I can’t believe its taken me this long to visit Colorado in the Fall, but my goodness did it take my breath away. My friend and I spent 5 days exploring Crested Butte, Colorado in a van and I’m here to share our itinerary and the places we enjoyed the most! There are plenty of things to do in Crested Butte, so read on to plan your Crested Butte Fall adventure!
Land Acknowledgement: Ute Land. Find what Native Land you are visiting by using the app Native Land! I encourage you to read the history and culture of the Indigenous people who’s land you are visiting! Consider visiting nearby cultural centers and seeking out other ways to financially support Indigenous People.
- Where is Crested Butte?
- Starting Your Trip
- Best Things to do in Crested Butte:
- 1. Scenic Drives:
- 2. Hiking in Aspen Groves
- 3. Scenic Camping in Crested Butte
- 4. Things to Do in Crested Butte: Downtown
- What Time of Year to Visit Crested Butte Fall?
- Things to do in Crested Butte Fall Itinerary:
- Fall Fashion Recommendations
- Conclusion: Things to do in Crested Butte
All photos in collaboration with Disa Wold
Where is Crested Butte?
Crested Butte is a small town of 1,300 people in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. It is about 4 hours West of Denver. It’s popular for it’s downhill skiing and mountain biking trails along Crested Butte Mountain Resort. And is also known for scenic routes full of colorful aspen trees in the Fall!
Crested Butte sits at around 9,000 ft of elevation. The downtown area on Elk Avenue is lined with cute shops and restaurants in old wooden buildings that you should definitely check out.
Starting Your Trip
If you will be traveling by plane, you have a few airport options:
- Denver International Airport is a 4 hour drive from Crested Butte, Colorado
- Gunnison – Crested Butte Regional Airport is a 40 minute drive from Downtown Crested Butte
Should you rent a car? Is 4×4 recommended?
If you are flying in, I recommend renting a car as there are not many options for public transportation here. If you want to experience as much of this area as possible, I recommend a vehicle with 4×4 or All Wheel Drive. Most of the roads are very accessible to the average vehicle, but if you happen to hit a rainy patch or want to go a bit further up some of the scenic passes, Four Wheel Drive will be necessary.
What we did: Rent a Van!
My friend and I had separate flights into Denver. We had a GoCamp Van waiting for us for pickup the next day a little south of Denver and this would be our rental car, “hotel”, and place to make meals for the next few days.
We used the Free Bird: Storyteller Overland Stealth Mode 4X4 and we loved all the features it had to make our Fall travel comfortable:
- Climate Control: having the diesel heater at night to keep it a comfortable 65-70 degrees F was SO nice for those chilly Fall nights/mornings
- Indoor Shower: We didn’t use this, but it was nice having this option!
- Kitchen: This van in particular had a fridge, hot plate stove, microwave and sink. It made it really easy to make meals and reheat leftovers, saving us some money on meals.
** Disclaimer: we worked with GoCamp Rentals and did not have to pay, but all opinions remain my own.
Since this trip was very photography forward for us, it was nice having a van that we could hang out in and wait for the right weather conditions.
Best Things to do in Crested Butte:
1. Scenic Drives:
There are so many scenic drive options with Crested Butte (CB) as a home base. There were a few we kept coming back to. Here are my recommendations:
1. Drive to Gothic
The drive to Gothic is about 20 minutes from Downtown, and was by far our favorite place to take photos. It eventually turns to a pretty mild dirt road that goes through tunnels of golden aspens and opens up to incredible views of mountains. Just be mindful of the signs posted. If you’re in National Forest area, you’re good to go to take photos and stop. But just past the National Forest, it becomes land that is part of the Gothic Research Station.
Side note: we looked up the Gothic Research Station after driving by it and they are studying some pretty cool things. They are studying the effects of climate change on the land/soil and they are also studying Marmots!!
Photos to take here: Road shots, Portraits with the Aspens, Landscape and drone shots!
Time Required: I recommend budgeting 1-2 hours for this drive.
2. Drive Kebler Pass
Kebler Pass is a 30 mile high mountain pass that has some stunning overlooks, trails, and views. It connects CB to Paonia and can also be used as a scenic route to Aspen. We drove it during the worst weather on our trip, but it was still such a scenic drive that I highly recommend.
Photo Notes: this road can be busy, so for photos you’ll need to stick to pull-offs and overlooks!
Tip: Kebler Pass Fall color peaks later than Crested Butte. Click HERE to get updates on the color in each area near Crested Butte.
Time Required: If you’re doing the whole 30 mile stretch, plan for 2 hours ONE way. So 4 hours total with minimal stopping. We went about halfway since it was downpouring rain on us haha.
3. Drive Washington Gulch
Washington Gulch Road winds pass some gorgeous views of Mount Crested Butte. It eventually turns to a dirt road that ends up at some pretty scenic dispersed camping. There are some very scenic photo opportunities here. We decided to enjoy the lack of rain and ever changing mountain view.
Note: There is a lot of cattle in this area. There is also an area that goes off to the right where 4×4 is required. 4×4 is not necessary for the main route though.
Time Required: 45 minutes to 2 hours
If you really want to commit to a full day of scenic driving, consider the West Elk Loop that follows 205 miles through mountains and scenic views. Driving time: 6-8 hours
2. Hiking in Aspen Groves
You can’t go wrong with the hiking while visiting Crested Butte. It’s a great way to get up close to some of the vibrant Aspen groves! Here are my recommendations:
1. Teddy’s Trail
Teddy’s Trail starts at the Snodgrass Trailhead. It is about a 2 mile loop trail with minimal elevation gain. The Snodgrass trail crosses over onto private property and so the full length of this trail isn’t possible. But we confirmed with locals that Teddy’s trail is not off-limits.
Note: the parking area for this spot fills up FAST. We did this trail first thing in the morning and had no problem getting parking. It did not take long for us to get to Aspen’s (maybe 0.5 miles).
Time Required: I would recommend 1-2 hours for this trail.
2. Upper & Lower Loop Trail
We did this trail as our final goodbye to Crested Butte. This moderate rated trail offers hiking through Aspen trees, mountain views and more.
- 4.6 miles round trip
- 337 ft elevation gain
- 1.5-2 hours to complete
- Dogs Allowed on Leash
- AllTrails link HERE
This was an evening hike for us and we only ran into one other person and 3 mountain bikers. I would LOVE to come back and mountain bike this loop.
3. Other Hiking Recommendations
We did not get to do it all, so here are two more trails that were recommended to us multiple times:
- Judd Falls
- Emerald Lake
3. Scenic Camping in Crested Butte
I was very impressed by the amount of scenic, free camping not more than 30 minutes from downtown. If you haven’t already read my guide on how to find the Best Free Camping – read it HERE.
1. Washington Gulch
Washington Gulch road eventually crosses into Gunnison National Forest about 25 minutes outside of town. I like to use Ioverlander.com to find exact coordinates and directions. This area is by far the biggest area of camping we saw outside of Crested Butte.
- Tents, RV’s, Vans
- Unpaved Road, but 4×4 not needed to access
- No amenities besides 2 pit toilets.
- Opportunities for photos here
NOTE: lots of cattle roam here. We actually woke up one morning to a bull nudging the van and it was pretty startling haha.
2. Gothic Area
The road to Gothic also passes by some National Forest Land. There were signs posted stating that dispersed camping was only allowed during certain months. I believe it stated that it was allowed after August, but always check the posted signs to make sure you’re allowed to be there. We ended up camping at a pull off in this area that was incredibly scenic in the morning.
- Not advised for Tents
- Vans and Car camping would be best
- No amenities
- Gorgeous views of river and aspens
3. Other Camping Areas
There are many scenic camping spots in this area, but we did not get to check out all of them. Some other camping areas to check out for scenic views:
- River Flats Campground
- Oh Be Joyful BLM Campground ($5-$10)
4. Things to Do in Crested Butte: Downtown
We thoroughly enjoyed checking out all the shops, restaurants and bars in Crested Butte. Here are my favorites!
1. Shops on Elk Avenue
Cutest Clothing and Accessories: Favor the Kind
Best Outdoor Apparel: Chopwood Mercantile
Crested Butte Apparel: Mountain Tops
2. Best Food in Crested Butte
- Butte Bagels is a cozy and very popular spot for breakfast open 7:30 am – 2pm
- Ryce Asian Bistro is a great spot for dinner with large portions. I ordered pad thai that lasted me for 3 meals.
- Breadery CB has lots of yummy salad, flatbread and small plate options
- Rumors Coffee and Tea House has delicious breakfast treats (vegan options) and breakfast burritos.
- Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory has ice cream and delicious chocolate treats
3. Coffee and Tea
I am not a coffee drinker, but I LOVE a good matcha or chai latte. We spent a lot of time working at coffee shops during the day or when it was raining. Our favorites:
- Rumors Coffee and Tea House: has good WIFI
- T-Bar: delicious tea options and latte flavors and has a good WIFI and work area
- Camp 4 Coffee is the most popular coffee spot, but doesn’t have a lot of seating options during cold weather.
4. Favorite Nightlife in Crested Butte
- Dogwood Cocktail Cabin was definitely our favorite. It’s a small cozy cabin that services delicious drinks and snacks in a very intimate environment.
- Montanya Distillers is a fun rum bar. I recommend making reservations online before!
- Talk of the Town ended up being a really good time on Saturday with a DJ. Locals seem to hang out here too and it was a great way to meet people.
What Time of Year to Visit Crested Butte Fall?
While we were researching the best time to visit, most websites say peak colors begin in Mid September each year. The Fall color was a little delayed this year so we planned out trip for September 29th- October 3rd and it was perfect in Crested Butte.
I recommend using the leaf tracker updates on Travel Crested Butte when timing your trip.
Weather in the Fall
The average temperatures during this time:
September 66° / 31°
October 54° / 22°
Expect rain, but maybe not as much as it calls for. It called for rain everyday for us, but only rained about half the time it called for, thank goodness haha. I’d recommend bringing a good raincoat and some waterproof boots for hiking around.
Crested Butte sits at about 9,000 feet, and oh wow could I feel it at first. I don’t typically get too impacted by altitude, but I was extra dehydrated from traveling. My biggest complaint was a slight headache that lasted two days.
Tips for the high altitude:
- Avoid strenuous exercise the first day.
- Drink LOTS of water
- Limit alcohol intake initially
- Wear more sunscreen than usual (especially Chapstick with SPF)
Things to do in Crested Butte Fall Itinerary:
- Arrive in Crested Butte
- Drive out to Gothic for sunset photos
- Go to Downtown for Dinner
- Camp at Gothic
- Morning Hike at Teddy’s Trail for Aspen photos
- Breakfast at Butte Bagels
- Shop Downtown Crested Butte
- Evening at Washington Gulch for photos
Crested Butte Day 3
- Morning Drive out to Kebler Pass
- Evening hike at Upper and Lower Loop
- Drinks at Dogwood Cocktail Cabin
- Coffee at Rumors
- Hike Emerald Lake
- Hike Judd Falls
- Drinks at Montanya Distillers
Fall Fashion Recommendations
Need a little inspo for your fashion on this trip to Crested Butte? Check out my favorites HERE.
Conclusion: Things to do in Crested Butte
So, as you can see, Crested Butte Colorado is a place you can visit in the Fall that has all the views, small town charm, and Fall color you could want. Whether you’re into camping or lodging at one of the hotels, you don’t have to go far to find a scenic drive, hike or coffee shop.
If I had to pick my top 3 favorite places we visted here:
- Gothic Scenic Drive
- Upper & Lower loop trail
- Washington Gulch scenic drive and dispersed camping
If you’ve been, let me know your favorites below!
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