Crested Butte – Gunnison Valley
Like many other towns and communities in Colorado’s southwestern mountain regions, Crested Butte is a former mining town turned ski resort. Founded in 1878, Crested Butte was a coal-mining rather than a gold mining town. Nestled in the Elk Mountains of northern Gunnison County, the town lies about twenty-eight miles north of Gunnison, about the same distance south of Aspen and about 120 miles northeast of Ridgway. Tucked into the Elk Mountain Range in the Rocky Mountains, Crested Butte prides itself on being very much off the beaten path. At nearly 9,000 feet of elevation and surrounded by tall mountains, Crested Butte often experiences below-zero temperatures and hundreds of inches of annual snowfall.
Elk Mountains extend for 50 miles through Pitkin and Gunnison counties in west-central Colorado. In addition to 12- and 13-thousand-foot mountains, several peaks surpass 14,000 feet including Pyramid, Snowmass, Capitol, Maroon peaks and Mount Carbon. The hiking season, starting in May and extending through October, is a great time of year to explore Crested Butte and surrounding mountains. The Gunnison National Forest includes five wilderness areas. Known as the Wildflower Capital of Colorado, Crested Butte is an incredible place to experience summer flowers within beautiful mountain landscapes. It’s hard to walk anywhere in the Gunnison Valley without seeing various kinds of sunflowers. The annual Crested Butte Wildflower Festival celebrates all of these and other wildflowers in Gunnison Valley.
Crested Butte also has won accolades as a mountain biking destination. With 750+ miles of singletrack, every mountain biking enthusiast can find some of the best trails in Colorado. Doctor Park, a 20-mile loop, and Teocali Ridge, have been praised by mountain biking enthusiasts as two of the finest trails they have ever ridden. And there are so many more great mountain biking experiences in the 750 miles of singletrack between Crested Butte and Gunnison Valley. Not just on trails, people living in and visiting Crested Butte seem to ride everywhere on cruisers from dawn to nightfall. Mountain biking enthusiasts also rave about the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Park with its 30+ miles of track that offers beginner-friendly downhill biking and other tracks for various biking abilities.
Gunnison Valley and Crested Butte have a plethora of activities to enjoy in the surrounding 1.7 million acres of National Forest. Besides fantastic mountain scenery and wildflowers, Gunnison-Crested Butte’s other claims to outdoor fame include skiing and other winter sports. The hundreds of miles of trails for hiking and mountain biking in the spring, summer or fall also are accessible in winter via snowshoes, fat bikes and Nordic skis. Gothic Road, Washington Gulch Road, Slate River Road and Cement Creek Road all lead to marvelous snowshoeing excursions.
Around Crested Butte over 30 miles of ski trails are groomed each winter. In the vicinity of Gunnison and Crested Butte there are so many trails for Nordic skiing that everyone can find one at their ability level. Favorites near Gunnison include Hartman Rocks, managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), with dozens of miles of groomed roads and trails that wind through the rock formations that give the area its name. At the edge of Western Colorado University, the Signal Peak trail system offers a large network of trails over many miles of rolling hills. Heard about fat biking, the latest rage in snow sports? Fat-tire bicycles have extra-wide, low-pressure tires allowing riders to seemingly float over snow and ice. Find out why (besides partying) fat-tire bike enthusiasts gather annually for competitions in Crested Butte.
Gunnison Valley is home to Colorado’s state-record brown, rainbow, Kokanee salmon and lake trout and offers great river, stream and lake fishing. Colorado’s largest body of water, Blue Mesa Reservoir, is just ten minutes west of Gunnison. Other popular stretches of river for fishing are the Catch and Release section of the Taylor River and the East River at the Roaring Judy State Fish Hatchery. Taylor River is a prime fishery located half way between Gunnison and Crested Butte. Taylor’s success for fly fishing is attributable to the reservoir upstream which controls flows all year long to the river downstream. In the winter Taylor River is the only place to flyfish in the valley. Below the dam 1/3rd mile downstream stays ice free due to the temperature of the water. This is the Catch and Release section of the Taylor River.
Blue Mesa Reservoir is home to many species of fish and offers Wild Kokanee Salmon fishing, lake trout fishing, ice fishing, flyfishing and trophy trout fishing. Blue Mesa is located in one of Colorado’s most beautiful national parks just twenty minutes from Gunnison. Kokanee salmon start their annual run up the Gunnison and East Rivers in early September. Kokanee salmon are one Colorado’s most sought after and most elusive fish. Wonderful table fair, they deliver exciting fights. Kokanee salmon spend an average of 3-4 years feeding in the open waters of Blue Mesa until they reach maturity and head up the Gunnison River to spawn and then head back to the Roaring Judy State Fish Hatchery where they were born. From early May until August, Kokanee salmon can be caught on the Blue Mesa trolling with lures that prove to have the right combination of colors and sizes.
For many really good reasons, fishermen, hikers, bikers, and photographers stick around the West Elk Mountain Range for the fall months to experience stunning golden fall colors. Some visit nearby Kebler Pass, home to the largest aspen grove in the state. By Thanksgiving it’s time to take advantage of Nordic and alpine ski season that runs from late November to early April. Many visitors will head for the town of Mt. Crested Butte that lies three miles up the road from Crested Butte at the base of Crested Butte Mountain. With excellent access to downhill skiing and a mountain biking park, the town also is home to a favorite ski resort, Crested Butte Mountain Resort. The Adventure Center in the base area offers a climbing wall and bungee trampolines. During the summer months, visitors can take a scenic chairlift ride or zipline through the trees. Another attraction in the Gunnison area is Black Canyon that has lots of rock climbing spots, although not for beginners or even intermediate climbers.