We’ve lived most of our lives just a few hours down the road from Crested Butte, Colorado, but like so many things in life, we had taken that for granted. That is, until this weekend. It really is not on the way between “here” and “there,” so it had just been sitting on the list of places to go… one of these days. As Robert Frost said, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--- I took the one less traveled by…” Not to say that we were alone by any means, but wanting to make it very clear that we should have taken the road less traveled long ago! Spending time in the mountains surrounding Crested Butte was one of the most amazing camping and hiking trips we have been on! We spent a couple of glorious days surrounded by wildlife, wildflowers and beautiful mountains!
With so many outdoor options, hiking was our preferred recreation for this trip because we wanted to find wildflowers. Did you know that Crested Butte is one of the best places to find wildflowers in Colorado? It is known as the “Wildflower Capital of Colorado!” They hold a wildflower festival each summer. We were a little early for the festival, but that was by design. We knew we would not be there at the peak of the season, but that also meant there would be fewer people on the trails. It is a tradeoff that we were willing to take. That, of course, is a personal decision and for many visitors the extra flowers being in full bloom would be well worth sharing them with a few extra people. I was excited to bring along my new local Colorado hat from ColoradoCool Apparel for these hikes, which features an assortment of native Colorado wildflowers that were painted by a local Colorado artist. While I normally have to debate a little while choosing which of my local Colorado hats I want to wear for a hike, this time it was a no-brainer.
As we pulled into town where we had good cell service, we used the All Trails app to make a hiking plan for the following day. If you are not familiar with this app, it’s an invaluable tool for hiking. Just search by area and it will pull up a list of nearby hikes, their difficulty rating, special features of each trail, directions to the trailhead, a map of the layout and reviews by other hikers. We decided to hike the Snodgrass Mountain Trail first thing in the morning and follow that up with a hike on the Lower Loop Trail. The two hikes combined would be a little over 11 miles. That seemed just perfect with Snodgrass being a 4.4 mile moderate trail and the Lower Loop being a longer 7.3 mile easy trail. We had a plan! Now to find a place to set up camp.
We were tent camping and had not made a reservation at one of the campgrounds in the area, as this trip was kind of a spur of the moment decision. There are quite a few dispersed camping spots between Buena Vista and Crested Butte and on up Kebler Pass, so we just drove until we found the one that felt right for us. There were many options, some with people, some more remote; some with easy access and some that required a high clearance vehicle; some with mostly Lodgepole pine and some with more quaking aspen and undergrowth. In addition to dispersed camping, there are several campgrounds in the surrounding area (Gothic Campground, Cement Creek Campground and Lake Irwin Campground, to name a few). Some of them take reservations and some are first come, first served. I guess you could say there is something for everyone.
We found the perfect spot to pitch our tent, setup camp, unpack our Colorado apparel (necessary for hiking in Colorado) and spent the rest of the evening relaxing at camp. Sitting around a campfire, breathing the cool mountain air, listening to a stream nearby and eating food that always tastes better in the mountains, makes you realize just how good life is!
We set our alarm, which is not normally something we would do while camping, but we wanted to beat the heat of the day, the afternoon thunderstorms and the people on the trails. Even the drive to the trailhead was awesome! Crested Butte is surrounded by mountains, so there is incredible beauty in every direction.
We started up the trail with only a handful of other hikers taking off at sunrise. There was a slight chill in the air at just a bit over 40°. We had our Colorado flag hoodies on as a top layer over our ColoradoCool t-shirts. This proved to be the perfect combination. I was, of course, wearing my new Native Wildflower hat mentioned earlier. My husband had recently purchased a different Colorado hat from ColoradoCool which he has been wearing practically every day since. His hat features a digi-camo pattern that is made up of small Colorado Flag C’s as well as a patch that says Colorado and features the Rocky Mountains. Aside from the great look, it also has a comfort sweatband made of a performance fabric making it the best hat for hiking. We had absolutely breathtaking views from the start! Shortly after leaving the trailhead we were immersed in a sea of Mule’s Ear Sunflowers with quite a bit of Silvery Lupine thrown in for good measure. We had found our wildflowers!
We passed a few mule deer here and there as we climbed. So peaceful. So gentle. So beautiful. A little over an hour into the hike, we decided to pull up a tree stump and have a snack. Just as we sat down, we saw him! Across the meadow was a bear! Yes, a beautiful young boar just grazing his way across the edge of the field. He had not yet seen us, so we were able to watch him for a short time before we decided to move along just to be safe. He was heading right in the direction that we had been planning to go. Needless to say, this is where we changed course a bit! We took the other fork in the trail, talking loudly as we walked so we did not surprise him in any way. We had walked for about 10 more minutes, with the path making kind of a U-turn as it wound around down the hill. About 100 yards straight ahead, walking down the trail... there he was! We can’t be sure, but we think it was the same beautiful bear! He was walking away from us until he heard us behind him. He turned his head when he heard our voices. We yelled at him and he took off up the hill. Not that it’s a guarantee, but I was definitely thankful to have bear spray with us. What an amazing opportunity to see a bear in the wild!
If you are looking for the best hike in Crested Butte, I would encourage you to check out all or part of Snodgrass. This hike was just perfect for us! Not too difficult, but definitely a good workout with plenty of uphill for the first half of the hike. There were breathtaking views of mountains in every direction and so many gorgeous wildflowers! When you add in the wildlife to top it off, it really doesn’t get any better than that!
Back at the car, we once again used the app to find the trailhead for the Lower Loop. We had seen everything we could ever hope to see on this early morning hike, but we wanted to take advantage of our time in the mountains and continue on. The first mile of this hike is on a dirt road which has you walking past Peanut Lake, an old mining artifact they apparently call “Gronk,” several songbirds and a few wildflowers scattered here and there. Hiking on a road is not our favorite thing, but it was a nice walk without a whole lot of vehicle traffic. This is a great trail for those who don’t want a big workout but still want to experience the beautiful mountain scenery. It’s mostly flat, with a fairly good climb about half way through if you make the entire loop. The trail takes you beside the unbelievably clear Slate River for quite a while with the Elk Mountains off in the distance. Because we enjoy a more challenging hike, the trail itself was not that spectacular, but the views and landscape were absolutely out of this world!
Although our time in Crested Butte was relatively short, our experience could not have been any bigger! In one weekend, we shared trails with mule deer, chipmunks, songbirds, a bear (or maybe two), and even a bull moose in velvet! Our quest for wildflowers was a success. We were surrounded by awesome mountains and breathtaking scenery in every direction. We were recharged by soaking in the grandeur of the beautiful Colorado outdoors! If you have ever considered taking that slightly out-of-the-way jaunt to Crested Butte, I would highly recommend it! Crested Butte, we will be back! And remember, if you are like us (and most Coloradans seem to be) and love showing your Colorado pride while hiking by wearing local Colorado clothing & repping that CO Flag, ColoradoCool Apparel is always my first suggestion!