Another stop on our Colorado Road Trip, that we bypassed last year, was Crested Butte. Just 20 miles north on Route 135 from Gunnison, it’s a stunningly beautiful area that was a must-see stop this time.
Originally a summer place of the Ute people, it’s now a beautiful small tourist town nestled in a valley surrounded by beautiful mountains. Its bills itself as “Colorado’s last great ski town” because of it’s no frills appearance and dedication to preserving its historical past.
Crested Butte got its start in the 1870’s as a mining town, much like Salida. The key mineral here was coal and mines were scattered all through the mountains and valleys nearby. The miners came from all over including Europe. The town thrived for numerous years until the last mine closed in the 1950’s. Things degraded in Crested Butte until in 1960, when a ski area was built and the rest is history. It’s now known for its winter sports, fishing, hiking, and mountain biking.
The town (more like a village) is small with a population of 1,500 people. The town center is a very compact collection of small mostly wooden buildings that were built by the miners. The streets, which weren’t paved until 1982, are narrow with foot paths behind many. Many of the original business buildings and houses have turned into trendy boutique shops, bars, and eateries. The entire town is designated a National Historic District which ensures that in maintains the look and feel of a small western mining town.
These’s no condo buildings in the town center (just single family houses), but there are plenty of them at the Mt Crested Butte ski area (one mile north of town). On this tour and last years, I’m finding that each of these small former mining towns in the Rockies (e.g., Silverton, Durango, Salida, Telluride, Ouray, Leadville) each have their own unique character. Some, like Crested Butte and Silverton, really preserve and hold onto the past, others like Telluride and Durango showcase the past and embrace their new roles as tourist destinations. The miners who founded these places were after the minerals and gems in the earth. Now, the towns they formed have become the gems. All are lovely places.
Crested Butte sits in a valley surrounded my white-capped mountains and is high up at almost 8,900 ft. While we’ve been spending the last few days at around 7,000 ft, I could feel the elevation immediately after taking a walk to a trash bin. The scenery is breath-taking but so is the thin air. I had to stop and catch my breath coming back.
While there are several BLM areas to camp north and south of town, I decided to stayed at the only commercial campground – Crested Butte RV Park. The RV park is small (18 sites) and about a mile south of town. The owners, Kevin and Carrie, previously ran a landscaping / plowing business at the site. Three years ago they decided to end the landscape business and change the property into an RV park. They have a beautiful setting right by the Slater River staring up at the Whetstone Mountains. It’s a pricey place to stay. June is off-season and all sites are $45 per night, if you pay cash. In July, the rates go as high as $65. The view is priceless and we spent a good part of the morning just staring at the mountains and the river. Kevin and Carrie are nice hosts and I would stay there again.
Here are some things I learned while talking to some of the locals.
- The snow is plentiful and the winters are long. Fall starts in September, the snow starts in October and lasts until mid April, spring starts in late May and June, and summer is end of June through August. The mountains hold their snow until July. In town, the snow is gone by mid-April but it snowed a dozen times since then. In fact, it snowed a few days before we arrived, but it only stays about a day. One person I met was just skiing last week.
- There are numerous hiking and mountain biking trails around the town and into the mountain gulches. The ski area has down hill mountain bike trails on the ski slopes.
- Property is expensive. A small fixer upper house in town starts at $1M. The house below (a small bungalow off Elk Ave) was advertised at $2.7M. Old condo’s at the ski area that were built in the 1970’s start at $200,000 and go up. New ones are $500,000 into the millions.
- Celebs who live or vacation in Crested Butte: Brad Pitt, and family spent part of this past winter in Crested Butte. James Cameron used own a house here as did Heidi Montag.
I can attest that it’s a lovely place and I’m so glad we checked it out. I would have liked to check out some of the hiking trails. If I was a younger guy, into mountain biking or hiking, Crested Butte is the type of place where I’d be hanging out.