Crested Butte Winter Travel Guide

Enjoy the winter wonderland of Crested Butte Colorado for skiing, biking, good food, and more. Check out this complete Crested Butte winter travel guide!

CRESTED BUTTE WINTER TRAVEL GUIDE

Sponsored by Travel Crested Butte

Recently I got the opportunity to explore Crested Butte, Colorado. My partner, Ryan and I had a great time getting to know this little mountain town and the people while we were there; we’re already looking forward to our next visit! In this Crested Butte winter travel guide, I suggest the best things to do in Crested Butte during the winter. But first, I’d like to share a little bit about the town and its history.

Located in the rugged Rocky Mountains of west-central Colorado, Crested Butte’s elevation is just under 8,900 feet. It was originally home to the native Ute Indians until miners settled in the area between 1860 and 1880 and began to develop the land. Coal production continued until the early 1950s when other resources became available and less expensive coal was found elsewhere.

Since then, Crested Butte has grown into a charming touristic town for year-round vacations. With some of the best skiing in the winter and the best wildflower viewing in the summer, you’ll have plenty of fun things to do with your friends and family. River activities, hiking, biking, climbing, festivals… just to name a few!

Known as the “Gateway to the Elk Mountains,” it’s about 200-270 miles and 4-5 hours of scenic driving time from Denver to Crested Butte. Be sure to add it to your list of places to visit in Colorado! We loved our time visiting this winter wonderland – it truly is a mountain paradise.

Here is my Crested Butte winter travel guide, complete with things to do, where to stay, and place to eat.

Getting to Crested Butte in the Winter

One thing I loved is how far away Crested Butte feels from the city and bigger ski areas. It’s tucked away in the beautiful mountains but it’s not hard to get there even in the winter. Getting there in the winter is easy by car or plane.

If you’re considering flying, several airlines offer direct flights from Denver into the Gunnison Airport with shuttle services from the airport into Crested Butte.

If you plan to drive to Crested Butte, there are three main routes:

  • US 285 from Denver to Poncha Springs
  • US 50 over Monarch Pass and through Gunnison (usually open in winter)
  • SR 135 from Gunnison to Crested Butte (usually open in winter)

It’s important to note that one or two of these routes may close throughout the winter, so be sure to check road conditions with the Colorado Department of Transportation.

We drove 50 West over Monarch Pass from Salida. Depending on the forecast, I might recommend 4WD or a good pair of snow tires for added security. It’s a curvy mountain road with some drop-offs. The 50 East coming from Montrose could be a better option if it’s super snowy. It’s at a lower elevation and not as mountainous but it’s a further route if you’re coming from Denver. The 135 North up to Crested Butte is well maintained, fairly straight, and no steep drop-offs.

The open roads are plowed and salted regularly, so it’s not always necessary to have 4WD or chains, but if you have chains bring them just in case. Usually, roadways will display signs if chains are required. In this case, you’ll want to pull over and put them on or turn around if you don’t have them. If you don’t have 4WD and/or snow tires and chains, it’s best not to make the drive until the weather clears.

No matter which route you take, it will be a scenic drive so you’ll want to drive slowly and take in the views.

 

Crested Butte Colorado Map // Crested Butte, Colorado is a winter wonderland for skiing, fat biking, good food, and more. Check out this complete Crested Butte winter travel guide!

Photo Source: Google Map

Getting Around in Crested Butte

Another great thing about the town is that you don’t need a car! It’s easy to get around without a car, so if you plan to fly into town skip the rental and utilize the local shuttle services instead. Alpine Express offers door-to-door shuttle services between Gunnison Airport and Crested Butte, as well as Montrose Airport. Then, once you’re in town there’s a free Mountain Express bus service that will drive you between the ski area, downtown, and many of the lodges. Basically, you can take the free bus anywhere you want to go in town and Mount Crested Butte. Plus, you won’t need to worry about scraping snow off your windows or parking on alternate sides of the street.

Crested Butte Weather in Winter

If you’re looking for snow, the best time to visit Crested Butte in the winter is in late winter, early spring. Crested Butte Mountain Resort has a ton of steep, rocky terrain, so later in winter you’ll have the best chance of thorough coverage, and temperatures will be a little warmer. The average amount of snowfall is 234 inches a year in Crested Butte. It gets pretty cold with average temperatures ranging between -4°F and 31°F from December through February. We had a couple of super cold days when we were there in mid-February, but there’s plenty of fun to be had when you don’t want to be outside. Because of this, the town isn’t as crowded as it is during the warmer months.

Things to Do in Winter in Crested Butte

Explore the Crested Butte Winter Trail System

From beginners to experts, there are many opportunities to get outside for all levels of outdoor enthusiasts. Some popular activities in the area include nordic skiing, snowshoeing, and fat biking. If you love hiking, you’ll probably love snowshoeing and cross-country skiing too. For a complete list of trails, check out the winter hiking page. Here are a few trails I suggest you add to your list:

Slate River Trail

This beginner-friendly trail leads you through a beautiful valley along a snow-covered Slate River with views of Mineral Point. It’s 8 miles long and mostly flat but feel free to cut the trip shorter to make it as long as you want.

  • Best for hiking, snowshoeing, backcountry skiing, nordic skiing, and fat biking
  • Level: beginner
  • Distance: 8 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 500 feet
  • Starting Elevation: 9,000 feet
  • Distance from Town: 5 minutes
  • Ungroomed – user compacted
  • Dog-friendly

Slate River Trail // Enjoy the winter wonderland of Crested Butte Colorado for skiing, biking, good food, and more. Check out this complete Crested Butte winter travel guide!

Photo Source: Travel Crested Butte

Gothic Trail

This moderate trail offers stunning mountain views all the way to the abandoned winter town of Gothic. There are some sections with deep snow but not much elevation gain.

  • Best for snowshoeing, backcountry skiing, nordic skiing, and fat biking
  • Level: intermediate
  • Distance: 6 miles (round trip)
  • Elevation Gain: 112 feet
  • Starting Elevation: 9,612 feet
  • Distance from Town: 10 minutes
  • Ungroomed – user compacted
  • Dog-friendly

Gothic Trail // Enjoy the winter wonderland of Crested Butte Colorado for skiing, biking, good food, and more. Check out this complete Crested Butte winter travel guide!

Photo Source: Travel Crested Butte

Snodgrass Road Trail

Snodgrass Trail is an out-and-back trail that offers a mellow climb 1,500 feet up to the top of the road and descents back down to the parking lot. It’s dog-friendly and less than 10 minutes from town.

  • Best for snowshoeing, backcountry skiing, nordic skiing, and fat biking
  • Level: intermediate
  • Distance: 2.8 miles (round trip)
  • Elevation Gain: 1,500 feet
  • Starting Elevation: 9,600 feet
  • Distance from Town: 7 minutes
  • Groomed
  • Dog-friendly

Snodgrass Trail // Enjoy the winter wonderland of Crested Butte Colorado for skiing, biking, good food, and more. Check out this complete Crested Butte winter travel guide!

Photo Source: Travel Crested Butte

Go Nordic Skiing

If you’re looking for nordic skiing (aka cross-country skiing), you’re in luck. Crested Butte is known for having world-class nordic skiing and offers over 30 miles of well-groomed nordic tracks plus over 60 miles of groomed ski trails. You can ski in and ski out right from town from some trails. Cross-country skiing is a great workout that allows you to enjoy the scenery along the way. It’s fun for the whole family, too!

Need to rent some gear or interested in taking lessons? Crested Butte Nordic has rental equipment, ski lessons, and backcountry tours. Adult rentals and day passes are $20/day each. Discounts are available for multi-day passes as well as adults over 65 and children 17 and under. Be sure to check out Crested Butte Nordic and Travel Crested Butte for more information – they’ll set you up with everything you need.

Here are three cross-country skiing trails worth checking out while you’re there:

Pooch’s Paradise

Pooch’s Paradise is a dog-friendly cross-country skiing trail that’s nearly 2 miles long. You’ll need a nordic ski trail pass, as well as a dog pass if you plan to take your pup. The trail starts in town and continues past Peanut Lake to Magic Meadows and Mikes Mile.

  • Best for nordic skiing
  • Level: green
  • Distance: 1.9 miles (3k)
  • Elevation Gain: 100 feet
  • Starting Elevation: 8,900 feet
  • Distance from Town: 1 minute
  • Groomed
  • Dogs allowed with dog pass

Red Lady Loop

The Red Lady Loop is a slightly more difficult nordic trail that traverses rolling hills through aspen and spruce forests.

  • Best for nordic skiing
  • Level: blue
  • Distance: 2-mile loop (3.3k)
  • Elevation Gain: 100 feet
  • Starting Elevation: 8,900 feet
  • Distance from Town: 1 minute
  • Groomed
  • Dogs are NOT allowed

Magic Meadows

Magic Meadows is a mostly level trail that weaves through an evergreen forest all the way to the Magic Meadows backcountry Yurt where you can enjoy Sunday brunch or a 5-course dinner. Otherwise, keep skiing to the north end of this trail to meet up with some more challenging hills.

  • Best for nordic skiing
  • Level: green
  • Distance: 2.25 miles round trip (4.6k)
  • Distance from Town: 5 minutes
  • Groomed
  • Dogs are NOT allowed

 

Crested Butte Nordic Trails Map // Enjoy the winter wonderland of Crested Butte Colorado for skiing, biking, good food, and more. Check out this complete Crested Butte winter travel guide!

Crested Butte Trail Map Source: Crested Butte Nordic

Take a Fat Biking Ride

Have you been fat biking yet? A fat bike is an off-road bike with oversized tires (hence the name: fat bike). It’s designed for stability on snow and uneven terrain and it’s a lot of fun. You can really cover some ground on snow when you want to get outside but don’t feel like walking or skiing.

Bikes are available to rent in town from Big Al’s Bicycle Heaven, a full-service bike shop that rents, repairs, and sells bikes. Fat bike rentals start at $45 for 2 hours, $85 for 5-8 hours, and $115 for 8-24 hours. If you’re renting for a large group or multiple days, ask about discounts. They’re the biking experts in this area so be sure to pick their brains for beta on trail information!

For a fun fat biking trip, park at the Gothic trailhead (mentioned above) and ride 3 miles to the abandoned ghost town of Gothic. You can’t go wrong with the trails here, take your pick from any of the user-compacted or groomed trails and you’ll have an enjoyable, scenic ride.

Stay up to date with trail information with the Crested Butte Mountain Biking Association.

Fat Biking in Crested Butte // Enjoy the winter wonderland of Crested Butte Colorado for skiing, biking, good food, and more. Check out this complete Crested Butte winter travel guide!

Exploring the Crested Butte Town Trail System via Fat Bike

Ski Crested Butte Mountain Resort

The base of Mount Crested Butte sits at 9,375 feet elevation and the summit is 12,162 feet. Ski Crested Butte Mountain Resort has 15 lifts and 121 trails so there’s plenty to do on the 1,547 acres of skiable terrain. It’s owned by Vail Mountain Resort so you can use your Epic pass and ski in the small town, local vibe without the crowds. When we were there, we experienced zero lift lines and uncrowded slopes.

My partner, Ryan is an advanced skier while I’ve been working to hone my skills and increase my confidence over the last few years. So I appreciated the variety of terrain because there’s something for everyone from smooth, roaming groomers to steep, expert drops. The mountain is evenly divided into about 20-30% of runs for beginners, intermediate, advanced, and expert level skiers. Whether it will be your first day on the slopes or you’ve been skiing for years, you’ll get some great runs in on your Crested Butte ski trip.

If you’re looking to uplevel your skills, check out the ski and snowboard clinics available for foundational skills all the way to expert-level. They host a women’s clinic, which sounds like a great way to meet other like-minded women.

If you’re an expert-level skier, I suggest hiring a CB Steep Guide that will guide you into more extreme terrain and give you beta on where to go based on the conditions.

Enjoy the winter wonderland of Crested Butte Colorado for skiing, biking, good food, and more. Check out this complete Crested Butte winter travel guide!

Enjoy the Center for the Arts

The Center for the Arts has a variety of classes and events in visual arts, performing arts, and culinary arts like wheel throwing, wine tastings, writing workshops, and watercolor classes. While we were there, the town hosted a fun art walk so keep an eye out for that while you’re in town. And, since you’re in Colorado where marijuana is legal, the Center for the Arts occasionally offers a Cooking with Marijuana class.

Take a Yoga Class

Need a stretch after all those activities? Thrive Yoga Crested Butte has a full schedule of classes including slow flow, restorative, heated vinyasa, Iyengar, kundalini, and meditation. So, depending on how much energy you have left or what mood you’re in, you’ll enjoy a good yoga class here. They offer multi-class passes and unlimited weekly passes if you want to go frequently while you’re in town.

Dine in a Backcountry Yurt Under the Stars

The Magic Meadows Yurt is a ski-in ski-out dining experience accessible only by snowshoe or ski. Come for brunch or dinner and enjoy a cozy, remote fine dining experience. The yurt dinner package costs $135/person and includes your nordic pass, rental equipment, a 5-course meal, beverages, live music, gratuity, and transportation to and from the trailhead.

Maybe you’d rather ski out to the yurt on Sunday morning for a backcountry bistro brunch of organic and gluten-free pastries, soup, treats, tea, coffee, and pie. Or, sip on a warm beverage before you head back to the trailhead. The 1-mile trail is mostly level with a few rolling hills and takes about 15-40 minutes depending on the person.

 

Magic Meadows Backcountry Yurt // Enjoy the winter wonderland of Crested Butte Colorado for skiing, biking, good food, and more. Check out this complete Crested Butte winter travel guide!

Photo Source: Crested Butte Nordic

Go Snowcat Skiing

We got to go cat skiing with Irwin Guides while we were there and it was an incredible experience with epic views. It’s a splurge, but for die-hard skiers, you won’t regret it. You’ll leave from town in a cat, ride 45 minutes to Irwin Lodge off of Kebler Pass, where you’ll find 1000 acres of untouched powder to explore. Irwin gets about 2-3 times as much snow as the town does, and it’s considered to be the mecca for powder. We went right after a storm and had prime conditions! I skied 5 runs before lunch and another 5 after, and it ended up being one of the best days of skiing of my life. There’s plenty of low angle terrain but this is best experienced for intermediate to advanced skiers who are comfortable in steep, varied terrain.

The staff includes super friendly, knowledgeable, and professional guides plus their own avalanche safety team that educated us about avalanche preparedness beforehand. We each carried an avalanche beacon while we were skiing. If you’re interested in upping your backcountry education, Irwin Guides also offers a number of clinics – from avalanche education to wilderness medicine – throughout the year – and I can’t imagine a better place to do it. They also offer women’s specific courses.

Price per person is $650, which includes three guides, skis, a hot lunch, and apres beverages. As I said, it’s a splurge, but it will be an adventure of a lifetime if it’s within your budget.

Snowcat Skiing with irwin guides in Crested Butte was a once in a lifetime experience

Snowcat Skiing with Irwin Guides in Crested Butte Colorado is a once in a lifetime experience

Take a Stroll on Elk Street

Elk Street is the main drag through town. All of the businesses are locally owned and operated so there are no chain stores, which preserves the historic charm. You’ll find some cute shops, eateries, bookstores, music stores, and outdoor gear stores. Townie Books is a good one for books; Grit has music and mountain-inspired clothing for women and men; Favor the Kind is a boutique with home decor, gifts, and women’s clothing. You’ll also find a couple of outdoor gear stores as you stroll, including Chopwood Mercantile.

Elk Avenue in Crested Butte

Where to Stay in Crested Butte

We stayed in a cute and affordable hotel called the Nordic Inn B&B and I recommend it for a few reasons. First, it’s pet-friendly, so it a relief to find a pet-friendly hotel right by the mountain. Plus, the views from our window were gorgeous and the mountain was right across the way. The chairlift is literally a 5 minute walk from the hotel, which also offers free parking during your stay. We loved it, so if you’re looking for Crested Butte lodging add the Nordic Inn to your itinerary.

Nightly rates vary by season starting at $150/night and include continental breakfast and complimentary transportation between the mountain and the town.

Where to Eat in Crested Butte

Considering it’s a very small town of about 1,000 year-round residents, we were really impressed by the number of great restaurants. Here are some of the best restaurants in Crested Butte that we ate at, all of which served up healthy and hearty vegetarian options.

Sherpa Cafe

The Sherpa Cafe serves authentic Himalayan cuisine from India, Nepal, and Tibet. They have two locations in Gunnison and Crested Butte and the menu is fair-priced and affordable. The owners opened this restaurant because the surrounding mountains remind them of their home, so the cafe is a way to bring a little piece of home right here in this little mountain town.

The Last Steep

Named after the owners’ favorite ski run, The Last Steep is a bar and grille with standard American pub fare, salads and sandwiches, teriyaki bowls, seafood, and more. The black bean sweet potato vegetarian tacos were good – I recommend them.

Secret Stash Pizza

Secret Stash Pizza is the go-to pizza spot in town that serves delicious pizzas, salads, and appetizers. If you’re looking for pizza you won’t be disappointed.

Paradise Cafe

If you’re looking for great breakfast food to fuel your big day, Paradise Cafe is the place to go. It’s across the street from the main bus station, so you can hop right onto the bus on your way out.

Montanya Distillery

Are you a rum drinker? Go tour the Montanya Distillery and enjoy a free tasting without a reservation before 5pm. This female-founded, female-owned business is worth checking out whether you drink alcohol or not, plus their food menu was absolutely delicious, with a variety of options no matter your dietary restrictions. They even have a mocktail menu with zero proof cocktails. Montanya is a Certified B Corporation, which means they give part of their profit to the planet. All of their facilities are 100% wind powered and they offset their carbon production. I recommend stopping in and saying hi, tasting the rum or mocktails, and enjoying seasonally inspired food items.

Health Tips for High Altitude

The town of Crested Butte sits at about 8,880 feet, and Mount Crested Butte’s base is 9,375 feet in elevation. These are considered moderately high elevations. Most people will not be adversely affected by elevation below 10,000 feet, but it’s important to be familiar with ways to stay healthy and safe in high country.

Once your body reaches an altitude near 10,000 feet or higher it needs to go through a process called acclimatization. At this elevation, the body has a hard time producing enough oxygen to saturate your blood as it normally does. So, in order to adapt to the stress of the changing environment, the body needs time to produce more red blood cells. Typically, acclimatization happens within 24-72 hours.

Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) or Altitude Sickness is a condition that refers to the symptoms you feel when your body has not acclimatized to the higher elevation. Shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea, light-headedness, decreased appetite, and difficulty sleeping are some of the common symptoms of AMS. Usually, these symptoms show up on the first day or two of your arrival. Again, this will likely not be an issue for the majority of people visiting Crested Butte. But, if you begin to feel any of the above symptoms, follow these simple self-care suggestions and you’ll be ready to have fun in no time.

  • Take it easy the first day – keep activity light to moderate
  • Stay hydrated – drink A LOT of water and avoid alcohol
  • Move slowly
  • As soon as you start to feel sick, go down to a lower altitude

For more information on Altitude Sickness and how to prevent it, check out this blog post once you’re done here.

I hope this Crested Butte winter travel guide was helpful in your trip planning! Have you been there yet? Share your favorite things to do in the comments below.

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About the author

Hi! I'm Kristen....blogger, hiker, sunset-watcher, and dance floor shredder. I feel most alive in the outdoors and created this website to help you enjoy the best that the West has to offer.

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