Labor Day in Crested Butte
We may have used COVID as an excuse to road trip all over Colorado this year, which also led us our new favorite place in the state, Crested Butte! While we thought Crested Butte would be a great winter destination for skiing, it may even be better in the summer. Our long weekend adventure was over Labor Day weekend, which resulted in crazy traffic getting to Crested Butte and coming home. The 4.5 hour drive became a 6-7 hour slog of sitting on 285 on the way up and I-70 on the way back. We tried two different routes and both were jam packed with cars escaping the heat in Denver.
Despite the terrible drive we truly enjoyed Crested Butte. The town was touristy but still had the old mining feel and the views were incredible. To top it off there are tons of hiking options from easy hikes along rivers to strenuous hikes up mountain peaks. We really liked Ridgway and Ouray from our earlier southwest Colorado road trip but Crested Butte may be our new favorite place in Colorado.
Our Airbnb Stay
With Beth being back in school, COVID still going on, and wildfires all over Colorado and the country, we weren’t sure if we were going to do a Labor Day trip. However, just a week before the holiday we found a perfect and surprisingly cheap dog-friendly Airbnb right on Mt. Crested Butte (the ski resort part). It happened to be a brand new private studio apartment in the lower level of a nice house on the mountain.
When we arrived the host let us know that we were literally the first people ever to stay here. How exciting! The spot was perfect for a couple with a king bed, full kitchen, dining area, full bathroom, and a great outdoor sitting area which we took full advantage of. Two bucks lived just 100 yards down the gully in front of the Airbnb and we even saw a fox. Spruce, our dog, didn’t seem to care about the bucks but he tried to do some chipmunk hunting. We sat there taking in the mountain views every evening (picture above).
The Town and COVID Thoughts
Crested Butte’s main street is Elk Avenue where most of the shops and restaurants sit. It is a great town to walk as everything is accessible and is very dog-friendly. With COVID, the town made Elk Avenue a one-way and blocked off a lot of street parking to allow for plenty of outdoor seating for restaurants. It was a short 10 minute drive from our Airbnb to downtown. We grabbed breakfast from the local restaurants and brought it back to our place. There were a lot of good coffee and tea shops that we took advantage of as well.
For one of lunches we really enjoyed eating outside at the Coal Creek Grill after our huge hike. Mask wearing was great while walking down the main street and Spruce enjoyed saying hi to the many dogs. With it being Labor Day weekend, it was busy but it wasn’t too crazy. There were a couple of restaurants where the indoor sitting was packed which we thought was interesting. We avoided those places and either ate outside or back at our place.
Mt. Crested Butte
Our Airbnb was on near the ski resort and you could walk on to the mountain. However, we were lazy and decided to drive up the ski resort. Crested Butte Ski Resort has a road that you can access part of the ski area in the summer while driving up to the Umbrella Bar. Unfortunately, the bar was closed but it provided amazing views. The drive was easy and fun as you drive underneath some chairlifts as you climb up the mountain.
Lower Loop Trail Along the Slate River
The first full day in Crested Butte led us to an easy hike along the Slate River. There is an Upper and Lower Loop trail that follows the beautiful river just 10 minutes outside of downtown. It is very flat and wide in most sections. We were pretty tired from our long drive the night before but managed to do a five mile loop along the river. We spent a while just relaxing along the river taking in the views of the surrounding mountains. It is one of the more prettier rivers we have found in all of Colorado.
Hiking to Copper Lake and East Maroon Pass
On that Sunday we did our biggest hike of the year, a 13 mile route starting from the Judd Falls Trailhead to Copper Lake and then to East Maroon Pass to get a view of the backside of the Pyramid Peak. The hike was just a 15 minute drive from our Airbnb next to the small town of Gothic, Colorado. The main parking lot is just outside of Gothic but we took the rough dirt road up in our Hyundai Tuscon to take off a mile from our hike. The road was rough but doable in any SUV if dry.
After we parked we began the short half mile jaunt to Judd Falls. The falls are impressive and we were the only people there early in the morning. Most people hike to the falls and then turn back. There is a shuttle bus system that many tourists use which drops you off at the main parking area to do the two mile hike to the falls.
Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness
Past the falls we entered the Maroon Bells-Snowmas Wilderness Area which had plenty of warnings regarding wildlife including bears. Despite the warnings we did not see any bears but found plenty of cows! Apparently the cows have free range in this area and they took over the trail on our way up and way down. The cows weren’t to sure of us especially with Spruce but thankfully he was scared of them. Beth would wave them off while I picked up Spruce and carried him around the cows.
The first cow encounter was next to the first river crossing which wasn’t bad as the water levels were low. There were three river crossings on the trail that could be more difficult in early summer when the water levels are higher. Other than the crossings the trail is very mild from Judd Falls until the last crossing. After the final crossing the trail is strenuous for the next half mile or so until you hit Copper Lake.
Copper Lake is a pretty typical mountain lake with nice views of the surrounding peaks. There are set campsites around the lake but the really good views are above the lake as you hike towards the East Maroon Pass. If you make it to the lake you need to go to the pass as it is not that difficult but is somewhat exposed.
East Maroon Pass
The hike up to the pass is a moderate pitch through a huge rock field and provides amazing views. In the rock field Spruce liked hunting for pikas. Eventually the trail curves up away from the lake and goes above treeline. Right where it curves is a perfect picture spot.
Once at the very top of the pass it is worth it to go down just a little bit to get a better view of the valley and the backside of the Pyramid Peak. If we continued the trail further we would have made it Aspen! There are two hikes between Crested Butte and Aspen. The more popular West Maroon Pass route at 11 miles and the East Maroon Pass route at 16 miles which we were on.
This was one of our favorite hikes ever. Despite going 13 miles it was not overly difficult. It provided all of the Colorado classics with a waterfall, river crossings, wildlife (cows?), a lake, and above treeline views. In total it took us 6.5 hours to complete the hike and we were glad to go back into town to grab a well deserved lunch.
Taylor Park Reservoir and Wildfire Smoke
On our final day in Crested Butte the smoke from the nearby fires crept in which diminished the amazing views of the mountains. Our plan was to visit and relax at the Taylor Park Reservoir on our drive back home. The smoke said otherwise. We made it the reservoir but it was smoke covered as well. Despite the hampered views we enjoyed a quick stop and walk at the reservoir. It would be great to come back come to Taylor Park Reservoir without the smoke. After the stop we drove up the most scenic pass in Colorado, Cottonwood Pass. Too bad we couldn’t see much but we have stopped here before and both sides of the pass are paved now.
Wow, Crested Butte combines all of our favorite aspects of a Colorado mountain town. Scenic views, check. Cute downtown, check. History, check Ski resort, check. Unlimited hiking options, check. Great locals, check. Affordability, not so much… Honestly, we are sad that it took us over three years of living Colorado to visit Crested Butte. It is toss up on whether we should go back to Ridgway/Ouray or Crested Butte first. We may just have to buy that lot on Mt. Crested Butte…. (if only)