Colorado

The 10 Best Hikes in Crested Butte, Colorado

by Jessica Ryan

best hikes crested butte colorado
Photo: Andriy and Kristina Blokhin

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Crested Butte is a playground for skiers, bikers, hikers, and anyone willing to take to the trails.

There’s something outdoor to experience every season in Crested Butte. It’s world-renown for hiking and is often called the “Wildflower Capitol of Colorado” for the flowers that bloom in July and August. During those months, you’ll see entire mountainsides and valleys lit up in wildflowers in every color. It’s no wonder that planning out the best Crested Butte hikes tops most travelers’ summer to-do lists.

Located in a valley in the Elk Mountains of Gunnison County, Crested Butte is easy to get to — there’s just one road leading in and out. It’s a 221-mile drive from Denver, which typically takes around four hours. That means it’s a little too far for a weekend getaway from Denver, especially since other mountain town are less of a drive. That makes it less crowded — it’s definitely one of the most down-to-Earth mountain towns you’ll come across in Colorado.

Read on for a round-up of some of the best Crested Butte hikes. If you’re planning on hiking in Crested Butte, you’ll want to make sure you download a trail map in advance as cell service can be rather spotty.

As you browse this list, remember that difficult ratings are relative to other hikes on the list — a trail may be easy compared to other trails in the area, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy for someone coming from low elevation. Plan accordingly and don’t forgot to grab a Crested Butte trails map before you head out.

As always, don’t forget to follow Leave No Trace principles when hiking, like minimizing your impact and properly disposing of waste. Learn more here.

1. Three Lakes Loop

Lost Lake // Photo: Gwen Eileen Simbeck

Why you should go: An easy loop offers access to swimmable lakes, great views, and thick forest

  • Distance: 3.4 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 520 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy / Moderate

Three Lakes Trail is a favorite among Crested Butte locals, located one hour west of Crested Butte. There’s easy access to the lake, so you can spend a full day here if you bring a paddleboard, fishing poles, or inflatable tube. You could also stay longer and spend the night at nearby Lost Lake Campground.

The Three Lakes Loop starts at the Lost Lake Slough shoreline. During the short hike, you’ll pass through thick patches of golden corydalis and over 70 other different plant species. While hiking, look up to see the gorgeous Ruby Range. Only a few minutes into the hike, you’ll see signs for Middle Creek Falls. It’s just a short walk to amazing views.

The main trail leads to Lost Lake before beginning to circle back towards Dollar Lake. Most people can hike the entire loop in less than two hours, so there’s plenty of time to hang out by the lakes if you find a good spot.

Find More Information: Travel Crested Butte

2. Oh Be Joyful Trail

oh be joyful trail
Photo: Brendan Bombaci

Why you should go: A long and remote hike where you’ll hear the sound of mountain streams and rushing waterfalls for most of the trek

  • Distance: 13.9 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 2,290 feet
  • Difficulty: Challenging

You may not be joyful after making the drive to the trailhead for the Oh Be Joyful Trail (though you’ll love it once you start) since the road to get there is fairly rough. The trail starts just past the Oh Be Joy Recreation Area and Campground, and you’ll need a high-clearance car to get to the trail head as it involves a small stream crossing. If you don’t want to drive across the stream, you can also just pick up the trail in the campground.

The steep climb up the mountain starts early in the hike, but you’ll have amazing views soon after. The trail meanders along the river with plenty of wildflower-filled valleys and waterfalls along the way. There are a few intersections along the way, but most are well marked, so just follow the arrows towards Blue Lake.

The last two miles to Blue Lake is the most strenuous part, with switchbacks that gain around 1,000 feet of elevation. But the extra time to get up to the alpine lake is worth the pain when you see the views.

Find more information: All Trails

3. Hasley Basin Loop

Why you should go: It’s part of the famous West Maroon Pass trail that takes you from Crested Butte to Aspen

  • Distance: 5.2 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,560 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate

The West Maroon trailhead is off Gothic Rd., about an hour outside of Crested Butte. A high-clearance AWD or 4WD vehicle is highly recommended to get there as the road gets extremely steep and narrow around Emerald Lake.

Be prepared for a steep and crowded trail at the beginning. Just like all the other Crested Butte hikes, this one is lush with wildflowers in July and August, so it certainly attracts the crowds. Around three miles in, turn off the West Maroon Trail for the Halsey Loop. The turnoff point for the loop is overgrown and hard to see, so make sure to download a map so you don’t miss is.

If you’re up for a detour, stay on the West Maroon Pass trail for another half mile or so before doubling back and taking the Halsey Loop. This will take you to the Snowmass Peak overlook, where the views of the back of the Maroon Bells are worth every step of the steep trek.

Find more information: All Trails

4. Judd Falls

judd falls colorado
Photo: Grayce Lou

Why you should go: A short and easy out-and-back hike with a waterfall at the end

  • Distance: 2.2 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 170 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy

Judd Falls is a popular family-friendly hike in the Gunnison National Forest, only about six
miles north of Mt. Crested Butte. Take Gothic Road towards the town of Gothic (an old ghost town worth a visit in its own right.) For a low clearance car, park in the lower parking lot at Copper Creek Trail. Higher clearance vehicles can make the drive to the second parking lot closer to the trail.

In summer, you can usually spot bright red prairie-fire (also called Indian paintbrush) as well as many other well-known Colorado wildflowers. Once you reach the waterfall and the Gothic overlook, you can either turn back or extend your trip and head up the Copper Creek Trail to Copper Lake.

Find more information: Visit Crested Butte

5. Copper Creek Trail to Copper Lake

copper lake hike crested butte
Photo: Bob Pearson

Why you should go: A gorgeous lake hike with views of Crested Butte and the Maroon Bells that you don’t want to miss.

  • Distance: 12 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 2,430 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Once you see Judd Falls, you might feel the urge to keep following the trail through the Maroon Bells Wilderness up to Copper Lake. The hike is long, but not overly strenuous.

There will be several streams to cross so be prepared with waterproof hiking boots, though you may have to entirely remove your shoes when it’s highest during early summer. Most of the trail is flat or very gradually uphill until the last mile, where you’ll have significant elevation gain. But keeping powering through to reach the lake, or even walk past it for the best views of East Maroon Pass.

This is a popular backpacking trail, especially when extended another six miles to cross Triangle Pass, leading to the famous Conundrum Hot Springs — you’ll just need a permit to camp there.

Find more information: All Trails

6. Brush Creek

Why you should go: An easy and quick hike surrounded by wild Aspen sunflowers and towering mountain peaks

  • Distance: 4.8 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 380 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy

Brush Creek Trail is about 15 minutes east of downtown. Since it’s an easy hike, it’s great for dogs and novice hikers. Be prepared to be awed by the expansive mountain views early on in the hike.

The path meanders through the East River Valley, where you’ll see a small creek and a beautiful display of wildflowers. As you continue, you’ll pass a beautiful patch of aspen groves. This trail is passable all summer and later into the fall than many others on this list.

Find more information: All Trails

7. Snodgrass Mountain Trail

Snodgrass Mountain Trail
Photo: Mary K. Schmidt, Getty Images

Why you should go: Beautiful scenery of Mt. Crested Butte and the Elk Mountain range, especially when the leaves are changing

  • Distance: 5.8 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,200 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Drive two miles past Mt. Crested Butte on Gothic Road to see the Gothic Trailhead on the left side. (If the gate is closed, you’ll have to walk around the fence and up the road.)

One you start, you’ll quickly notice the breathtaking scenery after 10 minutes of walking.  Look for wildflowers under the aspens and huge patches of lupines and wild sunflowers in the sunnier areas. There’s also an old abandoned cabin about halfway up the trail that seems to fit in well with the rugged mountain scenery.

When you reach a juntion, stay left (over the fence.) The trail is well signed, and you can head back on the same trail or take the Snodgrass singletrack trail back. If you choose the latter, be aware of mountain bikers sharing the trail.

Note that this trail closes mid-August for cattle grazing.

For more information: All Trails

8. Dark Canyon, Irwin and Dyke Loop

Why you should go: A moderate hike with incredible views of Kebler Pass and Horse Ranch Park

  • Distance: 5.9 mi.
  • Elevation Gain: 1,500 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate

If you’re into seeing changing colors in a massive aspen forest, you’ll love this hike. The trail starts by the campground at Horse Ranch Park, off Kebler Pass Rd.

Take the Dark Canyon Trail north, turning left at the first intersection (this is where the loop begins.) The trail will eventually loop back to this point, so you can go counter-clockwise instead if you’d prefer. The loop is mostly gradual ups and downs, with just a few short areas of incline.

The wildflowers are just as epic here in the summer as the aspens are in the fall. You’ll cross over a “dyke” (a rocky cliff spine) and be able to see beaver ponds under the Beckwith Mountains. At various points along the loop, you’ll have the option to switch to the Oh Be Joyful Trail and Lake Irwin Trail. Be sure to look up while you’re hiking — the views of Ruby Peak are incredible.

For more information: All Trails

9. Mill-Castle Trail

Why you should go: Unique views of the gargantuan rock face that looks like a medieval castle towering over the land.

  • Distance: 25.1 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 6,900 feet
  • Difficulty: Challenging

Find this trail by heading north on Ohio Creek Road about 10 miles before making a left on Mill
Creek Road. The trailhead is around 4.5 miles down the road. An AWD car is best to reach the top parking lot, but you can park in the lower lot 1.5 miles away if you need to (you’ll have to hike up the road.)

This hike has the most scenic views of the West Elk Wilderness and is considered one of the most worthwhile Crested Butte hikes by area backpackers. People often hike just the first four miles before turning around, since it’s nearly flat.

But once you pass that point, the trail becomes steep, crossing over the ridgeline near West Elk Peak. Only very experienced hikers and backpackers should attempt the route. Be sure to check current wilderness and camping regulations ahead of time.

For more information: All Trails

10. Green Lake Trail

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Why you should go: A beautiful hike to an alpine lake that you can start from in town — no driving necessary

  • Distance: 8.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,810 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate

The Green Lake Trail hike starts behind the Crested Butte Nordic Center, near 2nd Ave. You’ll head down the road, and signs will direct you to the official trailhead about a mile down the road. The trail starts at 8,900 feet and Green Lake sits at around 10,500 feet high — so the trail is steep at times.

That said, this hike is beautiful and diverse. The aspen and pine forests offer great shade, making it a little easier on warm summer days. You’ll pass through several microclimates, so there’s quite a variety of plant life. And the lake at the top is a great place to soak your feet and hang out for a bit before starting the hike back down.

For more information: All Trails

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