest. Pick a season. Whatever your pick, Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte can satisfy every desire.


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