It’s called the “last great Colorado ski town,” but Crested Butte is also worth a visit after the snow melts.
It’s a little more than four hours southwest from Denver, but it’s worth the drive. This small, former mining town feels like it exists in its own little bubble of relaxation. Speed limits are extra slow, the downtown looks and feels old-fashioned and the scenic drives just beg for you to take your time and take in the views.
There’s a ton of adventure awaiting in Crested Butte. Here are 10 of our favorite ways to explore the town, beyond skiing — including many ideas that are quirky and unique, just like the town itself.
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Watch the Sun Set From the Sky
Even after the ski slopes close down, the mountain doesn’t. Throughout the summer, you can take a chairlift ride up the Crested Butte Mountain. The most scenic time of day is when the sun sets. Take the Twilight Ride on the Red Lady Express chairlift on select evenings during the summer and watch the sun set while you are in the sky. Twilight lift tickets typically include a drink and are offered most of the summer, but weather also can affect that.
While on the chairlift, also keep your eyes open for the old mining camp, Gothic, and sweeping views of the valley.
Other lifts run throughout the summer, too. If a noon ride better fits your schedule, hop on the Silver Queen lift, get off at the peak and have a picnic with amazing views. Make sure you pack your camera. These snaps will be frame-worthy.
Summer lifts typically start running early June.
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Take a Scenic Drive
Crested Butte has some stunning scenic drives. Kebler Pass is especially stunning when the leaves are changing colors in the fall, but it’s truly impressive year-round. Beware: The road isn’t all paved, but it’s not extreme. Bring some snacks and pull off at a designated viewing point for a little picnic and photo shoot.
Crested Butte has multiple Colorado Scenic Byways, too: the West Elk Loop and the Silver Thread Silver Byway.
If you want to see wildlife, head up Taylor Canyon, where bighorn sheep like to hang out. Drive to Taylor Reservoir if you’re craving waterside scenery. You can go camping at this reservoir, in both easy-to-access campgrounds and more backwoods, off-road spots. You will find two developed campgrounds in this area.
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Shoot Arrows on Top of the World
At the tip-top of Crested Butte Mountain, at the pinnacle of the Red Lady Express lift, you’ll find a 20-plus-target archery course that’s open all summer. It’s suitable for all levels and is scattered throughout the mountain in a one-mile-mile loop that starts and ends at the lift.
Kids can join, too. The summer program offers archery lessons to kids 7 and older.
Crested Butte is known for its great hunting, and this provides a way to tap into that culture, without having to pick up a gun — or to practice your target, if you are visiting to shoot.
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Drink Your Way Through History
You can tell a lot about a community by its historical buildings, and you can also learn something by hanging out with the locals in the watering hole. In the summer, Crested Butte brings the two together for a unique Historic Pub Crawl.
Guests can hop between the different historic drinking establishments of the town and learn stories about the Wild West and its saloons. A historian will be waiting at each bar to share the tales.
Participants get a pint glass (to keep) that they can fill up with free drinks at the local bars. At each stop, they also get one playing card. At the final stop, the museum, participants throw down their hands. The best hand wins part of the pot. It’s like cowboy poker games, but without straight-shooters and spurs.
If you like history, there are some stunning historical buildings in town.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
05 of 10
Explore the Mountain From All Angles
There are plenty of different ways to explore Crested Butte: rafting, jeep tours, fishing trips, hiking and even on zipline. This Crested Butte Zipline Tour spans five different lines united by various platforms, such as bridges and towers. It will keep you soaring high in the sky for up to two hours. Visitors can sign up for a zipline tour daily in the summer and then on weekend in the fall. Ask about the zipline and rafting combo if you want to explore Crested Butte from the air and the water.
Another fun way to tackle the mountain is on bike. Crested Butte has more than 700 miles of singletrack trails and is a popular destination for mountain bikers. You can find trails for all levels, from beginner to advanced.
A good beginner-intermediate trail is the Lupine Trail. First, it's not far from town. Second, the view is amazing; per the name of the trail, it's lined by flowers. It has enough peaks and drops to be interesting but isn't too extreme. Best of all, it's open... much of the year, boasting one of the longest riding seasons in the area.
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Rock Out in the Mountains
Crested Butte offers some popular, family-friendly summer concert series. There are the Alpenglow concerts, a free outdoor show on Monday evenings, and the Live From Mt. CB series, which brings free, live music to the base of the mountain. Bring a blanket and relax to music under the sky. Check the calendars for the musical line-up.
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If you want to see wildlife, you’re in luck. Crested Butte is known for its animal residents, especially elk and deer. You can also find an impressive bird population here.
The best time of year to spot elk is early fall when they’re most active as they try to prepare for the cold winter and the elk perform their famous bugling and mating ritual. A popular tourist activity is to listen to the elk bugle and see if you can catch a photo of them. From a distance. Stay your distance from wildlife. Don't be The Tourist who gets mauled for a silly selfie.
Be careful: Bears live here, too. If you run across one getting, definitely don't try to take a bear selfie.
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Visit a High-Altitude Distillery
Montanya Distillers is a micro-distillery in Crested Butte. It's located at 9,000 feet above sea level. Although it’s not the highest distillery in the state (head to Breckenridge for that honor), the altitude does still affect the rum production, from distilling to aging. This rum is made in a traditional way by hand. Take a tour and taste it for yourself. If you’re lucky, you might catch live music during your visit.
Pick up a bottle to take home as a fun, Colorado-made souvenir.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
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Stay in a Turn-of-the-Century Cabin
Three Rivers Resort is one of our favorite places to stay near Crested Butte, in the tiny town of Almont. Here, you can stay in a cabin dating back to the 1800s, right close to the river. Go fishing, hiking, rafting, kayaking, horseback riding, on a zipline tour, four-wheel drive excursion or more, all in the pristine peacefulness of Colorado’s nature.
The Gunnison National Forest couldn’t be closer. Make sure you pay it a visit. Fun fact: Teddy Roosevelt created this forest in 1905.
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When in Crested Butte, you have to spend some time strolling down historic Elk Avenue. This colorful downtown is lined with old buildings, accented by a mountain view backdrop. Elk Avenue is where most of Crested Butte's action is, including the best restaurants, nightlife and locally-owned shops. It's a great place to stop on your last day in town to pick up gifts and souvenirs to take back home.