Crested Butte, Colorado

Crested Butte, Colorado

When we moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado in the mid-’90s, we couldn’t wait to take our first trip to the mountains.  I’m not sure why or how we picked Crested Butte for our first Rocky Mountain destination, but Crested Butte it was.

We packed up the vehicle, two kids, and the dog and ventured into unknown territory. I don’t remember which child said it first, but Crested Butte quickly turned into Crusty Butt.  Oh dear, out of the mouths of babes … to dub, such a beautiful, pristine place with such an unpleasant title is just wrong, but to the four of us, Crested Butte was now officially known as Crusty Butt.

Continuing with our Top 5 Must-Visit Colorado Mountain Towns

In no particular order, these are my top 5 favorite picks for must-see Colorado Mountain Towns … towns that I have returned to time and again because they’re just that special.

Wildflower Capital of Colorado

This quaint little mountain town will always hold a special place in my heart due to fond memories that were created during several family excursions to this part of Colorado. Aside from that, Crested Butte does offer a vibrant little community and is considered Colorado’s wildflower capital. It’s home to the Wildflower Festival held each July when the mountain meadows are covered in blooms.

downtown Crested Butte, Colorado, Colorado's wildflower capital
Downtown Crested Butte, Colorado

McGill's Restaurant in Crested Butte, Colorado, best coffee in ColoradoA stroll down the main part of town is always at the top of my to-do list. Elk Avenue is the main shopping and restaurant district and one of our favorite spots for breakfast is at McGill’s. The food is delicious but the coffee is even better.  During one of our visits, we couldn’t resist asking what kind of coffee they served, and we discovered that the coffee is actually roasted right there in Crested Butte by Camp 4 Coffee. McGill’s serves their Blue Mesa blend.

Camp 4 Coffee is a locally owned coffee shop and roaster. I love supporting local businesses. We consider no visit to Crested Butte complete without a stop at this establishment. A little afternoon latte pick-me-up followed by a purchase or two of their freshly roasted coffee beans to bring back home to the RV always fits into our schedule.

Another notable restaurant that we’ve enjoyed is The Last Steep Bar and Grill. Sitting outside on the deck is nice during beautiful weather.

Mount Crested Butte

As we head north of town just a little further, we come to Mount Crested Butte. This is where all the mountain action takes place. Although Crested Butte is known for its amazing ski slopes, it’s also considered the birthplace of mountain biking … well, I understand most mountain bikers might dispute this fact. The origin of mountain biking is something I’ll leave to the Colorado towns vying for that title. I’m merely repeating the Crested Butte information that I read online and at the visitor center.

Visiting the Back Country

One of my favorite things to do whenever I’m in the area is taking a little 4×4 backroad excursion. This is also where you’ll find the majority of wildflowers. During the Wildflower Festival, these backroads are active with tour companies and individual sightseers alike. The festival brings folks in from around the world, thus tourists are everywhere and it’s one of the busiest weeks of the year in Crested Butte.

Not to worry if you can’t make it for the festival. If you show up a week before or after, you’ll still be able to enjoy those blooms and with a lot fewer people around.

(This post is intended for entertainment purposes only. Please do your own research before driving any of these roads. Weather, rain, and flooding can impact the drivability of these roads and conditions can vary from one day to the next. If this is your first time to the area and you’re traveling with an RV, we recommend staying near Gunnison and explore camping options near Crested Butte first without the RV.)

Gothic Road, Slate River Road, and Washington Gulch Road are all worth exploring. A high-clearance vehicle is recommended as you travel further into the backcountry. A regular vehicle can traverse some of these gravel roads up to a given point and then road conditions can get a bit rough for the average car.

Emerald Lake, Crested Butte, Colorado, mountain meadow wildflowers along the shore of an emerald colorado lake in Colorado's high country
Emerald Lake. Can you spot the ledge of a road? I don’t think the road was even wide enough to accommodate a dually truck. Perfect for ATVs or small SUVs. I was so thankful that we didn’t encounter any oncoming traffic on this one lane width ledge of a road.

My Toyota Tacoma is perfect for these roads. With the exception of possibly a creek crossing, I don’t recall having to put the Tacoma into four-wheel drive. There are, however, a couple of real white-knuckle spots in the road on the backside of Mt. Baldy and above Emerald Lake. Yeah, those ledge type of roads that are the width of one lane, cut into the side of a mountain and are intended for two-way traffic are a real thrill!

Slate River Road, Crested Butte, Colorado
A portion of Slate River Road. An easy stretch.

During one of our first backroad excursions, we started off by heading up Slate River Road. We shared the road with other trucks, Jeeps, and ATVs/UTVs. We passed a large staging area for the trailered OHV (off-highway vehicles), as well as a camping area along the creek. We intended to make it a loop drive but decided to take a quick detour when we got to the turn for Washington Gulch Road where we decided to continue up toward Schofield Pass.  At this point, we were on the backside of Mt. Baldy and the road gets narrower and more precarious. I couldn’t envision two vehicles fitting on this ledge type of road. Oh, and I initially forgot that we’d have to retrace our tracks to connect at the Washington Gulch intersection meaning we’d be driving this ledge to and from. Eek!

As we rounded a blind switch back, we encountered a pickup truck loaded with people heading toward us.  The truck was lime green in color and set up kind of like an open-air safari vehicle with bench seating in the rear. My fearful thoughts had me mumbling, “Oh dear! How the heck are we going to pass each other?

I needed to back up and get us as close to the side of the mountain as possible (thank goodness, I had the inside).  The other truck and I both pulled in our outside mirrors and we slowly pass each other within inches. He was the one on the outside ledge and I could see his tourist passengers wide-eyed and a tad nervous. One slip, and down the mountain they’d roll.  Once we successfully passed each other, the driver waves and comments, “Thanks, we got’er done hon”. The passengers started clapping. I’m sure, they too were as relieved as I was.

I love exploring these backroads, but not on those narrow ledges. I’m always grateful to have Al sitting next to me assisting and encouraging me. He and I decided long ago that I would drive on these exploratory day excursions due to my many photo-op stops. This way, he gets to sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride and not listen to someone yelling, “Stop!” every five minutes. 😏

(To enlarge a photo in a gallery simply click on any image)

Not only do these backroads take you into some stunning countryside, but they also take you to some trailheads for some amazing hikes. Since we were traveling with an elderly dog during these summer visits, we had to pass on the hiking opportunities, but I assure you next time through, we will definitely add a little hiking into our schedule.

The itty bitty town of Gothic is also worth a short visit and a great place to use a public restroom before heading up toward Emerald Lake. I’m pretty sure the scenic drive to Gothic can be navigated with a regular car but do check at the visitor center in Crested Butte for up to date road conditions.

Lodging and Camping

Blue Mesa RV Resort, camping near Gunnison Colorado, Full-hookups in ColoradoSince Crested Butte is known as a tourist destination, finding a variety of lodging shouldn’t be a problem. During ski season, we usually opted for a condo near Mount Crested Butte. We’ve also stayed at the Comfort Inn in Gunnison which is about a one-hour drive south of the ski area.

Gunnison is a major town located along Highway 50 and makes a great home base to explore this area of Colorado. It’s also the perfect place to stock up on supplies.

Camping: With our RV in tow, we’ve stayed at a private RV Park with full hook-ups along Highway 50 just west of Gunnison, as well as the Curecanti National Recreation Area along the Blue Mesa Reservoir. The Elk Creek Campground does have some electric sites, but the majority of campgrounds in the area are dry only.

Elk Creek Campground, Blue Mesa Reservoir, Colorado, camping near Gunnison
Elk Creek Campground, Blue Mesa Reservoir, Colorado

Closer to Crested Butte are some national forest campgrounds suitable for tents and small travel trailers. Even at our modest 31 feet, we were too big and tall for most. We loved tent camping at Lake Irwin. Although we probably could’ve squeezed into a site or two with our 5th wheel, it was just much easier with the tent.

camping near Crested Butte, Colorado, at Lake Irwin Campground, wildflowers, a picnic table and mountain lake
A campsite at Lake Irwin, near Crested Butte, Colorado

We’ve also seen some folks boondocking off CO Road 12 and 730 near Lake Irwin, but the most popular boondocking locations are off Slate River Road and Washington Gulch Road near Mount Crested Butte. The mountain meadows and views are beautiful, but this is a place for seasoned boondockers who are well acquainted with mountain travel. For first-timers, it’s best to leave the RV camped near the Blue Mesa Reservoir and take a day exploring camping options closer to Crested Butte with just a regular vehicle.

Blue Mesa Reservoir, Gunnison, Colorado
Blue Mesa Reservoir near Gunnison, Colorado

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

As long as you’re in the area, you might as well head a bit further west on Highway 50 and take in the unique beauty of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. But keep in mind, if you’re camped in the town of Montrose, it’ll be even easier to access this park. And Montrose happens to be even closer to our next favorite mountain town.

Final thoughts

Crusty Butt Crested Butte is the perfect place to chill and unwind. It’s lowkey, beautiful, and super dog-friendly. However, if you’re into music venues and festivals, I know just the mountain town for that. Stay tuned!

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We took Bear with us everywhere in Crested Butte. He was even welcome in the T-shirt shops.

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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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Top 5 Colorado towns continued

We’ve enjoyed our stay at the Chatfield State Park despite Mother Nature’s wrath. Colorado’s front range received a ton of spring rain and now with the runoff from mountain snows melting, the Chatfield Reservoir is at record high levels.  The flooding is so severe that the west side of the park is closed as are all the boat ramps.  To top things off, ALL sewer services within the park have been shut off.  That means, no RV sewer connections, no dump station, no restroom flush toilets, and no showers anywhere in the park.  Restroom buildings have been locked and lovely construction porta-potties placed onsite in lieu.  And I won’t begin to mention the power outages.

Chatfield Reservoir
Site B-74 at Chatfield State Park near Denver, Colorado

If there’s anything this RV life has taught us, it’s to expect the unexpected and learn to roll with the flow and adjust accordingly.  And of course, a good sense of humor always helps.  So although we endured a few inconveniences during our Chatfield State Park visit, we still enjoyed our stay immensely.

ColoradoOne afternoon during one of those power outages, fellow campers were out and about checking with one another…. “Do you have power?”  During such an exchange, we ended up meeting some folks from Illinois.

As former Illinoisans, the conversation flowed freely.  The young couple, camping in a small travel trailer, were on a two-week vacation and wanted to see and experience Colorado’s finest.

Al and I did our best to answer their list of questions.  We offered recommendations on roads to avoid while pulling the trailer, keeping in mind this was their first visit to the Rocky Mountains.  Roads that Al and I are comfortable pulling aren’t necessarily roads we’d recommend for those less seasoned when it comes to mountain driving.

One particular question that had hubby and I torn – “What is your all time favorite, must see, Colorado town?”  (ah, a blog post(s) was born)  Al and I agreed it was a toss-up between Crested Butte and Grand Lake.  Both towns are beautiful in their own right and are very different from one another.  They both share plenty of charm, character, and beautiful scenery.

Crested Butte Colorado
the back country north of Crested Butte, Colorado

Mount Crested Butte, ColoradoWhen we moved to Colorado in the mid-nineties, Crested Butte was the first mountain town our family of four (plus doggie) visited.  I think Crested Butte will always hold a special place in my heart due to the special family moments experienced here.

One memorable trip occurred three years ago when I had a crazy idea to go tent camping at Lake Irwin.  I wanted to take the little truck (Tacoma) and explore some of the 4×4 back country roads north of Crested Butte.  Thus, we left the comforts of the RV behind and packed up the camping gear.

Crested Butte ColoradoLake Irwin is located west of the town of Crested Butte near Kebler Pass and sits at an elevation of 10,000 feet.  Somehow that elevation thing didn’t register properly in my mind when I set up this excursion.

Since this was in the middle of summer, I knew the temperatures would still drop substantially during the night, but I never imagined they would drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.  Thank goodness, hubby brought an extra sleeping bag to throw over us.  Even poor Bear was shivering during the night until I covered him with my sweatshirt.

Crested Butte
Exploring the back country north of Crested Butte

Crested Butte ColoradoIt was mid July and the Wildflower Festival was in full swing.  No coincidence there.  The trip was planned with the wildflowers in mind.

Crested Butte relishes the title of “Wildflower Capital of Colorado”.  Although according to locals, the drought conditions of 2012 lead to a dismal display of wildflowers.  No matter who we talked to (merchant, waitress, gas station attendant) everyone apologized for the pure showing of wildflowers and asked us to please come back next year.  Regardless, the countryside was and is stunningly beautiful.  The town of Crested Butte is filled with charm and character.  Mount Crested Butte is a little further up the road and this is where the ski slopes are located.  Even though the 1980’s architecture at Mt. Crested Butte is lacking in style and character when compared to downtown Crested Butte, it’s still worth a stroll around and there’s new updates yearly.

The back country north of Crested Butte is not to be missed, but strolling the town of Crested Butte can also be pleasurable.  Of course, there was a little T-shirt shopping involved during our visit (a habit of mine). Not wanting to leave Bear in the vehicle, Bear shopped with us and was welcome in most stores.

wildflowers in Colorado
back country road north of Crested Butte – Slate River Road

To read more about Crested Butte, visit our 2012 excursion – click here and here.  We revisited again in 2013 and I share a little more info here.  I wonder, with all the moisture Colorado has received this year, if the wildflowers won’t be in abundance and offer a stunning show for this year’s wildflower festival.  Who’s willing to check it out for me?  I’d go, but I already have commitments 😦

Crested Butte Colorado
camped at Chatfield State Park

Camping?  With a tent, truck camper, or small trailer there’s a bunch of options to choose:  from the Blue Mesa Reservoir to Crested Butte to National Forest back country.  With a bigger RV the list quickly dwindles.  With our modest 31 feet, we could fit into a few sites at Lake Irwin providing one such site was available.

There does seem to be wildflowers in Coloradosome free boondocking off-road 730 (Ohio Pass) just south of road 12 (Kebler Pass) which we would consider, but it does require traveling gravel roads to get there.  Washington Gulch Road also has some spots.

When we returned to the area in 2013 with the 5th wheel, we stayed at an RV Park off Highway 50 near the Blue Mesa Reservoir (west of the town of Gunnison).  During that visit, we spent some time checking out more campgrounds.  You can read about those camping options here.

For any first time Crested Butte RV visitor, I would highly recommend staying in a park off Highway 50 and exploring the Crested Butte area WITHOUT the RV first.  We all develop our own level of comfort when it comes to roads and parking conditions.  Al and I find the camping accommodations around Crested Butte to be a little more challenging than we’d like with the RV, but that’s not to say it wouldn’t work for you.

The stunning scenery in this part of Colorado should not be missed.  Crested Butte is definitely at the top of the list when it comes to “must see” places in Colorado….. it’s a favorite.  Up next, we’ll visit Grand Lake.


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Crested Butte

Hubby and I always look forward to visiting one of our favorite Colorado mountain towns.  Our friends are just as much a fan of Crested Butte, Colorado, as are we, but it’s been years since they last visited this well-known ski town.  Crested Butte isn’t just known for its awesome skiing…..it is considered the birth place of mountain biking.  Now I’m sure there’s some folks that might disagree, but keep in mind, I’m just repeating the Crested Butte information that I’ve read.Crested Butte

WildflowersThis quaint little mountain town is also home to the Wildflower Festival held each July when the mountain meadows are covered in blooms. Hubby and I visited this area last year for exactly that reason.  However, 2012 brought very little moisture to Colorado; producing drought conditions and a poor showing of blooms….so we were told.  The locals – from shop keepers, to wait staff, to city workers – all apologized for the poor display of wildflowers and encouraged us to revisit.  Ok….twist my arm!

So revisit we shall and we can’t wait to share the day with our friends.  Last year’s trip was a lot of fun even though the showing of wildflowers wasn’t spectacular.  I was indeed a very happy camper.  You can read about our 2012 tenting adventure in Crested Butte here.

On last year’s trip, we discovered a great little place for breakfast called McGill’s.  Al and I knew any return trip to Crested Butte would include a stop at McGill’s for breakfast.  With our friends in tow and tummies gurgling, we arrived at McGill’s for a late breakfast around 9 a.m.  First order of business – coffee.  They serve the yummiest coffee, roasted right there in Crested Butte.

Camp 4 Coffee is a locally owned coffee shop and roaster.  Before heading out of town, we purchased a couple of pounds of the “Sledgehammer” roast.  McGill’s serves the “Blue Mesa” blend which Al really enjoys….and he’s not normally a coffee drinker, but he is at McGill’s.wildflower

With tummies full and plenty of coffee to keep us zinging for a few hours, we’re off to explore the backcountry.  We head north past Mount Crested Butte and toward the town of Gothic.  Our goal today was Emerald Lake.  Last year we never made it to the lake because traffic was too heavy for our liking.  The Wildflower Festival brings folks in from around the world, thus tourists everywhere.Gothic

Crested Butte

Our trip today was perfect…..perfect weather, few tourists, and enjoyable company.  The road got a little rough in spots, but nothing my Toyota couldn’t handle.  We enjoy our photo op at Emerald Lake then meander our way back to our camp at Blue Mesa.Emerald Lake

Cows

ChipmunkI wrote three posts last year with a little more information on Crested Butte and the surrounding area.  Feel free to check out the posts starting here.

Once again, we did not get our fill of the area and Al and I vow to return again next summer.  I believe our friends share our sentiment and are ready to return with a moments notice.

It’s Tough Being a Dog

Brittany Spaniel
Bear

We’re out-of-town on an adventure without internet service.  Yep, left the technology behind.  So during our absence, I thought I’d leave you with a few images about why it’s tough being a dog….  from Bear’s point of view !

Monarch Pass
another darn photo-op

Mom is always stopping to take pictures.  I don’t know why she insists I be in her photos.  She says Brittany Spaniels are super cute.  Can’t I just stay in the car and sleep?

Then there’s the sleeping.

Brittany Spaniel
sleeping in a tent….roughing it !

On our last camping trip to Crested Butte, we actually slept in a tent.  Hey, what’s wrong with the RV?  And although it was fun sleeping next to mom in the tent, it got super cold at 10,000 feet in elevation and the pillow case was a mere 250 thread count.  Certainly not what this Brittany Spaniel is accustomed to.

Brittany Spaniel
this leather couch is great for naps !

At home, the leather sofa is always comfy.  Mom even helps my back-end up since I am no longer able to jump up on my own.  You know, I was never allowed on the furniture until I got older.  Yep, that’s right.  I used to get on the furniture when they weren’t home and immediately jump off when they returned.  Then one day I figured, what the heck, what Brittany Spanielare they gonna do about it?  All I have to do is bat my puppy dog eyes and mom and dad melt.  They’re such push overs.  There are benefits to getting old !

However, my eyesight ain’t what it used to be.

But my nose still works great !  I have to really insist and try hard to get dad to share his sandwich with me.  With persistence, I always win in the end.

Brittany Spaniel
having difficulty getting dad to share….  When I was younger, this kind of behavior was never tolerated.  Now that I’m an old guy, they let me get away with being a bad dog….fun times!

Mom and dad rely on me to be on guard at all times.  It’s a tough job, but someone around here has to do it.

Lake Irwin
Who goes there ?  Not worthy of getting up !
Crested Butte
Hey, wait for me…

Dad keeps me on a leash.  I don’t know why I can’t walk the streets of Crested Butte freely like Pork Chop the Golden Retriever.  We’re bud’s ya know !

Well, we’re off on another adventure.  This time we’re traveling in luxury and taking the RV.  My nose will be working overtime.  Yes, it’s a dog’s life……

Brittany Spaniel
here ducky, ducky…just a little closer

Crested Butte, CO

We moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado, in the mid 90’s.  With excitement and exuberance, we couldn’t wait to take our first trip as Colorado residents to the mountains.  I’m not sure why or how we picked Crested Butte as our first mountain destination, but Crested Butte it was.

We packed up the vehicle, two kids, and the dog and ventured into unknown territory.  Oh dear, out of the mouths of babes……  I’m not sure which kid said it first, but Crested Butte turned into Crusty Butt.  To dub such a beautiful, pristine place with such an unpleasant title is just wrong.  BUT to the four of us, Crested Butte was now known as Crusty Butt.

Mt. Crested Butte

Crested Butte holds special memories for me and remains a favorite of mine.  This recent trip allowed Al and me to reaquaint ourselves with the area, as well as explore the back country….a first for us.

Elk Avenue is the main shopping district in this beautiful mountain town.  During our three-day visit, we take the opportunity to stroll these shops and enjoy a few meals.  We ate breakfast twice at McGill’s.  The food was delicious but the coffee was amazing.  The coffee was soooo good we just had to ask, “what kind is it?”  Turns out it’s locally roasted…. Camp 4 Coffee.   McGill’s serves the Blue Mesa blend.

After breakfast we head on over to Camp 4 Coffee to take home some of these amazing beans.  Following our three-hour scenic loop drive, we stop in at The Last Steep Bar and Grill for lunch.  We sit on the deck enjoying a great meal and perfect weather.

Worth noting;  we found the prices overall in Crested Butte to be reasonable, especially for a tourist town.  I paid $35 for two T-shirts and about $30 for two people, breakfast/lunch.

Considering our lodging cost totalled $16, we felt we had extra cash to splurge on fun things.  It was always our plan to go out to eat a few times, which is why we left all the camp cooking gear behind.  This turned out to be a great decision, and I would plan it this way again in a heartbeat.

I purchased the T-shirts at Cottonwood Tees.  In a previous post I mentioned the young guy working the counter.  He was extremely helpful in sharing his passion and knowledge of the countryside.  Its because of his help, we explored and saw some amazing back country.

I look forward to future visits to try some of the other fun and interesting restaurants, and of course a little more retail therapy!

Washington Gulch Road

After a much-needed break near Mt. Baldy, we start the second half of our scenic loop drive.  We return to Crested Butte via Washington Gulch Road.  This part of our loop offers its own challenges.  The road is equally as narrow as Slate River Road but drop offs are fortunately not as severe.  However….

Washington Gulch Road

we did need to cross two small streams.  With the aid of 4 wheel drive, we cross with ease, although my knockles turned white from gripping the steering wheel so tightly.  Really, like that somehow would help!  We also encounter more wildflowers along this stretch.  The waitress this morning, at McGills, said this isn’t a very good wildflower season.  It’s been way too hot and dry.  She was practically apologetic and encouraged us to return another year.

Al and I don’t feel badly about the “poor” display of wildflowers.  The gorgeous scenery, perfect weather, and great coffee have put Al and me in a wonderful mood.  How could it not?  Yes, life is good!

We return to the town of Crested Butte at about  1:30 in the afternoon.  We check the gas gauge on the truck…nearly full.  Hmmm, we just drove about three hours and barely burned any fuel?  Ahhhh, 10-20 miles per hour with more stops than one can count sums it up pretty well.  Mileage wise, we figure we traveled less than 50 miles.

We have a cooler with food but decide to try out another restaurant.  We so enjoyed breakfast this morning that we’re eager to try out a new place for a late lunch.

A Scenic Loop

It’s three o’clock in the morning and the dog is shaking.  He’s sleeping on a blanket near my side of the air mattress.  I grab my hoody and cover him.  He falls back asleep.  I’m sure glad one of us can fall asleep so quickly.  Hmmm, nature calls.  I reluctantly throw off the two layers of sleeping bags and scurry to the foot of the air mattress to put on my tennies.  No need to throw on clothes, since I’ve been sleeping fully clothed, i.e. sweatpants and sweatshirt.  It’s cold at three in the morning camped at 10,000 feet.

I quietly unzip the tent and crawl out.  I’m awestruck with the most incredible vision.  The stars and crescent moon are so vivid and bright.  I have no trouble seeing around the campsite.  I stand there and just take in the beauty before I’m reminded as to why I’m standing outside the tent at three in the morning shivering.  This is serious Bear and Mountain Lion country.  I take care of “business” just three feet from the tent.  I have no intention of being someone’s midnight snack, and I’m sorry, but that trumps someone seeing my crescent moon!  I once again stand there admiring the sky before crawling back into a nice warm bed.

It’s 5:30 in the morning and I’ve renamed Bear…..”damn dog”.  (ya know I love him and wouldn’t trade him for the world, but he wants a walk at 5:30 in the morning in the frickn cold)  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 in serious Bear, as in Black, Brown country?  The garbage containers are heavily locked and Bear proofed.  It reminds me of the safety lids on medications.  In other words, it’s a royal pain in the a*s to get open just to throw your garbage away.  I’m on alert.  “Hurry up, damn dog”.  Finally “business” complete, we return to the warmth of sleeping bags.

It’s seven o’clock and the sun is rising.  We hear other campers in the distance.  Al awakes and informs me how great he slept (damn husband).  Sleep deprived wife informs damn husband and damn dog, “We’re going into town for breakfast.  I need a cup of  strong, black coffee”.

I drive around Crested Butte looking for a place for breakfast.  Finally Al has me stop, he jumps out of the truck and walks over to a pretty blond lady watering flowers.  He and the blond chuckle (do I really care?).  He proceeds to tell me to drive up Elk Street three blocks.  Blond says McGills serves a good breakfast.  Good breakfast yes, but amazingly good coffee.

Two cups of coffee later, we’re back to “dear husband” and “cute, adorable dog”.  Al and I discuss exploration options, but first it’s time for a little retail therapy.  It’s still a little early and shops aren’t open yet.  That’s ok, I’m on the hunt and need to survey my prey.

We enter a T-shirt shop.  I’m on a mission.  Al and Bear head over to the counter, yes this is dog friendly country and dogs are welcome everywhere except inside restaurants.  Al strikes up a conversation with the young man behind the counter.  We’re the only ones in the store and when the young man realizes I drive a Toyota Tacoma and we’re there to explore the back country, he excitedly shares his knowledge and passion of the area.  He drives a Toyota 4-Runner (sister to the Tacoma…lol) and recommends a scenic loop drive.  He gives us a couple of heads up warnings and what we might encounter.  He gives us a complimentary map and points out everything on the map for us.  Two T-shirts later, that’s enough retail therapy for me.  I’m ready to explore.

We head up Slate River Road, just north of the town of Crested Butte.  As usual, 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 encounter campers and ATVer’s.

Moooooove!

BUT most importantly, I finally start seeing some wildflowers.  Up to this point I begin to wonder, “Wildflower capital of Colorado”?  Say what?  Still not impressed, but I have an open mind.  The scenery is spectacular.  I drive so I don’t drive Al crazy with my many photo-op stops.  “Stop here, no I meant there.  Why don’t you listen to me?”  I think you get the picture.  Besides Al says, “I like being chauffeured around by a pretty lady”.  Ah, ain’t that sweet!

Slate River Road, two way traffic allowed

We continue up Slate River Road.  It’s narrow but in pretty good condition.  Geez, I hope no one comes down this road.  Yes, it’s a two-way road.  This, my friends, is why we drove the Tacoma in lieu of the F-250.  As a former flatlander, this kind of road would’ve scared the sh*t out of me years ago.  Now it just scares the p*ss out of me.

Mt. Baldy on right

We pass the turn for Washington Gulch Road and continue toward Schofield Pass.  “Boy, could this road get even narrower?” I comment to Al.  We come around a blind switch back and encounter a truck loaded with people.  Kind of like an open air safari get up.  Hmmmm, I back up and get us as close to the side of the mountain as possible (haha, I got the inside).  The driver comments, “thanks, we got’er”, and passes by me.  He’s the one on the outer edge.  One slip, and down they go.  Tourists all clap once we’ve successfully passed, and we’re all on our way again.  This is the Wildflower Festival after all and there’s all kinds of tours and activities planned throughout the week.

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 campground, but up here it works.  He snaps a couple of quick pictures and sends to his sisters.

11,250 feet

I decide I’ve had enough thrill for the day and have concern about venturing any further.  After all, the guy at the T-shirt shop said it’ll get rougher from this point.  “But your truck can handle it”.  It’s not the truck I’m worried about.  Al’s having such a good time, he leaves the decision up to me.

This stretch of road is tame and a piece of cake. Wish it had all been like this.

We head 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, we don’t meet another vehicle for quite some time.  Washington Gulch Road does present its own challenges………….

Where to Camp?

We’re on Gothic Road north of Mt. Crested Butte in the back country.  It’s absolutely gorgeous.  Al and I are in our element. The road continues to narrow and get rougher.  We notice the occasional tent or small trailer here and there but no campground just yet.  We continue our trek and share the road with ATV’s.  Hmmm, do they know something we don’t?

Finally we come across a sign, “Gothic Campground”.  We turn in and the sign says FULL.  All four sites are occupied.  Sur-prise, sur-prise, sur-prise!  (note the Gomer Pyle accent, that is if you’re old enough to know who I’m talking about)  We continue up the road and the road gets rougher and we see more ATV’s than vehicles.  Perhaps it’s time to turn around….Plan B……Lake Irwin.  Lake Irwin was our plan for night two.  New plan calls for two nights at the campground at Lake Irwin, providing it isn’t full.  Back to the town of Crested Butte we go.  Once in Crested Butte, we head west on Road 12 (Whiterock Ave) and continue out-of-town on paved road which quickly turns into gravel.  After 7 miles, we head north on Forest road 826 and arrive at Lake Irwin 2 miles later.

Al and I are getting tired.  It’s 4:00 in the afternoon and the sky is darkening with storm clouds.  Thank goodness, there are about half a dozen sites open.  We drive around the campground a couple of times and choose site #15.  We quickly set up camp and fix sandwiches for dinner.  We set up our chairs and admire our surroundings.  I don’t think it took but five minutes and Al and I look at each other and say, “I’m cold”.  Time to get our sweatshirts on!

Lake Irwin sits at an elevation of 10,200 feet at Keebler Pass.  It offers 32 sites and a publication says it can accommodate RV lengths up to 35′.  Al and I are super glad we didn’t bring the 5th wheel.  We’re still a little new with our 31′ rig and Al likes to have lots of room to maneuver and this place, well let’s just say things are on the tight side.  Perhaps down the road we would reconsider bringing the rig.

Once camp is set up, we take Bear for a stroll down to the water’s edge.  This is one of the most beautiful campgrounds Al and I have ever stayed at.  Facilities include picnic tables, fire grates, hand pump for water, and vault toilets.  This campground is usually open from late June to mid-August.  However, this year with the extremely dry winter and unusually warm temperatures, Lake Irwin opened Memorial Weekend and should stay open until mid-September, weather permitting.  Al and I are already considering a return visit mid-August.  This pristine campground quite often fills on weekends.

As the sun sets, the temperature drops.  With the ridiculously hot summer we’re experiencing at lower elevations, the crisp, cool, clean air is a welcome pleasure.  The three of us head off to bed and dream about wildflowers.  Don’t tell Al I said that 😉  Tomorrow we continue our explorations.

Seeking Cooler Temps…

After a quick stop at Monarch Pass, we approach the town of Gunnison.  Gunnison, Colorado, is located 200 miles southwest from Denver and sits at an elevation of 7703 feet.  Gunnison is home to Western State College.  The economic base in the area is primarily tourism, education, and ranching.

A Gunnison valley ranch

As we drive through this western town, it’s obvious ranching is big business around here.  Cowboy hats, jeans, large belt buckles, and boots are in abundance, but the surrounding area says it best.  Ranches and cattle in the Gunnison valley can be seen in all directions.  Some are absolutely gorgeous and my photography does not do it justice.

I fell in love with this barn. I would live in this barn!!!
same barn, different angle….how cool!

Hwy 50 travels through the center of Gunnison and this is where we pick up Highway 135 and head north to Crested Butte.  First we stop for lunch where Al indulges in a tasty Buffalo burger at the Palisades Restaurant. Al and his hunting buddies would frequent this place when they used to hunt the Almont triangle.

After lunch, it’s back on the road for another 28 miles before arriving at our destination.  Al and I take our time and admire the countryside and buildings.  The valley is a combination of ranches and small subdivisions.

I’m pretty sure this is what a successful Ranch operation looks like 🙂

We haven’t decided where we’ll spend the night and, since it’s the week of the “Wildflower Festival“, we aren’t sure if we’ll find an open campsite.  Prior to lunch in the town of Gunnison, we stop in at the U.S. Forest Service for some free maps and information.  The young gal is polite and friendly.  She gives us a map of the area and notes on the map potential boondock spots (i.e. dry camping, on your own, middle of no where, no facilities, you get the picture).  Al and I look around and pick up additional free maps and brochures to aid in our adventure.

Could we have made a reservation at a campground?  Of course, but then where’s the sense of adventure or freedom?  The reservation would lock us in and what if we didn’t like the spot?  No, traveling on a whim is how we like to fly these days.  Or as Al likes to say, “flying by the seat of our pants”.  😉

Al and Bear in Crested Butte

“Are we there yet?”

Crested Butte, Colorado……this is probably my favorite mountain town.  Unfortunately it’s been about ten years since we last visited Crested Butte and even then, we never had enough time to explore and do everything we wanted.  We reacquaint ourselves with the town before continuing north toward Mt. Crested Butte.

Mt. Crested Butte

Mt. Crested Butte is the name of the mountain most associated with this area, as well as the name of the community at the base of the ski slopes.  This is the area with ski-in ski-out condos and hotel lodging.  During this particular trip, we drive past the village and continue north on Gothic Road ready to explore the back country and find a campsite.  Pavement quickly turns into gravel.  Two lanes turns into a lane and a half.  We are definitely venturing into the hinter land and it’s absolutely gorgeous.

back country off Gothic Road

More on this to come….stay tuned!