This Colorado Town Has Abundant Wildflowers and Totally Underrated Skiing

Crested Butte is more than worth the four-and-a-half-hour drive from Denver.

Photo by Danica Bona - Sweet Tea Studios Danica Bona
Photo by Danica Bona - Sweet Tea Studios Danica Bona
Welcome to Two Days Away, our series featuring weekend-long itineraries within a five-hour drive of your city—because sometimes we all just need a little adventure fix.

Not to rip on any of Colorado’s better-known ski towns (we’re looking at you Vail, Breck, and Aspen), but Crested Butte is kind of the best. It’s quiet—the four-and-a-half-hour drive from Denver keeps the crowds away—full of independent restaurants, shops, and bars, and, oh yeah, it’s jaw-droppingly gorgeous. And while it may be most popular in the winter months for the slopes, Crested Butte is definitely worth visiting when it’s not covered in snow, too.

The town is super quaint, with Elk Avenue serving as your hub for eating and drinking and your home base for all that outdoor frolicking. There’s not even a traffic light in town to slow down your fun. Here’s why you need to get Crested Butte onto your to-visit list, from a noteworthy distillery to a remote new backcountry lodge to all the stunning vistas and views you can handle.

Travel time:

From Denver: 4 hours, 20 minutes
From Grand Junction, Colorado: 2 hours, 50 minutes
From Albuquerque, New Mexico: 6 hours

Photo by Danica Bona

If you don’t do anything else: Frolic among the wildflowers or hop on the ski lift

Between late June and July, Crested Butte comes alive in a way unlike any other in Colorado; swathes of vivid yellows, purples, and nearly every other color of the rainbow bloom in the expanse of fields at the Rockies’ base. There’s even a Crested Butte Wildflower Festival every July dedicated to hundreds of workshops on everything from pollination to photography and even cooking edible wildflowers. Of course you’ll find the Columbines, the state’s flower, among the blossoms, but other varieties to scout for include lupines, paintbrushes, fireweed, lesser-known orchid and sunflower varieties, and many more. Just be sure to stick to the marked trails as you explore—trampling or picking the delicate beauties is a major no-no.

We’d be remiss not to mention the opportunity for all ski and snowboard enthusiasts visiting CB; Crested Butte Mountain Resort has top-notch trails, from the steepest (at a 55-degree pitch) to the lengthiest (2.6-miles) routes that offer adventure for everyone at every skill level. And with an annual snowfall of 236 inches, there’s always fresh powder to wake up to and shred.

Feast in the Field | Photo by Nolan Blunck

Fill your days:

Spring and Summer Recreation in Crested Butte

In the warmer months, Crested Butte is an adventurer’s paradise, even outside of wildflower gazing. Mountain bikers can trek more than 750 miles of singletrack, with bike rentals in town for beginners. The all-levels-friendly Lupine Trail offers unparalleled views and easy riding, while experienced riders might opt for challenging routes via Doctor Park Trail, Avery, and Teocalli Ridge Trail #557.

Visitors can take advantage of the chair lifts on Mt. Crested Butte even in the summertime while hiking the miles of trails in the area or summiting the mountain itself. Popular trails include the eight-mile Rustler Gulch trail, which boasts views of Maroon Bells, Mt. Bellevue, and Mt. Baldy, and the beginner-friendly hike on the Judd Falls trail leads you to a stunning waterfall. As for scenic drives, there’s the West Elk Loop Scenic Historic Byway, which winds its way through Carbondale, Paonia, Hotchkiss, and Gunnison. A pivot from the byway will take you to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park or to the Penny Hot Springs natural geothermal pool.

Festivals and Events in Crested Butte

In addition to the annual Wildflower festival, Crested Butte hosts more than a dozen large-scale events every year. From film, literary, music, and arts festivals to three variations of The Grand Traverse, there is, quite literally, something going on every season in CB. Celebrate the rich history of Western ranching at Cattlemen’s Days or sample the finest fare and brews in the region at the Chili & Beer festival—no matter what, Crested Butte knows how to party and celebrate its people, history, and culture.

There’s also the Feast in the Field dinner, a farm- and vineyard-to-table experience held every summer at the idyllic Red Dog Ranch. A picturesque, locally sourced, multi-course dinner benefits Mountain Roots, a nonprofit dedicated to donating fresh, organic food to families in need.

Art in Crested Butte

If you fancy yourself a day exploring town, you should carve out time for some of Crested Butte’s many private art galleries. At The Crested Butte Fine Art Gallery, you’ll find oil paintings and photography by three local artists, whereas the Oh Be Joyful Gallery attracts a plethora of painters, printmakers, and sculptors from across the country, resulting in a varied display of work.

Additionally, there is the Center for the Arts, which hosts concerts, live performances, and special events of all kinds on a regular basis. Guests can immerse themselves in lectures and talks, visual and culinary arts, and a wide variety of live entertainment in the stunning, 28,000 square-foot multi-use space, which includes a 350-seat theater, two art studios, dance studios, a visual arts gallery, and bar.

Photo courtesy of Campfire Hut

Eat, drink, and sleep:

Restaurants and bars in Crested Butte

It might come as a surprise to newcomers just how many high-quality restaurants there are in Crested Butte. The Slogar is regarded as one of the best in town, serving up comfort food in a Victorian-era atmosphere, with French restaurant Soupçon a close second. The Breadery is where you’ll carbo-load before hitting the slopes (or anytime you want deliciously fluffy, homemade bread), and José Mexican restaurant inside the Elevation Hotel & Spa features regional Guadalajara dishes like enchiladas and carnitas tacos (plus an outdoor patio).

As for libations, take your pick. Visit the female-owned and operated Montanya Distillers, with its tasting room on the main drag of Elk Street and impeccable rum bottles and concoctions. Beer lovers will enjoy Irwin Brewing Co., which uses mountain snow melt to craft its award-winning brews, as well as The Eldo Brewery, which has served up hazy IPAs and a fan-favorite sour series since 1996.

Where to stay in Crested Butte

Campfire Ranch Washington Gulch is located just north of Mt. Crested Butte, primarily accessible only by a four-mile ski, snowshoe, snowmobile, or hike in, unless you drive up during the peak of summer. It offers 15 beds and a full kitchen, plus all the necessities like running water and flushing toilets—so rustic without being too rustic.

For those looking for a little more daily interaction, book a stay at the Nordic Inn, a charming bed and breakfast with multiple rooms and rentals for the perfect home-away-from home mountain experience.

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Allyson Reedy is a Thrillist contributor.
Erica Buehler is a Thrillist contributor.