A Visit to Crested Butte, CO

Some places we visit will always hold a special place in our hearts and Crested Butte, Colorado is one of those places. We moved to Colorado in the mid nineties when our children were young, and the first Colorado mountain town we visited was Crested Butte.

This former flatlander from Illinois was awe-struck with the majestic snow-covered mountains surrounding Crested Butte. Our family of four was immediately smitten, and subsequent visits to this lovely Colorado mountain town ensued over the years.

wildflowers in Crested Butte ColoradoAlthough our first visit to Crested Butte was during the winter, Crested Butte is every bit as much fun during the summer as it is in winter. The town may be known for its awesome skiing and winter fun, but summers offer a whole slew of other activities. As a matter of fact, Crested Butte is considered the birth place of mountain biking. Although, I’m sure there are plenty of folks that might disagree with this statement. There’s an ongoing debate about where mountain biking originated 😏

This quaint little mountain town is also considered the Wildflower Capital of Colorado and home to the Wildflower Festival held each July when the mountain meadows are covered in blooms. Once Al and I became empty nesters, we skipped the winter excursions to the mountains and focused on embracing those summer get aways.

Lake Irwin Campground Colorado Crested Butte Keebler Pass
Lake Irwin Campground, near Crested Butte Colorado and Kebler Pass

A memorable trip

July 2012 – It’s three o’clock in the morning and the dog is shaking and can’t seem to get comfortable.  He’s laying in the tent on a blanket near my side of the air mattress and he is clearly cold.  I grab my hoody and cover him, and he falls back to sleep.  I’m glad one of us can fall asleep so quickly.

After tossing and turning for a bit, I decide to step outside for a moment.  I reluctantly throw off the two layers of sleeping bags and scurry to the foot of the air mattress to put on my shoes.  No need to throw on clothes, since I’m already fully clothed in sweatpants and sweatshirt.  It’s cold at three in the morning camped at 10,000 feet in elevation …. as in 36 degrees Fahrenheit cold and this being mid July 😯

I’m not sure whose idea the tent camping excursion was considering we had a new 5th wheel sitting on the side of our house. Okay, it was my idea! We were such newbies at the time with the RV that we weren’t comfortable pulling it to the Lake Irwin Campground near Kebler Pass. Plus, there were only a couple of first come first serve campsites that we felt we would comfortably fit into.

camping near Crested Butte, Colorado at Lake Irwin
Our campsite at Lake Irwin near Crested Butte, Colorado

I quietly unzip the tent and crawl out. I’m immediately awestruck with the most incredible vision while my face is assaulted with a blast of cold air.  The stars and crescent moon are so vivid and bright that I have no trouble seeing around the campsite.  I stand there taking in the incredible beauty surrounding me before I’m reminded as to why I’m standing outside the tent at three in the morning …. and shivering.

Hmm, I contemplate the walk to the restroom down the road. This is serious bear and mountain lion country.  Since I have no inclination of being some animal’s midnight snack, I quickly take care of business at the edge of our campsite. I continued to linger outside admiring the sky before the cold has me crawling back into a nice warm bed.

After what felt like only thirty minutes of sleep, I’m woken by a very restless Brittany Spaniel. It’s only 5:30 in the morning and I’ve decided to rename my sweet little Bear…..”damn dog”.  (ya know, I love my Brittany Spaniel and wouldn’t trade him for the world, but he wants a walk at fricken 5:30 in the morning in the fricken cold while it’s still dark outside). Al remains sound asleep …. grrrr!

camping at Lake Irwin near Crested Butte Colorado
tent camping at Lake Irwin near Crested Butte, CO – July 2012

Damn dog and I go for a stroll, not venturing too far from our campsite.  I’m the only two-legged creature out and about.  Did I already mention we’re camped in bear and mountain lion country?  I’m on alert!  “Hurry up, damn dog”.  Finally with his “business” complete, we return to the warmth of sleeping bags and try to catch a few more winks of sleep.

By seven o’clock, the sun is rising and I hear other campers in the distance.  Al awakes and informs me how great he slept (damn husband).  In a not so pleasant voice, sleep deprived wife tells damn husband and damn dog, “We’re going into town for breakfast.  I need a cup of strong black coffee”.

McGill's Crested Butte, Colorado for great breakfast and coffeeWe drive aimlessly around Crested Butte looking for a place for breakfast.  Eventually, Al has me pull to the side of the road and stop. He jumps out of the truck and walks over to a pretty blonde lady watering flowers.

He and blonde lady chuckle in a flirtatious engaging way (do I really care? NO … need coffee).  When Al hops back in the truck, he proceeds to tell me to drive up Elk Street three blocks.  “Blonde lady says McGills serves a great breakfast”.  It was indeed a good breakfast, BUT the coffee was amazing and just what I needed.

A full tummy and two cups of coffee later, we’re back to “dear husband” and “adorable Bear”.  I love my boys! Al and I discuss exploratory options for the day, but first I need a little retail therapy.

Crested Butte ColoradoWe enter a T-shirt shop. Al and Bear head over to the counter where Al strikes up a conversation with the young man behind the counter. We love the fact that this town is so dog friendly that Bear is able to go with us everywhere except inside restaurants. 

We’re the only ones in the store and during the course of idol chit-chat with the shop clerk, he notes we drive a Toyota Tacoma. He drives a Toyota 4-Runner, sister to the Tacoma lol, and immediately recommends a backcountry scenic loop drive that we must experience.

We’re given a complimentary map along with a few pointers and warnings from this knowledgable local. Two t-shirts later, we hit the road heading into the backcountry … ready to explore.

dog friendly Crested Butte Colorado
Crested Butte is very dog friendly. Bear went everywhere with us.

A scenic drive

We head up Slate River Road, just north of the town of Crested Butte.  As expected, the pavement ends quickly.  We pass some beautiful homes early in the journey.  As we start to climb in elevation and the road starts to narrow, we see campers , ATVer’s as well as local wildlife.

Slate River Road Crested Butte Colorado
Slate River Road, Crested Butte, Colorado
Crested Butte backcountry 4x4
local wildlife – Moooove!
mountain homes near Crested Butte Colorado
Beautiful mountain homes dot the landscape near Crested Butte

A little further into the remote landscape, I finally start seeing some wildflowers.  Up to this point I wondered, “Wildflower capital of Colorado”?  Say what?  The drought conditions severely affected the display of wildflowers during the summer of ’12. Even though the wildflowers weren’t impressive, the scenery was spectacular.

I usually drive during these exploratory excursions to maintain marital bliss, but more importantly to control photo-op stops. Yeah, I can go a little overboard with the photo-op stopping which can get a tad annoying for a non photographer 🤗 Besides, Al says he likes being chauffeured around by a pretty lady.  Awe, ain’t that sweet!

Slate River Road Crested Butte Colorado
Slate River Road – two-way traffic on this one lane road

We continue up Slate River Road.  It’s narrow but in good condition. This one-lane road is meant for two-way traffic which is why we like driving the Tacoma in lieu of the F-250 while exploring mountainous backcountry.

We pass the turn for Washington Gulch Road and continue toward Schofield Pass.  The road gets narrower and more precarious. I can’t imagine two vehicles fitting on this road.

As we come around a blind switch back, we encounter a truck loaded with people heading toward us.  The pickup truck is colored lime green and set up kind of like an open air safari vehicle with bench seating in the rear. “Oh dear! We are going to need to pass each other!”

I need to back up and get us as close to the side of the mountain as possible (thank goodness, I have the inside).  The other truck and I both pull in our outside mirrors and we slowly pass each other within inches. He’s the one on the outside edge and I can see his tourist passengers are wide-eyed and a tad nervous. One slip, and down the mountain they roll.  Once we successfully passed each other, the driver waves and comments, “Thanks, we got’er”, and the passengers started clapping.  Since this is Wildflower Festival week, there are all kinds of additional tours, vehicle traffic and activities planned throughout the week.

Schofield Pass Mt. Baldy Crested Butte Colorado
Near Schofield Pass and Mt. Baldy – over 11,000 feet in elevation

We’re on the other side of Mt. Baldy now and we stop for a much-needed break.  The scenery is breathtaking.  Al checks his phone and is shocked.  “It works!”  No cell reception at the Lake Irwin campground, but it works up here.

This stretch of road is tame and easily navigated. Wish it had all been like this.

After a few photo-ops near Schofield Pass, we retrace that ledge of a road back to the Washington Gulch turn, all the while I pray I won’t have to pass anyone.  That would put me on the outside edge … yikes!  Fortunately my prayers are answered, and we don’t meet another vehicle for quite some time.

Washington Gulch Road Crested Butte Colorado
Washington Gulch Road – we saw more wildflowers along this stretch

Washington Gulch Road does present its own challenges with a small creek crossing, but nothing the little truck can’t handle. We also noticed a few RV’s boondocking off Washington Gulch Road.

(We were such RV newbies at that time, that we couldn’t imagine pulling our brand new RV to any of the boondocking locations we saw. Now? Piece of cake and we wouldn’t give it a second thought. But then again, our RV ain’t so new anymore … as evidenced by the dings and scratches and as one person recently referred to us …. we’re “seasoned” RVers 😏)

backcountry roads near Crested Butte Colorado

What a great Day!

We had such a fabulous time exploring this stunningly beautiful landscape that I would highly recommend this excursion to anyone with a high clearance vehicle. However, please check at the local visitor center in the town of Crested Butte for up to date road conditions, and do note, there are some areas where the road is literally cut into the side of a mountain causing severe drop-offs. Thus, I don’t recommend it for anyone with a fear of heights.

For a more tame backcountry excursion, we enjoyed driving Route 12 from Crested Butte to the tiny town of Paonia. Paonia is a small community with wineries, lavender and agricultural fields. No four-wheel drive needed when we took this drive in July of 2012. Please verify and double-check road conditions before embarking on this remote stretch of road over Kebler Pass.

Quaking Aspen at Kebler Pass

As Al and I continued to explore Colorado’s backcountry near Crested Butte, we take in the sights and sounds of the stunning terrain.  We travel from open mountain meadows, through scented pine forests, and pass through densely populated aspen groves.

Aspen Trees Keebler Pass near Crested Butte Colorado
Kebler Pass – forest of Aspen trees

The unique sound of quaking Aspen Leaves lures us in. The sound has us wondering  if there’s a gentle waterfall in the distance or is it merely the fluttering of aspen leaves?

This particular grove or colony of aspen trees along Kebler Pass is aspen treederived from a single seedling and spread by means of root suckers.  New stems in a colony may grow as far away as 130 feet from the parent tree. It’s kind of like there’s one mommy tree and all the rest of the aspen trees are children. Fascinating!

An individual tree can live  40-150 years above ground, but the root system of the colony can live for hundreds of years. Legend has it, the aspen tree can drive off evil spirits.  An aspen stake was believed to be one of the few weapons suitable to kill a vampire🧛‍♂️

Colorado is synonymous with this famous white-barked tree, adorning golden leaves in the fall.  Colorado gold comes in many forms. Beautiful golden leaves dotting the landscape and the peaceful sound of quaking leaves are just a couple more reasons to love Colorado!

Aspen grove at Keebler Pass Crested Butte, Colorado
driving through an Aspen groove at Kebler Pass
Colorado gold
Colorado Gold in the fall.

For Coffee Lovers

After three days and four nights of tent camping near picturesque Crested Butte, it was time for us to break camp and head home, BUT first, we needed (or rather I needed) to have breakfast one more time at McGill’s to drink up some more of that yummy coffee.

breaking camp at Lake Irwin campground Crested Butte Colorado
Al breaking camp – it was fun, but I missed the comforts of the RV

Al is not normally a coffee drinker and when he does drink coffee he sticks with one of those designer concoctions like a macchiato or mocha, but after trying my cup of black coffee, he ordered a cup for himself 😲

Camp 4 Coffee Crested Butte ColoradoWhile the waitress was refilling our coffee mugs, we mentioned how good the coffee was. She was quick to share the name and location of the local coffee roasters and the blend McGill’s uses.

With that said, we couldn’t possibly leave town without a visit to this coffee roaster. Camp 4 Coffee is a locally owned Crested Butte business and has a cute little shop  just down the road from McGill’s.

There was no way I was leaving town without a bag or two of Camp 4 Coffee.  I purchased a couple of pounds of the Sledgehammer roast and a pound of the Blue Mesa blend which is the blend McGill’s serves.

Can you believe, after thirty plus years of marriage, I turned Al into a coffee drinker thanks to Camp 4 Coffee. He still prefers those designer coffee concoctions, but when I splurge and buy a special roast, he’ll join me in drinking his coffee black. Wonders never cease!

Yep, Crested Butte, Colorado remains one of our favorite mountain towns and holds special memories for our family!

Monarch Pass Colorado

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57 thoughts on “A Visit to Crested Butte, CO

  1. Such a lovely recount of your visit and past memories in CB!! My husbands name is Al and our first dog was Bear and we live in Crested Butte! My husband was one of the lucky ones born and raised in the butte! And I’ve never found a place I loved more! I’m with ya on your love of Camp 4’s coffee! Good stuff and absolutely beautiful captures!! A lovely post indeed 💜


    1. Western Colorado is amazingly beautiful. I never tire of the scenery. As much as I didn’t appreciate the restless doggie, I sure miss that furry guy.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I learned about quaking aspens from your post a few years ago! But too bad we cant drive these roads you featured, we need a high clearance jeep to get up there! It seems like our Fall travel there will be busier if you keep reminiscing about these beautiful places that you captured so well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Colorado is so pretty and such fun. You could drive hwy 12 from Crested Butte to Paonia. You’ll just want to double check due to weather conditions. Fall would be especially beautiful.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I believe everyone who has ever traveled has a place that lives in their heart. I know I do, actually a few. Yours sounds wonderful & filled with special memories. I admit I read your post twice, your wit had me laughing & nodding my head yes, been there, done that. You have a great talent for writing Ingrid.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In May of ’17 my daughter and I took our equipment and camped in a snowstorm at the Pink Coral Sand Dunes and then moved over to Zion NP. It was such a great and adventurous trip that only could’ve been experienced via tenting. I’ll admit, I did miss the RV and currently not too eager to tent it again anytime soon 😆

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Such a delightful, entertaining and informative post, Ingrid! You can bet that, if we ever roll through Crested Butte, both McGill’s and Camp 4 Coffee will be on the “must do” list. By the way, in our house, coffee is reverently known as the Elixir of Life!


    1. “Elixir of life” – love it! If the Camp 4 Coffee wasn’t so darn expensive, I’d be ordering some online. It is that good!
      BTW … tried leaving a comment on your blog, but my internet is being hit and miss and I think dropped my comment 🤔

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hmmm . . . No comments from Ingrid pending on my blog and I did check the comment spam folder to see if it had landed there. (It didn’t.) If you’re in the mood, please feel free to try again whenever it’s convenient for you. I once typed out an entire comment on my Kindle using the hotspot in the truck and hit “send,” only to find out that the wi-fi had timed out a certain number of minutes after the truck was turned off and my comment had dissolved in cyberspace. SO frustrating! Have a great day, Ingrid!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. So many beautiful places to explore in Colorado – don’t think I could pick a favorite, but Crested Butte is definitely near the top of the list.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I saw you stopped by my blog today, thank you! I love yours! My parents took us camping to Sequoia & Yosemite Nat’l parks when we were kids, (even towing a little trailer with a Volkswagon Bug up the Tioga Pass)! I have been an avid camper every since, tents, tiny trailers, RV’s and now our new Jayco trailer. Can’t wait tot hit the road with it next year…it sits at our windsurf campground all summer which we enjoy every weekend until mid September. I will enjoy your travels!


    1. I always love seeing places we should add to our travel list. Congrats on hitting the road next year. I’m sure you’ll have fun and I’ll look forward to your posts.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. You would love exploring those back roads with the UTV. We actually considered renting one so we could get on the backside of the Maroon Bells. Such stunning country!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Now it’s one of mine!! I just told Mike we have to visit this awesome place!! I think we’ll go our RV though!! I love those aspens!!! I have never heard them “sing” though! So much to do and see and so little time!! Good problem to have!!


    1. Crested Butte is so pretty in July when the wildflowers are at their peak. We loved staying at Lake Irwin and now that we’re more experienced with the RV, we’d probably manage to squeeze into more sites. But at that time, we were glad we didn’t bring the RV. There’s also some nice boondocking off Washington Gulch Road, but that road can get a little rough. For a first time visit, it might be best to stay along Highway 50 near Blue Mesa Reservoir and stay in a private park or national forest campground) then day trip it the one hour drive up to Crested Butte to scope things out. Stunning country!


  7. You know we’ve only been in Ridgway for two days and I am thoroughly obsessed with Colorado! It’s just breathtaking and we can’t wait to start checking out these back roads you’ve highlighted so perfectly in these last couple of posts (it’s, thankfully, been raining so we’ve been holding off…). I know I really couldn’t handle the winters here, but man, summer is just perfection! Beautiful photos!


    1. Be sure and drive Owl Creek Pass to Jack’s Reservoir for a nice 4×4 warm up. Easy gravel road. The views aren’t nearly as majestic as the other passes, but the ranches and general landscape are lovely. But more importantly, you must do a day trip to Silverton via the ‘million dollar highway’. Be sure and let me know if you’ll be visiting Grand Junction. So many things to do and sights to see in western Colorado. Enjoy!


      1. Hey – thanks for the tips. We’re planning on the 550 trip to Silverton, but keeping an eye on the road closures. The 416 fire has spread far north of Durango and they’ve been closing sections of 550 south of Silverton all week. We’re hoping that this bit of rain will help them get things under control. Last I checked, it was 25% contained. And yes, we plan to be in Grand Junction at the end of this month/beginning of July, so all tips are welcome.


        1. Oh yeah! I forgot about the 416 fire. Our friends had to evacuate their workamping gig near Durango because of it. Best to stay away because you never know when they’ll do a road closure. When I have better internet connection, I’ll shoot you a couple ideas on GJ.

          Liked by 1 person

  8. I love your post Ingrid! We spent a month in Gunnison a couple of years ago and enjoyed quite a few hikes and drives in/near Crested Butte. Your post sure brings back a lot of beautiful and nice memories! Thanks!


    1. When we’ve taken the RV, we always stayed along highway 50 just west of Gunnison, but I think next time through, we’ll actually boondock off Washington Gulch Road. These days, we’re much more comfortable taking the RV up gravel roads and parking in a meadow. We’ve come a long way in the past 5 years 😏 Beautiful country!


    1. My son went to the University of Colorado in Boulder. He shocked us when he moved to Phoenix after graduation. We didn’t think either kid would ever leave Colorado. It’s a beautiful state!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Cool story from 2012. Thanks for sharing. Looks like a wonderful place to make memories.

    Gave up tent camping last month…. And gave the tent to a nephew. Hope not to regret it.


    1. We occasionally travel with our tent as do several of our RVing friends. Sometimes there are remote places we’d like to go to beyond the RV’s capability. BUT those excursions have been far and few between and the thought of tent camping has lost its allure. So I’m sure your nephew will get much more use out of that tent than you will 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Great story! You made me giggle! Damn dog! Then…Adorable Bear and Dear husband!

    That liquid magic works almost every single time!


    1. Yes, love my morning coffee! We had such a great time during that excursion. You guys would LOVE those back roads and Crested Butte has so many cute places for lodging. We always rented a condo during our winter visits.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. We had hoped to get there but as you know the jello jiggled. Love the quaking Aspens, think we’ve been on some of those backroads over the years while visiting CO.


    1. I know that forest fire sure put a damper on your summer plans. Oh well, the beauty of a home on wheels … we get to be flexible. Hope you enjoy the rest of the summer as you bounce around. After our workamping gig in ID changed, we bounced around for two months which turned out to be one of the best time’s since hitting the road FT. We couldn’t have planned it any better 😃


  12. Awesome story I was laughing at your memory of the dog walking at 5:30 and quite often when I pet sit for a friend I am saying the same thing when the dog decides he wants to go out at 10 pm and I have both feet under the covers.

    Or when my two cats want me up at 5:30 in the morning to be fed. Sky is very persistent as well as Tiger. Sky head butts me until I get up.


  13. Another beautiful destination in Colorado! And, I love that it’s so dog friendly. Bear was very cute! And what a difference between tent camping and RV camping, right! 🙂

    Each time we drive into Colorado, we are amazed at the greenery and the scenery. What a beautiful state, indeed. I might like to love there one day, if it wasn’t for the cold and snowy winters.

    After reading one of your previous blogs about Telluride, we considered driving up there from Mesa Verde NP, but it was a tad out of the way on our loop back to Santa Fe. So many attractive places in Colorado. We’re looking forward to driving through again in July.


    1. July is a perfect time of year to visit Colorado. Yeah, I’m no longer a fan of the mountain winters. Playing in snow was fun with our children when they were young and there are times I occasionally miss a winter wonderland, but that desire quickly passes when I think of the reality of cold and snow 😆
      Hope you get to spend some time meandering around Colorado in your camper van – so much beauty to take in!

      Liked by 1 person

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