Crested Butte Colorado was founded in 1861 as a coal mining center and supply town for other regional camps and towns. The town retains much of its late 19th– and early-20th-century character with buildings including the Old Town Hall, Union Congregational Church, Company Store and several nicely restored Victorian-era homes among the town’s roughly 40 nicely restored 19th-century structures. And then there is the two-story outhouse whose second floor was used in the winter, when snow covered the lower floor.
The vast majority of the historic buildings, stores, and restaurants are along a six-block stretch of Elk Avenue. You can browse through several galleries, shop for tee-shirts and other souvenir items, and stop at the Crested Butte Historical Museum and Store, located in an 1882 building that housed the town’s first hardware store and in 1911, its first retail gas pump. The store and especially the museum provide artifacts from and panels discussing life in the early days of the town.
Crested Butte Trails
We took several hikes while in the area. As a bonus, we were in the area as the aspens were beginning to show their beautiful yellow color.
We entered from the Washington Gulch trailhead, the drive to which brings you above 12,000 feet with fabulous panoramic views. The trail climbs gently from there, with spectacular high-altitude views from virtually the entire trail to a viewpoint at the top that provided a direct view of the back of Gothic Mountain. From this point, about two miles (and roughly 800 feet of elevation gain) into the hike, the trail continues to a steep downhill which we did not take; preferring to retrace the path back to our car. An incredible hike where the gradual incline did not heavily tax our flatlander lungs, even at this altitude.
The short, moderate, one-mile hike goes through a pine forest with nice views across the valley to the front side of Gothic Mountain. After about 500 feet of elevation gain we reached an overlook of the pretty falls. As we were not ready to return, we continued for another mile or so along a stretch of another trail that crossed the divide to the Maroon Belles area outside Aspen.
Crested Butte also is home to a biological and ecological research facility that was founded in 1919. It is located right outside of Crested Butte on the site of a 1880s silver mining town that once had a population of about 800 people—then larger than Crested Butte. After purchasing the ghost town, they rehabilitated several cabins for staff, and built a National Science Foundation-funded research facility. Roughly 200 scientists and students per year come here to conduct ongoing experiments into the interaction of plants and animals across varying high-altitude (generally 7,000-15,000 feet) weather and climate conditions.
RMBL has 95 years of detailed measurements of snowfall, rainfall, and temperature, thanks in part to Billy Barr, a hermit who has kept a notebook of the weather and animal conditions in the mountains. They conduct ongoing measurements and experiments of plant growth and population, emergence of invasive species, changing animal populations, animal/plant pollination patterns and so forth across seasons and years under different weather and climate conditions.
We participated in a guided tour though the research facility and the grounds. In addition to seeing the facility, we were able to learn more about their studies and speak with a few of the scientists about their specific projects. Very interesting.
Crested Butte Restaurants
Our dinner here was indeed the prime meal of our brief visit. We both skipped appetizers to focus on two wonderful entrees: elk tenderloin with black truffle crema and pan-fried buffalo ravioli, and pan-seared Faroe Island salmon with saffron-tomato vinaigrette, forbidden rice, and spinach-tomato confit. Both were perfectly cooked rare +. Our wine was a very pleasant Red Bordeaux blend produced by Leviathan Winery from a former Screaming Eagle winemaker.
The restaurant specializes in southern comfort dishes, such as dry-rub pork ribs and fried chicken. We both decided on the ribs which were Ok but neither memorable nor were in the top 50% of ribs we have had. They came with collard greens, large portions of creamed corn, whipped potatoes with gravy, and buttermilk biscuits. Joyce stuck to including a glass of 2021 Ponzi Pinot Gris while Tom stuck to trying two Irwin Brewery Ales: a Pale Ale and a Hazy IPA, the latter of which he preferred.
We started our lunch with a tempura softshell crab lettuce wrap followed by General’s shrimp (jumbo, tempura-fried) with sweet-sour glaze with rice and fried rice with shrimp and chicken. It was pretty good. Since we were on vacation, we also included glasses of a non-descript Shine Riesling.
Our lunch here consisted of a good Cobb salad, a buffalo cheddar cheeseburger, and iced tea. Nice lunch spot.
Lodging in Crested Butte consists of being on the mountain, where nothing much other than lodging existed, or in town. We preferred to be in town but most of the nicer places were booked by the time we decided to stay here. We ended up at the Old Town Inn, which was right outside of the main historic area but within easy walking distance. The motel structure seemed clean and they try to make it an enjoyable experience. Our room was on the second floor. We climbed the stairs (no elevator) and walked down hallway that needed more lights to our room. The front desk staff was great. They had a reasonably priced guest laundry, small breakfast buffet, great cookies in the afternoon and tea/coffee/hot chocolate throughout the day.
Our main issue was communication. We had issues getting on wifi. After Joyce and the front desk clerk spent 45 minutes trying to troubleshoot this, the manager, who had seen us working on the issue, and only helped when we asked for his help. At that point he acknowledged that they knew about the problem and haven’t been able to isolate the issue that seemed to affect only some guests. In other words, Joyce and the front desk clerk wasted 45 minutes on a known issue. The second communication issue was over the hot tub. They refreshed the water (which is a good thing) while we were there but apparently, it takes at least ½ of a day to get the temp back up. When people mentioned that the water was not hot, they were told it took time to heat but no-one offered that it would take up to a day to heat.
If it weren’t for the communications issues, we would have been happy here.