With no national chain stores and abutting two million acres of US forest service land, the birthplace of extreme skiing and mountain biking is classic Colorado
Out of all of Colorado’s beloved mountain towns, Crested Butte has arguably the most preserved atmosphere. Walking down Elk Avenue, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were on a movie set crafted to recreate a bygone era if it weren’t for the modern storefront signs and the chic gear inside. Suffice it to say, Crested Butte is bursting with character and even after the ski resort was purchased by Vail Resorts in 2018, the town has done a great job of keeping it’s laid back vibe.
Crested Butte is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream destination. While activities abound year-round, autumn ushers in the chance to take a hike or a bike ride under a brilliant patchwork canopy of foliage that goes from ruby reds and ocher to brilliant yellows and golds. From road rides to gravel grinding, there are plenty of trails to explore on two wheels, including the beautiful gravel route that traverses Ohio Pass on country road 730. Less than 25 miles in length, the route ends on Hwy 135 outside of Gunnison where you can catch the free bus back to CB.
If mountain biking is more your thing, there is no better place (CB makes a credible claim to be the birthplace of the sport, after all). Check out the Dyke Trail, a tough 5.5 miles of stream crossings and climbing with some really fun descents. For an easier ride, try Strand Hill Trail which will lead you through a forest packed with aspen trees and great views of Teocalli Mountain.
For roadies, try the 37-mile ride up to Taylor Reservoir or head toward Gunnison for 28 gradual miles of bucolic scenery. There is also a bike trail between Crested Butte and Mount Crested Butte which is short but a butt kicker.
Hiking enthusiasts will not be left wanting when it comes to trail exploring in the area. One of the top autumn hikes is best done early in the season and starts at the Lost Lake campground, about 15 miles up Kebler Pass. Three Lakes Trail offers stunning views of the Kebler Pass aspen grove (the largest in the world, so it’s said). An easier pick is the short hike up to Judd Falls. The trailhead starts just past the ghost town of Gothic and is an easy 2.2 mile out and back with an option to hike an extra 3.5 miles (one way) to Copper Creek if the weather allows. The drive toward Gothic itself is worth the trip thanks to the beautiful autumn foliage and great views of the winding East River in the valley below.
For extensive trail coverage in the area, cbgtrails.com is your best bet. If you are looking for a guide to show you the ropes, Irwin Guides won’t disappoint.
Other warm-weather outdoor activities include horseback riding (try Fantasy Ranch), fishing and climbing, while winter sports on offer include snowshoeing, Nordic skiing and downhill skiing. Amid the pandemic, Crested Butte Mountain Resort, which opens Nov. 25, will be taking a number of steps to help curb the spread of the virus, including requiring face coverings in certain areas and requiring guests to make a reservation for their desired ski day.
DRINKING AND DINING
It should come as no surprise that Crested Butte is home to a variety of delicious eateries, from casual breakfast joints to upscale steak houses. Your palate will not need to look too far to be tantalized.
For a cozy pub-like atmosphere and warming, home-style fare, Public House is a great choice. A beautiful atmosphere compliments a hearty menu with autumn-appropriate dishes that include elk chili (a generous serving with a side of cornbread) and poutine. The chili is generous enough to serve as a main dish if you’re not too hungry, but be sure to share it so you have space for an entree. Speaking of, the fried chicken, which is served with a kale and kimchi slaw, is great, and the Park burger, which is made with a third of a pound of grass-fed, grass-finished beef and served with all the fixins’ on a brioche bun with a side of fries.
For a liquid warm-up, the restaurant serves beer on tap from Irwin Brewing Company and a range of cocktails. We loved the Beast of Bourbon, a short drink served on the rocks that is made with Colorado bourbon, ginger beer and bitters. Fire on the Mountain, a spicy drink made with reposado tequila, Cointreau, fresh lime, jalapeno and served with a chili salt rim was equally delicious. If wine is more your speed, you must try the Public House Red. A collaboration between Buckel Family Wine and Public House, the cab franc is made with Colorado-grown grapes from this family-run vineyard.
For pre- or post-dinner cocktails, look no further than The Dogwood. The interior has a rustic Alice-in -Wonderland vibe with fun and quirky touches that give the space an upbeat feel. Owners Sarah Jane and Drew have curated a delicious and creative cocktail menu that features some really good cocktails. A few of our favorites were the Porch Song (a gin-based cocktail featuring grapefruit, mint, honey with an IPA float) and Thor’s Hammer (made with Bulleit rye, ginger, and Peach Street Amaro). Be sure to order some house-made pickled eggs, too (creations vary and change every week or so). If you’re still hungry, the wontons and cheese plate are great picks.
For an upscale dinner, Elk Ave Prime is one of the best spots in town. Located on the main drag, owners Curtis and Julie Higgins have been searing up prime cuts since 2014. The interior is mountain chic and features a large fireplace that is perfect for chilly autumn nights. Expect a scaled down menu during the pandemic, with items being added back as they become available.
The ahi tuna tower is a light but delicious way to start the meal. With tuna, crab, avocado, rice, smelt roe, and chipotle aioli, the dish is light but full of flavor. When it comes to entrees, a steak is a must. Elk Ave Prime’s hand-cut steaks are seasoned with cracked black pepper and sea salt and served with beurre monte. We went with the 16 oz wagyu New York strip and the 18 oz wagyu boneless ribeye. Both were cooked to perfection. A range of sauces are available and include the delectable cabernet demi-glace and a black truffle hollandaise, both of which are very rich but enhance the flavor of the steak rather than overpower it.
For a side, the cauliflower gratin was fantastic. A robust combination of cauliflower, bacon and horseradish, it is a great dish that delivers a kick of heat and is large enough for two as a side. Other options include aged white cheddar mac ‘n’ cheese, jumbo asparagus spears with hollandaise, and smoked au gratin potatoes with bacon.
For the first time since opening, the restaurant will be closing from Oct.19th until Thanksgiving but will be open throughout the winter until mud season hits in April.
If you’re looking for a more laid back meal, pizza spot Secret Stash and Tin Cup Pasty are both great. The former offers great pizzas, pastas and salads while the latter has pasties of all sorts, and is particularly good as a grab-and-go option.
For breakfast, try Butte Bagels. Baked freshly every day, you can opt for the classic cream cheese filling or go with one of their creative offerings. “The Laverna” has marinated organic tofu, sautéed veggies, spinach, vegan pesto, honey, and hot sauce, while “The David” is filled with two eggs, grilled onions, avocado, greens, shredded carrots, honey mustard, and a latke.
When it comes to drinking, the town has the requisite breweries (Irwin Brewing Company and the Eldo both serve up great brews) but what may come as a surprise is the town has had a rum distillery for nearly a decade. Montanya Distillers, which was “born” in Silverton before being relocated in 2011, and offers a range of delicious rum-based cocktails as well as Asian-inspired dishes. Try the ramen or pho - both are the perfect remedy for chilly autumn days. As for liquid nourishment, the Maharaja will hit the spot. Ten years in the making, owner Karen Hoskin has perfected the rum-based cocktail, which in its current iteration is a delightful combination of ginger syrup and a spice blend of cloves, cardamom, black pepper, and cinnamon. The winter menu will usher in warming cocktails, and to help with social distancing in the sub-zero temps, Montanya will offer clear, pop-up tents over outside tables to keep you nice and toasty.
If you’re looking to stay in Mount Crested Butte (just four miles and 700 feet above CB), the resort offers a range of lodges, many of which offer kitchenettes and larger suites. Among them is Grand Lodge, a well-located hotel just off Mountaineer Square, the centralized area that houses most of the drinking and dining options on the mountain. Around the corner from Grand Lodge is Coffee Lab where you can get caffeinated and fuel up before a day exploring. It’s worth noting that many drinking and dining establishments in Crested Butte and Mount Crested Butte will close for a few weeks in autumn, and while exact dates vary between businesses, a rule of thumb is the end of October until Thanksgiving.
Upscale, in-town lodging includes Public House Lofts and Scarp Ridge Lodge. Both are owned by Eleven Experience and offer superlative accommodations.