This remote mountain town offers eclectic dining choices, a picturesque downtown and nearby world-class skiing to those willing to venture deep within the Centennial State.
Covered in snow, Crested Butte is arguably Colorado’s most picturesque town in the winter, but with rushing rivers in springtime, abundant wildflowers in the summer and rainbows in the fall, this place is postcard-pretty at any time of year.
Coloradans often name Crested Butte as their favorite mountain town and it’s not just because of the scenery. The remote town located 30 minutes from Gunnison, gives the visitor a genuine sense of being in the Centennial State; it simply feels quintessential Colorado.
There are hundreds of things to do in Crested Butte and the surrounding area, but with around 60 restaurants between the town and mountain, dining here is tops.
Before exploring the dining scene, the Crested Butte Mountain Heritage Museum on Elk Avenue is worth a visit. It’s $5 for adults, children 12 and under are free. The highlight is the model town and railroad depicting Crested Butte in the 1920s on a Monday; it’s accurate right down to the laundry that’s drying on a line on the only day the coal mine wasn’t producing sooty smoke.
According to the museum, coal mining sustained Crested Butte until 1952, when the Colorado Fuel & Iron Big Mine closed and the mining economy came to an end. Since then, tourism has been the main draw to the town and while Crested Butte is well-known for skiing, they have a rich mountain biking history that’s on full display at the museum.
Whether craving pizza or fried chicken or something much fancier, Crested Butte has got it and it’s good. Slogar Bar & Restaurant is a must-stop fried chicken joint for many visitors, but no one misses pizza at Secret Stash. This place has an almost cult-like following by locals and visitors.
To say Secret Stash has eclectic interior design would be an understatement. It’s an amalgamation of all the places the owner has traveled in the world and the motif is colorful and slightly seizure-inducing but the crowds love it, and there’s a big crowd here all the time. The pizza is as imaginative as the decor and tremendously filling.
The owner of Secret Stash also owns a Mexican restaurant a stone’s throw away called Bonez with a Dia de los Muertos theme. The best time to visit is during happy hour to indulge in top-shelf tequila paired with a bowl of the world’s best queso.
Another personal favorite is Izzy’s, a tiny, warm bagel shop that was recommended by everyone in town and everyone was right; the “Maxwell” is the best bagel sandwich in existence.
No visit to downtown Crested Butte is complete without a stop at Montanya Distillers. Karen Hoskin started her distillery a decade ago, long before the distilling scene got underway in Colorado. In fact, only Peach Street Distillery beat Montanya Distillers to being Colorado’s first, modern-day distillery. They were also one of the first distillery bars, a model that’s now the norm throughout the industry.
Montanya Distillers only makes rum and they do it well. A stop here should include a flight of their award-winning spirits and something from their inspired menu that includes what locals believe is the best Pho for hundreds of miles.
Crested Butte is a highly photogenic town and one of the most photographed buildings is Camp 4 Coffee. The small “shack” that houses this famous coffee shop is covered in license plates. It isn’t the only Colorado building covered in license plates and the story goes that the plates were used as insulation during cold winters.
It doesn’t take long to walk the length and breadth of Crested Butte’s charming downtown. It’s home to a handful of retail outlets including more than a few children’s clothing stores. Most recently, Scout General, located in a historic old house, opened their doors.
The friendly owners are from Oklahoma and the store’s namesake, Scout, a stout little border collie, is often the shop greeter. Scout General sells everything from useful mountain vacation supplies like lotion and sunscreen to gourmet and locally made food products in the kitchen area. The mercantile-style shop also features items for the home such as throw pillows, wall art, picnic baskets and more.
It’s easy to see understand why Crested Butte Mountain Resort is one of Colorado’s favorite ski resorts. The small base area requires little effort to navigate and is often uncrowded when compared to other resorts around the state. Roomy runs and no lift lines means a competent skier or snowboarder can explore every inch of terrain.
The seamless rental process at Crested Butte Mountain Resort Rental + Demo Center is good news for those who don’t come with their own equipment. In addition to skis and snowboards, CBMR Rental has snow bikes available for adventurous spirits who’d like to try something new.
Guided snowshoe treks are available daily at Crested Butte Mountain Resort with reservations. This two-and-a-half-hour excursion includes a ride on the chairlift up the mountain and snowshoeing back down. The trek is nearly all downhill and is a manageable outing for a relatively fit person. The vistas on the trail are unparalleled and include 360-degree views from the Umbrella Bar.
Grand Lodge at Crested Butte Mountain Resort is minutes from the slopes by foot and has one of the ski area’s best pool and hot tub combos. Rising early to watch the sunrise over Mountain Crested Butte from the luxury of warm, swirling water is highly recommended.
Another benefit of staying at Grand Lodge is that the onsite Woodstone Grille provides an excellent breakfast buffet at a reasonable price. It’s the perfect way to fuel up for a day on the mountain.
A pro travel tip is to utilize the in-room humidifier from check-in until check-out. It’s dry at elevation and at 9,115 feet above sea level, this base area is high.
Crested Butte Mountain Resort is 2.9 miles and a free bus ride away from the town of Crested Butte.
Crested Butte is a welcoming place where business owners seem genuinely happy to visitors. My snowshoe guide, David, a native Coloradan, has lived in Crested Butte for 30 years and his story is familiar here; he came, he fell in love and he stayed, doing whatever it takes to make this mountain town his permanent home.
From the friendly bartender who knows every patron at Avalanche Bar & Grill to chatter between strangers on the free bus, it’s hard not to fall in love with both the town and the people of Crested Butte. Mix in the food and beauty of the place and it’s easy to see why some never leave.
Heidi Kerr-Schlaefer covers festivals and travels across the west. She is the founder of HeidiTown.com and author of The Heidi Guide for Mountain Living. To comment on this article, email firstname.lastname@example.org.