Why do the hiking trails in Crested Butte so often get overlooked? It’s a true shame. The Butte shelters secrets in its walking paths, wildflowers and high, lonsome peaks. So, on your next visit, set aside a few days to explore the West Elk Range by foot. Choose from a variety of world-class through-hikes, peak climbs, flower strolls or multi-day traverses worthy of any bucket list.
Smell the Flowers: 8-10 miles, round trip
You walk through a sea of vibrant, rainbow colored shoulder-high blossoms only to see that another endless array of wildflowers line the giant basin before you. This bloom-filled ocean, bursting with up to 114 different species during the height of the season, makes Rustler’s Gulch the premier wildflower hike in a region full of exceptional ones. But, flowers aren’t the only attraction along this moderate eight-10 mile walk. With sweet rock formations, stunning creeks, inspiring mountain views and a huge waterfall, it’s diverse enough to dazzle nature lovers, flower geeks and adventurous types alike.
Walk on Through: 11 miles, one way
This lung-busting 11 mile hike to Aspen over West Maroon Pass is a classic. From Crested Butte, you climb 2,200 feet through a narrow valley dappled with stands of spruce and aspen and meadows bursting with vibrant buds. Snow persists as you approach the 12,500-foot pass, but persevere and you’ll be rewarded with majestic views of the iconic Maroons Bells, rugged Pyramid Peak and a series of jagged summits. From here, begin the rocky 3000’ descent to Aspen through a soulful, glacially-carved gorge lined by towering peaks.
Scramble to the Top: 5-7 miles, round trip
Colorado’s 14ers get all the attention, but this 13,208-foot beauty is a sure addition to every “must-do” list. Its colorful striated rock bands and distinct pyramid shape make it a standout of the range. Though it is a challenging ascent, there’s nothing technical about it so you can just revel in the splendor of the hike. The trail follows lush West Brush Creek, traverses Teocalli Ridge, climbs steep tundra slopes and scrambles over scree near the summit, where grand 360-degree views of the entire West Elk Range await your arrival.
Sleep and Soak: 18 miles, round trip
Spend a magical night camping under the stars and soaking in a hot spring while surrounded by towering peaks. The only catch? To reach Conundrum Hotsprings, one of the last truly natural and undisturbed hot springs left on Colorado’s public lands, you have to hike 9 miles one way. The hike leaves from Gothic, winds through verdant forest, crosses crystal streams, passes Judd Falls and climbs up and over breathtaking Triangle Pass (12,907 feet). From here, enjoy the picturesque, mile-long descent into the glacially shaped bowl that harbors pools of soothing water. But, don’t expect solitude at the springs—the idea of soaking amidst high alpine air attracts many hippies, hikers, hipsters and other adventurers. Go midweek if you can or get there early on Friday.
For more info on hiking in Crested Butte, check out the Gunnison and Grand Mesa Uncompahgre National Forest website at: fs.usda.gov/recmain/gmug/recreation. Or, pick up a copy of Anne and Mike Poe’s book: Crested Butte Colorado: 65 Scenic Day Hikes (Crooked Lane Press, 2012).
For budget-conscious travelers, the affordable, chic Crested Butte Int’l Lodge and Hostel (cbhostel.com) is the way to go. Private rooms or dorm beds from $25. Looking for Luxury? Sleep tight at The Lodge at Mountaineer Square (skicb.com/lodging/mountaineer-square), a property with lavish suites and top-notch service located just minutes from hiking and biking at the heart of the Crested Butte Mountain Resort base.
Start your day with yummy breakfast pastries, burritos and of course, the best java in town from Camp 4 Coffee (camp4coffee.com). Grab to-go sandwiches for your hike at The Gas Caf (602 Butte Avenue). Satisfy your post-hike appetite at The Secret Stash (stashpizza.com) which pumps out unusual, stellar pasta and pizza dishes or Donita’s Cantina (donitascantina.com) serving up flavorful, affordable Mexican food.
Feed your sweet tooth at Third Bowl Homemade Ice Cream (thirdbowlhomemadeicecream.com), a locally owned shop dishing out small batches of unique (think Sweet Potato Casserole and Honey Lavender) and constantly changing flavors made right in the Butte.
The week-long, world-famous Wildflower Festival (July 7-13) is full of hikes, events, van tours and art classes. Crested Butte wildflowers are off the charts! crestedbuttewildflowerfestival.com