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Crested Butte: My family’s favorite mountain playground in Colorado

I wasn’t prepared for the full-circle moment I had when my family returned to Crested Butte, Colorado before my recently graduated daughter Hadley moved out. We have been visiting this mountain hamlet since she was 1 year old. We named my son as we watched “Bode” Miller bomb the Torino Olympic Winter Games while we were cozily holed up in our CB condo. The kids attended the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory’s Summer Camp in nearby Gothic, a dramatic, dreamlike valley where pure glacial waters cascade down the mountainside. It has been a couple of years since our last visit but everything was just as I remembered: The quirky, multi-hued National Historic District with burgeoning flowers spilling from the hanging baskets and the outer-world beauty of Red Lady (Mount Emmons).Crested Butte Sea Level Spa

Crested Butte is the ultimate year-round family vacation with world-class skiing, mountain biking, wildflowers, hikes, and tributes to the arts. We have so many traditions here. Stay at The Lodge at Mountaineer Square. Relish in Crested Butte Wildflower Festival’s 10-day festival and swoon to the Crested Butte Music Festival’s live music. Bomb down the slopes at Crested Butte Ski Resort. Glide across the 55 km of maintained Nordic ski track. Hike Snodgrass Mountain at sunrise.  Spy on the beavers at our special spot off Slate River Road. Explore Kebler Pass’s glorious aspen goodness in the fall.  Scroll to the bottom for even more family-friendly recommendations. 

Crested Butte has many roots and ours are planted deep. 

Crested Butte Family Vacation Tips

Mountain Biking

My family is hosting a Spanish exchange student, Pablo, for the 2022/23 school year. When he noted on his student exchange application that he enjoys mountain biking, we chuckled. He’s a city-dweller from Madrid; how much real mountain biking had he done? Unsurprisingly, exposing Pablo to Crested Butte’s Mountain Bike Mecca was a whole new ballgame (but he did great!) 

Crested Butte Lower Loop

(Crested Butte Lower Loop)

Eighty percent of the land surrounding Crested Butte Mountain Resort is open space and the Gunnison Valley is renowned as one of the birthplaces of mountain biking. Without a doubt, Crested Butte has the best mountain biking in Colorado–from Crested Butte Mountain’s epic downhill trails to the world-famous 401 (when you’re this good, you don’t need a real name) in Gothic Valley.

 If you’re looking for a challenge, Crested Butte Mountain Resort’s vast trail network has 30+ miles of singletrack to complement the more than 750 miles open to mountain biking in the Gunnison Valley. Not a biker? Hitch a ride from the Silver Queen Lift (an additional cost) where hikers can easily summit the iconic 12,162-foot Crested Butte Mountain in just a couple of hours. 

We planned two days on bikes: We would get Pablo initiated on the town’s trail system and then introduce him to the big guns: lift-serviced downhill at Crested Butte Mountain. 

Crested Butte’s Lower Loop

On Day 1, we took the free shuttle from the Lodge at Mountaineer Square four miles down the mountain into the town of Crested Butte to pick up our rental bikes from The Alpineer, a full-service outdoor equipment shop and local’s favorite.

We started out on the family-friendly terrain of the Lower Loop, a popular trail just outside of town that meanders along the Slate River while passing cobalt-blue Peanut Lake and the Gronk, a large cement structure from historic mining days. We followed it for a few miles with the Paradise Divide mountain range as the backdrop, our vision crowded with lupine, mule ears and dwarf larkspur.

 Just as we were about to turn onto Gunsight Pass Road and connect to the Upper Lower Loop, we remembered a staffer at The Alpineer told us we could take a detour to Oh-Be-Joyful Falls, one of the area’s hidden charms. Without the aid of a map, we found ourselves navigating extreme terrain with some technical steep switchbacks. There were a few freakout moments (from me, not Pablo) so we turned back to the Upper Lower Loop, stopped for a photo opp at Gunsight Bridge overlooking picnicking families playing in the Slate River and looped back into town to enjoy the Crested Butte Farmer’s Market–the best of all the worlds.  

Note: If you’d like longer explorations, start at the intermediate-level Lupine Trail in the Saddle Ridge subdivision which eventually connects to the Lower Loop trails. 

Mt. Crested Butte Mountain Bike Park

Crested Butte Mountain Resort offers an abundance of riding options from lift-serviced double black downhill-specific trails to meandering cross-country trails that can be ridden in both directions. Note: Trails can be ridden without purchasing a lift ticket, but be sure you only ride up trails that allow uphill traffic.

Hadley does not prefer downhill riding and instead chose to visit the fitness center at the Lodge. I opted for my own adventure. There is a paved recreational bike path that extends from the town of Crested Butte up up up 4 miles to the base of Mt. Crested Butte and keeps going another few miles to the base of Snodgrass Mountain which, in my opinion, has some of the best wildflower views and hiking/biking in town. That was my adventure.

(View from Snodgrass Mountain)

(View from Snodgrass Mountain)

That left the downhill warriors: My husband Jamie who thought he was 16 (but did not feel 16 the morning after his ride). Pablo, who was adjusting to his new life of adventure after journeying from sea level to 9,000 feet (and trying to adapt to our ridiculous non-metric system). And my son Bode who is on the high school’s mountain bike team and left them both in his dust. 

They picked up their bike rentals at the CBMR Rental & Demo Center at the base area. The friendly staffers not only outfitted them with their downhill bikes sized to their weight and height specifications but also all the padding, equipment and knowledge they would need for a successful ride.Crested Butte downhill biking

They rode up the Red Lady Express and started on beginner terrain (Hotdogger, Awakening and Downtime). After Jamie and Pablo called it quits, Bode kept exploring harder and harder terrain like Luge, Frequency and Teaser; the expert terrain like Captain Jack and Psycho Rocks are the most technical, sketchy rock gardens at the resort and best reserved for, well, the psychos. 

The stunning downhill rips were the boys’ favorite part of the whole trip and Bode, in particular, couldn’t get enough.  On his Strava app, he proudly boasted he had managed the art of going straight uphill. My snide comment, “Yes, it’s called a chairlift,” brought him downhill a few notches but guaranteed, the terrain at Crested Butte Mountain Resort is top notch.

Crested Butte Adventure Park and Mountaintop Adventure

Crested Butte Mountain Resort’s base area has evolved over the years. In the past, we raced across the zipline and skated on the outdoor rink in the summertime.  Currently, the main summer offerings include hiking, 3D Archery, disc golf, scenic chairlift rides and the Adventure Park’s rock climbing wall, a bungee trampoline and gem panning. Disc Golf Crested Butte

Crested Butte’s Extreme Disc Golf for Idiots

We like to try at least one new adventure when we visit Crested Butte and we targeted 10-3 @CB Disc Golf atop Red Lake Express Lift as our next conquest. I now realize I should have done my research prior to attempting it. I figured you start at a tee pad and throw the disc toward a target (the basket); how difficult could it be beyond that? Pro tip: If you’ve never played an organized game of disc golf, Crested Butte was recently named one of the top 25 courses in America and is not the place to start. 

The reason? This is a mountain course. Mountains are big. They have trees. They have rocky terrain. They have prickly things.  I assumed there would be some kind of a map or guidance at the summit where we started but we couldn’t find either so we ended up winging it. We later found out there are two courses–a shorter, more gentle course that loops back to the lift and a long 18-hole course that takes you all the way down to the base. We chose the latter. Note: there is a cost for the lift but the course is free; bring your own discs).

Disc Golf Expert

(The flying Spaniard)

We actually had a lot of fun in our naivety. The views were spectacular and sure, there was a lot of incompetence but there was also a lot of laughter. I even made par on one of the holes.  There is a trail between baskets with a small arrow pointing to the next hole but if you’re not adept at throwing the disc, expect to do a lot of bushwhacking. And lose a disc (or two). That’s what the Americans did. Bode lost his disc on the very first throw but fortunately, we found another in a wooded area we called the black hole. Pablo specialized in long, beautiful glides; apparently, his bull-fighting background makes him adept at this extreme sport.

Butte 66 Crested Butte

(Butte 66)

The longer disc golf course winds its way to the base area and after about an hour, we were only halfway through the 18-hole course so decided to just cut our (many) losses: we hiked the rest of the way down and drowned our America vs. Spain sorrows in Butte 66 Bar and Grill’s signature pulled pork and brisket. 

Losing never tasted so good.

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Where to Eat in Crested Butte

Speaking of tasting good, here are a few of our favorite restaurants for dinner in Crested Butte. 

Breadery Crested Butte. 209 Elk Ave., Crested Butte | 970-319-5118. Peace. Love. Gluten. A sourdough and vegetable-forward eatery, bar, and bakehouse, featuring handmade pizzas, artisan cocktails, and all the bread you could ever want.  This place is a carb-lover’s dream (with several other options like their seasonal salads).  This new-to-me eaterie replaced my favorite restaurant in town and though nothing will ever live up to Django’s crispy Brusells sprouts, the Breadery is a welcomed addition.breaderycb.com

(The Slogar)

(The Slogar)

The Secret Stash: 303 Elk Ave.| Crested Butte| 970-349-6245. Known for its infamous specialty pizzas and unique atmosphere, The Secret Stash is legend.  Try the Notorious Fig (the winner of the World Champion Piza Challenge) of my family’s favorite, Asher’s Pie, with a BBQ and chipotle base, Canadian bacon and grilled chicken. Oh, and the Crack Fries tossed in parmesan, green onions, and white truffle oil and endlessly epic as well.  secretstashpizza

The Slogar. 517, 2nd Street, Crested Butte | 970-349-5765.  Cajun & southern eatery famous for its fried chicken, this restaurant is a Crested Butte staple. Meals are served family style and guests have the choice of fried chicken or grilled steak (though sources told us it was a travesty if we order anything other than the chicken). Prices were expensive but we also had two meals worth of leftovers the next day. 

Our evening at The Slogar gave us one of the most memorable moments of the trip when we tried to introduce Pablo to The Slogar’s delicious coleslaw. He is a very polite boy (in addition to being a disc golf expert), so when he turned us down by saying, “No thank you. I don’t like garbage,” we thought that was a bit harsh. Until we realize he meant “cabbage,” not “garbage” but you’d better believe that’s what we’ll call it from now on. www.slogarcb.com

(Lodge at Mountaineer Square)

(Lodge at Mountaineer Square)

Lodge at Mountaineer Square

We have stayed in many different condos and VRBOs in Crested Butte but we always come back to the convenience and luxury of The Lodge at Mountaineer Square. The property offers everything from king rooms to four-bedroom accommodations(with full kitchens and washer/dryer) in the heart of the base area, just steps from the lift. They have a free shuttle to town, great staff, an indoor/outdoor swimming pool, hot tub, sauna, fitness center and underground parking. The Lodge at Mountaineer Square has everything you’d ever want in your Colorado family vacation. 

Fall in Crested Butte

Crested Butte is open daily through Labor Day, and after that they are open Friday-Sunday through Sept. 25. The Silver Queen Express will close following Labor Day, but all other operations will continue through the extended season (Adventure Park, Butte 66, disc golf, archery course, and bike haul & scenic lift rides on the Red Lady Express). Fall is arguably the most beautiful time in the Valley so don’t miss the chance to experience the changing colors and falling leaves later into the season! Also, don’t miss the Chili & Beer Festival on Sept. 10 for locally made Chili and Colorado-brewed beer that draws both locals and visitors to the base area for a music and chili-filled afternoon.
 
Follow CBMR’s new blog for updates on the resort’s latest happenings! 

Other Crested Butte Family Travel Recommendations

Crested Butte Family Vacation: Where to Stay & Play

Best family-friendly trails near Crested Butte 
 
A local’s guide to Gunnison’s Magical Summers Part 1from mountain and road biking to hiking to water fun. 
 
A Local’s Guide to Gunnison’s Magical Summers Part II–including family activities like the rodeo, history museum, and where to find the best restaurants and drinks in Gunnison. 

Crested Butte Mountain Resort: The Makings of an Unprecedented Family Vacation

My family had an unprecedented vacation to Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR).

It wasn’t just attributed to the eight inches of fresh powder without a lift line in sight or the glistening Elk Mountains (the frozen equivalent of Shangri-La). But rather, because I skied my first double-black diamond run (Rachels)…and later managed to fall getting off the chairlift as I avoided a wayward ski-schooler.

Par for the course in a funky mountain hamlet where you should expect the unexpected.

Camp CB

Hands down, Crested Butte is my favorite Colorado mountain town (read my summer exploits) and I was positively giddy to ski Crested Butte Mountain Resort for the first time.

My family awoke to

Crested Butte Family Travel Report: Musical Mayhem in the Mountains

We all have our happy places and Crested Butte is mine. With this week’s staggering triple-digit-temperatures, Crested Butte’s crisp mountain air has never sounded so good.

A world-class music festival and a bounteous recreational playground don’t sound too bad, either.

A few highlights of my family’s recent trip to this gorgeous mountain hamlet included:

Crested Butte Music Festival

My kids are not musical aficionados but the CMMF’s Divine Family Young People’s Concerts may just make a convert out of them. Designed for kids ages 4-12, these free concerts are held every Saturday at 11 a.m. during the festival. My kids raced around the lawn at the base of Mt. Crested Butte dancing and singing to the Barefoot Bluegrass Band’s foot-stomping tunes. But it didn’t stop there. The new Trailhead Children’s Museum (a definite must-visit) also offered free face painting, art projects, bubbles and more.

The Crested Butte Music Festival’s impressive line-up of world-class musicians will be performing in paradise until August 5, 2010.

Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory

I am in love with one of the nation’s most renowned high-altitude field stations in Gothic, just 4 miles from Crested Butte. My kids spent a morning in RMBL’s sold-out

Mile High Mamas’ Family Trip of the Month: Crested Butte

Last summer, my family embarked upon a roadtrip that highlighted the best that Colorado has to offer. We loved every single destination but Crested Butte was the one standout and is our choice for THE must-visit destination in July.

Crested Butte is a haven for outdoor summer activities including hiking, climbing, mountain biking, boating, whitewater rafting, kayaking, fly-fishing, camping and horseback riding. But let’s face it: you’ll find most of these activities at Colorado’s other mountain resorts.

There were three things that made Crested Butte one of my family’s favorite all-time vacations: the kid-friendly Crested Butte Music Festival, the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory’s Summer Camp and the Crested Butte Wildflower Festival.

Crested Butte Music Festival, July 3-August 5

Take world-class musicians, singers and dancers to one of the nation’s most stunning mountain hamlets, add children and adult programs geared to music and movement and you have a vacation your family will never forget.

For the entire family:
From July 6-10, both traditional bluegrass and “newgrass” will be showcased in a range of events: a three-day camp for kids (now sold out), workshops for adults, children’s performances and six top-level bands. For five days of foot-stomping fun, learning, and camaraderie, “Bluegrass in Paradise” will keep festival goers on their feet.

For the kids:
The FREE Divine Family Young People’s Concerts will be held Saturday mornings at 11 a.m. Designed for kids 4-12, these special programs are focused on introducing families to the Festival’s diverse

Tour de Colorado: Our Picks for Colorado’s Top Destinations for Families

Exactly one year ago today, I published my intentions for my family to visit many of Colorado’s world-class destinations last summer. We enjoyed our Tour de Colorado so much that we will be doing a repeat performance at fan-favorite Crested Butte while also adding glorious Golden and others to the mix.

Did you miss Round 1? Be sure to check out our picks for Colorado’s Best-kept Secret, Best Splurge, Best Mountain Festival, Best Mountain Community, Best Dude Ranch, Best Camping and Best Front-range Destination. All of my trip reports embraced The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of family travel.

Case in point: locking our keys in the car for three hours. While it was still running.

Here is a flashback of our many great travels that I originally published last year (with 2010 updates):

BEST-KEPT SECRET: Chautauqua in Boulder

One might wonder how Boulder, an outdoorsy city just 25 miles from Denver, could hold any secrets. But I stumbled upon one when I hiked Chautauqua’s Enchanted-Mesa Trail with some friends. It was then that my love affair with Chautauqua’s 48 miles of verdant trails began.

This National Historic Landmark nestled against the Flatiron Mountains is one of Colorado’s true hidden gems. It’s an area heaped in history and very few locals know about the historic and affordable cottages for rent. The Dining Hall boasts some of the best outdoor dining in Colorado with epic mountain views. Don’t miss the silent films, concerts and children’s programs at the Auditorium that will delight old and young.

Visit the Boulder Farmer’s Market on Saturdays—a veritable cornucopia of organic food, live music, eccentricities and fun. Then take a stroll along the Boulder Creek Trail and also take a foray over to famed pedestrian mall Pearl Street Mall to shop, eat, play in the spray fountain and watch the street performers.

NOTE: Read the final Chautauqua trip report here.

BEST MOUNTAIN FESTIVALS: Crested Butte

This will be our first summer trip to Crested Butte after falling in love with the ski area a few years ago. Not only is this charming hamlet renowned for its