Going to Great Heights Hiking in Crested Butte

July 5, 2024   2 Comments »

Going to Great Heights Hiking in Crested Butte

October 23, 2018 2 Comments »

You have to love a place that sits where the road ends. I think that’s what made Crested Butte Colorado so special to me, it sits at the base of the mountains with only one road in and out. The main road through the town of Crested Butte eventually just ends outside of town when it hits the mountain range.

It’s one of those surprising Colorado towns where you realize that the town sits around 8,885 ft., and any Crested Butte hike or bike you do from there is up! But hey – that’s Colorado, and that’s one of the many reasons I love it. Altitude makes me happy.

Crested Butte Colorado

I went to Crested Butte for the first time on July 4th with friends. It was a real vacation, and I honestly had no intention of writing about it (because that’s what actually makes it a vacation for me!) But I didn’t expect to fall so in love with the town and surrounding mountains and trails.

crested butte colorado

The town itself is adorable, colorful, and full of a bunch of fun mountain hippies. This is my kind of place and couldn’t be more different than Vail in personality. We were there for the quirky 4th of July festivities; let’s just say this town knows how to party! One of the reasons why I fell for Crested Butte was because of Ottsworld reader Vicki Hill and the plethora of advice she provided us. She’s a solo car camping maven, who I immediately hit it off with over a beer in town.

Vicki goes to Crested Butte every summer and spends a month there. She has a wealth of knowledge about the surrounding trails, restaurants, and where the best beer is. In fact, even though she lives in Lawrence, Kansas she was offered a job at the visitor center in Crested Butte because she knows so much about the area and gushes about it to anyone who will listen.

Wildflower Capital of Colorado

Crested Butte has been crowned the Wildflower Capital of Colorado. I honestly thought that this designation would just be a lot of marketing hype, but I was so wrong. The wildflowers there were in abundance in July; many of the fields came up to your waist or shoulders. The town holds an annual Wildflower festival with special events every July. However, all you have to do is get out and hit the trails to get immersed in the colorful wildflowers.

Crested Butte hiking wildflowers

Crested Butte Hiking

After a long knee injury, surgery, and recovery – more than anything I wanted to hike while I was in Crested Butte. Thanks to Vicki and her great advice we were able to do some phenomenal hikes around the area. We only had a sedan car rental so we were restricted a bit to trails that were easy to get to.

So I asked Vicki to co-write this post with me about the best hikes around Crested Butte because she is the Crested Butte expert after all, and she has a 4-wheel drive and can get to many more places. And we actually did the 403 Trail together one day, which was a highlight for all of us!

Explore Southwest Colorado on a road trip that features mountains, dunes, and canyons

Hikes Near Crested Butte (No 4 Wheel Drive Needed)

Brush Creek Trail

Distance: 4.29-mile round trip
Elevation: 9134 feet (315 ft elevation gain)

crested butte hiking bush creek trail

This was a great trail to start with as you acclimate to the altitude of Crested Butte. Coming from the lower elevations, we were still huffing and puffing our way through the trail, but each day we were in the higher altitudes it got easier. The trail is easy to get to just outside of town a few miles away, parking is easy, there is no real elevation gain, and the views are wide open!

You’ll run into a lot of locals out walking their dogs here as it’s so easy to get to. In addition, this is a super trail for wildflowers. It’s an out-and-back that runs along the side of a mountain with views of the winding river below and some open pastures at the turn-around point. There aren’t many trees along this trail, so be sure to take a hat. If you go in the afternoon, you’ll have direct sunlight, but the views are also lit up nicely for photography.

Snodgrass Mountain Hike

Distance: 6.09-mile round trip
Elevation: 11,142 ft. (1,421 elevation gain)

We tackled this hike on the last day so we had already a few hikes to be prepared for this longer one. The Snodgrass trailhead is on the far side of town and has a big parking lot. There are two trails that start here, one is a popular mountain biking route (called Snodgrass Trail) running along the base of the mountain and the other is the Snodgrass Mountain summit. We chose to challenge ourselves with the out-and-back summit hike.

The best sweeping views occur in the first 1 ½ miles of the trail, and the rest of the time, you are in the aspens. There are a few lookout points, but it’s important to note that this trail is more about a forest hike and making it up to the summit than beautiful views. Even at the top, there isn’t any real summit view. You can walk through the forest a bit and get to the edge.

The hike is rated moderate mainly because it is a constant uphill to the summit, and you are going over 11,000 ft, so it’s a bit of an altitude challenge. It is basically an out-and-back trail; however, there is a way to take a little loop and get out of the woods and hike through some wildflower fields instead.

We were a little late for the bloom on these flowers, but the abundant flowers came up to our shoulders practically, and it felt as if we were swimming through what was left of the wildflowers! The loop then hooks up with the mountain bike trail, and you can go back to the parking lot on that trail.

See my Essential Hiking Gear List

Now that you’ve chosen a hike, you need to know what gear to take with you! Don’t leave on your hike without these hiking gear essentials.!

Vicki’s Best Hikes in Crested Butte

One of the many things I love about Crested Butte, Colorado is the amount of hiking trails in the area & they are all wonderful! I’ve been in CB for weeks at a time and never taken the same trail twice because there are so many options. But here are three of my favorites. I usually hike them more than once during the summer and never get tired of these big fantastic views!

Note: You’ll need a 4WD to get to these trailheads.

403 Hike to Viewpoint

Distance: 3-mile round trip
Elevation: 11,474 ft. (480 ft. elevation gain)

crested butte 403 viewpoint hike

This is a short hike with big views! The 403 begins at the top of Washington Gulch Road. It’s best to have a 4WD vehicle to get to the trailhead as the road always has a few washed-out places & is steep with a dirt and gravel (sometimes mud) surface.

There’s a parking area at the top of the road, and it’s easy to find the trailhead. This trail is also a favorite of mountain bikers, so keep an eye out and be sure to jump off the trail to let them pass. You’ll begin this hike as you do almost every mountain trail in Crested Butte, going up! The trail starts with a gentle climb, which makes it a great acclimation trail since it’s less than a 3-mile round trip. In the peak of summer, you’ll see hundreds of beautiful wildflowers. Along the trail, be sure to stop at the memorial bench and take in the view of Crested Butte & Long Lake, which is far below.

There’s one short but steep climb left, and then you’re at the viewpoint! You’ll have views over the whole Gothic Valley and can even see one of the Maroon Bells peeking up from the Aspen side. The trail continues on past the viewpoint and all the way down to Gothic Road, but this is your turnaround point. As you hike back, don’t forget to look up at the wonderful views you missed on the way up; the scenery never looks exactly the same going down as it did coming up.

Read the Best Hikes in the World I’ve Completed

Upper 401 Trail

Distance: 8 miles on Vicki’s route below
Elevation: 11,338 (elevation gain 1,650ft)

crested butte hiking upper 401

Trail 401 is a mountain biker’s dream trail, and it’s also this hiker’s favorite hike! There’s an upper 401 and a lower 401 – the center of the two is the Rustlers Gulch parking area. Because I’m usually hiking by myself, I start at the Rustlers Gulch trailhead along Gothic Road and do an out-and-back hike of the upper 401.

It’s a rough road, but most vehicles can make it to the parking area along the road. The first challenge is crossing the river, which is anywhere from calf to thigh-deep and will wake you up with its very cold temperature. I usually wear my sandals, then switch to my hikers once I’m out of the water. You’ll start off to your left by following an old dirt road up about 1/4 mile until you see the 401 trailhead sign to the upper part of this trail.

The trail winds up through beautiful aspen groves, opens up through fields of shoulder-high Skunk Cabbage, and repeats this pattern with aspen groves and open space a couple more times. Once you’ve climbed out of the forest, the trail gradually goes around the side of the mountain, which has amazing big views of the Gothic valley.

Check out my list of essential gear for any hike

Watch out for mountain bikers as they speed by, and be sure to jump off the trail for them. During peak wildflower season, both the upper and lower 401 are spectacular and filled with variations of colors and flowers. When you arrive at a series of tight switchbacks, you’re getting close to the high point. You’ll reach the top, which finally flattens out with spectacular scenery down Crystal Canyon.

The Maroon Bells on the Aspen side of the range will even be peeking above the mountains. The trail continues in a couple of different directions, but this is my turnaround point to hike back the same way I came. You’ll embrace the cold river crossing at the end of your hike, as it’s a good place to wash off all the dust & dirt you’ve acquired along this trail.

Note: The very best way to hike the upper part of the 401 is to shuttle or get a ride up to Schofield Pass (you will definitely need a 4WD and find out if the road is open or not to the pass as it’s frequently closed until mid-July). You’ll drive by the beautiful Emerald Lake & begin your hike at the pass through the forest. Going this way, you’ll need a car at the Rustlers Gulch trailhead, but it’s an easier hike at just a bit over 5 miles with only a 560’ elevation gain, and then it’s downhill all the way.

Scarp Ridge Hiking Trail

Distance: 3.5-mile round trip
Elevation: 12,200 feet (1,500 ft. elevation gain)

crested butte hiking wildflower

Scarp Ridge is definitely #1 on my list! It’s a short hike of just over 3.5 miles round trip but with a 1,500’ elevation gain, be prepared to huff and puff! The trailhead is off Kebler Pass up behind Lake Irwin. You can either hike from the lake or if you have a 4WD you can drive up the private dirt & rock road to the trailhead.

If driving up to the trailhead, go past all the camping areas and the road forks by a metal shed. Take the road on the right for about a mile until it ends at the parking area. The trail quickly begins the climb straight up. You’ll soon get to a fork in the trail, and for this short hike, take the trail to the left. As you stop many, many, many times to catch your breath, you have magnificent views of Mt. Owens, Mt. Ruby, Green Lake, and high above Lake Irwin with views over to the West Elk mountains.

The trail continues up until you reach the very top; be prepared to be awed! It has views over Oh-Be-Joyful Valley, tiny Blue Lake, and much further to the mountains near Aspen and all those in between. You’ll be taking in all these views at an elevation of over 12,200’.

When it’s time to hike back down, you can either go back on the same trail, or there is another path that meanders along the ridge with views into Peeler Basin & loops back down to the trailhead. There’s nothing technical about this trail, but just the fact that it climbs so fast in such a short time will give your lungs a workout.

Hasley Pass Hiking

Distance: 5.5-mile round trip based on Vicki’s route
Elevation Gain: 12,120 ft (1,800 ft elevation gain)

One of the most popular hikes in Crested Butte is the West Maroon trail that goes all the way to Aspen. But my favorite trail forks off this busy path and up to Hasley Pass; a 5.5-mile round trip hike with 1,800 feet of going up.

The West Maroon trailhead is out on Gothic Road, and you’ll need a 4WD vehicle to get there. Make sure the road is open, as it sometimes has a snow plug until mid-July. There’s also a shuttle service that can take you out and pick you up at this trailhead as long as the road is open. There’s a big parking area filled with cars, but the trail never seems too busy.

Start in the forest and gradually climb out to big open spaces with mountains all around and the dirt trail going straight through the valley. It is a gentle up and down through wildflowers; nothing difficult or hard…yet. The trail to Hasley is not signed, so you’ll have to watch carefully for the junction. Once the West Maroon trail begins to go to the right and turns towards West Maroon Pass (that’s the way most of the people will be going), your trail veers off to the left and begins a long, lung-busting climb up.

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The trail is open, with wonderful views all around. There are no other trails intersecting this one until you climb higher and find yourself surrounded by rocks all along the trail. I don’t know quartz from crystal, but the rocks in this section are filled with all kinds of colors & sparkles. This is a wonderful place to stop and catch your breath. Take the trail to the left, which eventually straightens out and starts its final climb to the pass. The top is filled with fantastic views at 12,120 ft.

This is a hike you need to start early in the morning as storms at this altitude come in fast and furious; not a place you want to be if it’s lightning. But on a clear day, you can see for miles and miles. It’s cold and windy at the top, so take what you need to be able to sit and enjoy all the wonderful scenery. It’s worth the work it takes to get here.

While not a technical climb, this one is more difficult because of the elevation gain and the route not being signed. You’ll hike back the same way you came.

Crested Butte Hiking is Endless

Thanks to Vicki for not only showing me around Crested Butte hiking trails but also sharing her passion for the area. I’m already planning to go back next summer for more hiking. And this time I’ll for sure show up in a 4WD so I can get to some of these trails Vicki describes. In addition, I plan on hiking the West Maroon Trail to Aspen next summer and I’m hoping to take Vicki with me.

If you want to get your ‘hike on’ in Colorado, then venture out to the end of the road in Crested Butte next summer!

Visit Crested Butte

Crested Butte Wildflower Festival Information
July 4th Events/Parade
Get more region info at the Tourism Website

Bring a 4WD car if you want to get to the most hiking trails!
Don’t forget to practice these No Trace Hinking Tips!

Thanks to Vicki for helping me co-write this hiking piece! If you want to learn more about Vicki (and you should!) – check out the my interview with her!

Want more Colorado? Piney Lake – see a side of Vail in the summer you’ve never seen before.

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