One of our favorite ski towns in Colorado is Crested Butte. (Wondering what a “butte” is? A butte is simply a mountain with a somewhat flat top.) A bit off the beaten path and not nearly as crowded as other Colorado resort towns, Crested Butte looks like it’s frozen in time, very much like how it may have looked as a mining town in the 1880s. Established as a historic district in the 1970s, the town preserves its old-time feel with its less traveled roads and original architecture.
But while this may be a small town, it’s big time skiing here — perfect for those of us big frogs who crave a small pond! Crested Butte is billed as “Colorado’s Last Great Ski Town” and is known for its “extreme skiing” with more than half of the terrain designed for advanced and expert skiers. But novices — and families — can also find a memorable vacation here.
Getting to Crested Butte, Colorado and Parking Tips
The nearest “large” town to Crested Butte is Gunnison, so if you’re arriving to Crested Butte by plane, you’ll likely have a stop at Denver International Airport before arriving at the Gunnison-Crested Butte (GUC) airport. Once you arrive, you’ll have about a 30-mile drive to Crested Butte via an airport shuttle or rental car. The Alpine Express shuttle offers door-to-door service from the airport to the town of Crested Butte and to the ski area. Because the town is small, walkable and has a free town shuttle (more on that later), we recommend taking the airport shuttle and skipping the car rental.
If you’re visiting Crested Butte from the Denver area and not flying, you’ll likely take Highway 285, which is arguably one of the prettiest drives Colorado has to offer. Without any weather or traffic delays, you can expect about a four and a half to five-hour drive.
The Mountain Express (known as the MX) is the free bus to get around Crested Butte. Buses run about every 15 minutes making it very easy to get around. The main shuttle hubs are at Mountaineer Square at the Crested Butte Mountain Resort and Old Town Hall on Elk Avenue. If you need to park your rental car, there is free parking at two town lots, free street parking on Elk Avenue and also paid winter parking at Crested Butte Mountain Resort at $15 per day ($25 overnight). Parking is free at Crested Butte Mountain Resort during the summer months only.
The town’s main street, Elk Avenue, is lined with historic buildings, galleries, shops and restaurants. As such, it’s also been designated as a creative and national historic district — pretty amazing for a place where only about 1,700 people live year round!
When deciding where to stay in Crested Butte, think about what kind of accommodations you need. Are you looking for a traditional hotel room or are you looking for something with all the comforts of home including a kitchen? There are plenty of options including condominium rentals, some of which offer hotel-like amenities such as restaurants, bars and hot tubs. But where do you begin? We highly recommend The Grand Lodge, The Lodge at Mountaineer Square and Crested Butte Mountain Resort Properties.
The Grand Lodge
Conveniently located near one of the two main MX shuttle hubs, the Grand Lodge truly is, well, grand! Suites, rooms with kitchenettes, an indoor/outdoor heated pool, outdoor hot tub, and an onsite restaurant — pretty much everything you need all in one place at an affordable price. Plus, it’s a mere 200 yards from the slopes, making it an ideal location to rest after a day of skiing. Keep in mind that if you happen to be visiting during the summer, the Lodge does not have air conditioning, but that's not usually a problem at these higher altitudes!
The Lodge at Mountaineer Square
The Lodge at Mountaineer Square is known as the “upscale mountain lodge” and located in the heart of the resort base area. While pricier than the Grand Lodge, this location offers larger accommodations with traditional hotel rooms, studios, one-, two- and three-bedroom condos and even a four-bedroom penthouse suite. Covered (and heated!) parking is onsite, as well as dining, shopping and entertainment. It is just steps away from the Red Lady Lift.
Crested Butte Mountain Properties
For more of a taste of “home” and enough space for a family or larger group, Crested Butte Mountain Properties is the perfect fit. An array of accommodations is available including multi-bedroom units and units with washers and dryers, kitchens and fireplaces.
Crested Butte’s 2019 ski season runs from Nov. 27 through April 12, and ski lifts operate daily during that time from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Fun fact: Did you know that according to the Town of Crested Butte, this ski resort was the first one in Colorado to operate a gondola?!) If you’re looking for great deals on lift tickets, Undercover Tourist has you covered. Plus, Crested Butte is part of the Epic Pass. If you need ski, snowboard or helmet rentals, we frogs can help out with that, too. Want an even deeper discount? Consider booking your accommodations AND lift tickets together for a frogtastic deal!
Whether you’ve been on the slopes before or not, Crested Butte offers ski lessons for the whole frog family! Beginner lessons and lessons for those who need a bit of a refresher are always offered. Full-day lessons include the cost of a lift ticket, but tickets can be purchased separately as well. Half-day lessons require a separate lift ticket purchase.
Those with more skiing experience can test out their extreme skiing skills with a half-day guided trek down some of the steeper terrain. (Insider tip: the best extreme skiing is usually in January.)
What if you’re not into downhill/alpine skiing? Crested Butte is THE place to try out cross country skiing (also called Nordic skiing). Crested Butte Nordic offers ski lessons and tours all on a trail system easily accessible from town. Plus, there’s ice skating and some of the best snowshoeing around. Because Crested Butte tends to be less crowded than other ski resort areas, the trails aren’t as packed, making for a more enjoyable snowshoeing experience.
If you’re looking forward to hitting the slopes with the kids, we highly recommend making childcare reservations at Crested Butte for your froglets. If you’re looking to save a few bucks, discounts are available for reservations made at least five days in advance. Nursery check in is in the Whetstone building downhill from the Silver Queen chairlift. Here’s what you need to know about childcare at Crested Butte:
- Froglets 2 months to 3 years old are occupied in the Nursery.
- Infant and toddler all-day childcare is $135 with an advanced purchase or $155 on the same day. Infant and toddler half-day childcare is $115 with an advanced purchase or $125 on the same day. Prices are higher during holiday seasons (Dec. 21-Jan. 5, Jan. 17-20, Feb. 14-17, Mar. 2-22)
- Froglets 2 years and older can experience Snowy Bears, a private ski lesson just for them while they are in full-day childcare. The Snowy Bear add-on cost is $52 with advanced purchase or $67 as a walk up.
- Drop off is between 8:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. Half-day pickup is between 12 p.m. and 12:15 p.m. and full-day pickup is between 3 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.
Compared to other Colorado ski resort areas, Crested Butte is a smaller mountain with less skiable areas. But that’s truly the beauty. Smaller, in this case, means less crowded, allowing you to get more runs in each day. This hidden gem of a ski resort has 1,200 skiable acres, 15 lifts and 121 trails.
Insider tip: Plan your visit during the week. There will be virtually no line for the lifts after the initial morning rush! Proof that bigger isn’t always better.
The base of the resort sits at 9,300 feet with its highest elevation at 12,100 feet. The longest run at Crested Butte is Peak to Treasury at 2.6 miles which means it’s easier to get in a lot of runs in one day. If you’re new to skiing, or you’re traveling with froglets, check out the Houston run, off of the Red Lady Lift. The locals say that if you can do this run five times, you’ll have figured out how to ski! But let’s not froget that Crested Butte is known for its extreme terrain; we’re talking double black diamonds on 36% of the mountain. So if you’re an experienced skier and want to challenge yourself, you’ve vacationed at the right Colorado resort! While intermediate runs are the least common here, there are still plenty from which to choose.
While you may think of Crested Butte as simply a ski resort, in the summer it’s also known as the “Wildflower Capital of Colorado.” In fact, summer is often a busier time than winter with mountain biking, hiking, concerts, and art shows. From about late June until mid-August nearly every weekend is jam-packed with art festivals, music festivals and wine festivals making Crested Butte a stellar vacation option nearly any time of the year.
For a small town, Crested Butte has some of the best eats around morning, noon and night. Camp 4 Coffee is a quirky coffee shop to get your morning started. Located at the base of the mountain on Elk Avenue, the coffee is always hand roasted and served with a smile. You can’t miss the location as its exterior is covered in license plates. For breakfast eats, you can’t go wrong with Paradise Cafe or McGill’s (right on Elk Avenue).
As a family, we’re always on the lookout for fun local pizza joints or quick food that our entire family can enjoy. For lunch or dinner, the not-so-secret Secret Stash is “the place” to go for delicious pizza and wings. Looking for pizza for the kids AND an incredible beer selection for you? The Brick Oven Pizzeria and Pub offers an amazing array of beers from throughout Colorado.
For a different kind of dining experience, try Django’s, but be forewarned: You must like sharing! Small plates are brought out one at a time with a little of this and a little of that. Even the wine is small to allow for pairings with dinner. This restaurant is likely best enjoyed by those without smaller tadpoles, or for tadpoles who have a more sophisticated palate. While a little pricier than some other dining options, Django’s pricing does include tips.
While there are simply too many great dining options to list here, we also highly recommend Pitas in Paradise, Ryce Asian Bistro and Elk Ave Prime — just a few to whet your appetite.
Several nights throughout the winter season Crested Butte Mountain Resort lights up the peak of Crested Butte Mountain, making the mountain look even larger than it already is. (The last time we checked, the resort had not yet published its specific lighting dates for the 2019-20 season, but usually the lightings coincide with holidays and special events.)
When you need a break from skiing, the Winter Adventure Park, located at the base of the mountain, has bungy trampolines and a climbing pinnacle (a 28-foot tower with auto-belay). While the name implies “winter,” the park is actually open year round.
No matter the time of year you visit, Crested Butte has some of the best mountain biking in Colorado. Biking in the winter? You bet! Using “fat bikes,” bike enthusiasts can actually pedal the slopes before or after resort operating hours (before 9 a.m. or after 4 p.m.) Detailed information is available at the Adventure Center in Mountaineer Square.
For nature lovers, try out a trail ride at Fantasy Ranch Outfitters. Rides are offered in summer, fall and yes, winter, too! You can even expect to see some larger mammals along the way, such as elk. And don’t froget about the wildflowers here. For the best explosions of color, plan to visit in July when you may just be able to take part in the Crested Butte Wildflower Festival.
As you’re planning your trip to Crested Butte, remember to let Undercover Tourist be your go-to resource. We offer great deals on Crested Butte accommodations, car rentals, lift tickets, ski gear rentals and so much more! Need more information about skiing vacations? Check out our other ski planning posts to help you in planning your trip!