Overnight Trip to Crested Butte
Ever since moving to Colorado, we’ve been wanting to check out Crested Butte, a small skiing resort town in western Colorado that is known for it’s amazing displays of wildflowers in summer. Usually the peak bloom is in June, but it was delayed until July this year due to the large amount of snow. I had heard great things about Crested Butte from everyone that went there, and when I heard from hiking friends that the flowers were starting to reach peak bloom, I knew we had to go soon.
Where to Stay in Crested Butte
Since this was another somewhat impromptu trip, we researched last-minute options for where to stay. There were a couple hotels that were available in the $150-$200 range, but to save money and spend more time outdoors, we decided to go camping. There are several options for campgrounds in and around Crested Butte. We aimed to stay at Oh Be Joyful Campground because it was located relatively central to all the trails we were interested in visiting, it had first-come-first-serve camping, and there were a few areas up the road from the campground with public overflow camping in Gunnison National Forest.
We left Boulder with a 4 and a half hour drive ahead of us around 7 am on Friday. When we arrived at Oh Be Joyful Campground, all the campsites had been taken. So we moved on to Plan B, driving up the road to find another campground.
Interestingly, these campgrounds look quite similar to Oh Be Joyful, but are free. We stopped at the third such public campground area beyond Oh Be Joyful Campground. There were still a couple spots left. It’s kind of a free-for-all, where you park next to a fire circle or empty space, set up your tent, and that’s it. In some cases, people park and just set up tents in the meadow. Even though this is not a paid campground, there are restrooms. There is no running water, but the Slate River was close, so we could filter water.
Compared to our last camping experience being out in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, this camping experience had practically zero solitude. On the other hand, it was free and a convenient 20 minute drive from town.
While we were visiting Crested Butte we found another campground that we’d be interested in staying at – the Mt. Crested Butte Campground.
As far as I can tell, this campground is not listed online. It is located just before the trailhead to Snodgrass Mountain on Gothic Road, with a total of 26 campsites in a wildflower-filled meadow.
Here is the posted information about the campground –
There are no trees or mountains directly next to it, so the campground features big skies to enjoy at night. There is a porter-potty and a water tap, but campfires are prohibited. As far as I can tell, this campground is free and first-come-first-served. It was not full, even during this wildflower peak bloom weekend.
After we settled in to our campsite and had lunch, we headed out for a hike and to take some pictures. I’d heard great things about the wildflowers on Snodgrass Mountain, so we headed there first.
We hiked to the summit and back, but the best wildflowers are definitely in the meadows at the bottom of the mountain, particularly on Teddy’s Trail.
Teddy’s Trail featured seas of wildflowers with many Monument Plants.
Monument Plants are particularly special because they only bloom once every 22-80 years before dying. The research that led to this knowledge of how rarely these plants bloom was conducted in the Crested Butte area by the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL). RMBL is headquartered just a couple miles down the road in the tiny town of Gothic, a failed mining site that turned into a scientific research station in 1928.
Further down the trail, the Snodgrass Mountain ascent includes a lovely walk through an Aspen forest.
There are several areas in Crested Butte with Aspen forests. It must be beautiful to see all their yellow foliage in autumn.
Meadow with a View
At the top of the loop where Snodgrass Road 590 and Snodgrass Trail 590 meet, there is an open meadow with views of the mountains.
Snodgrass Mountain Summit
The trail up the mountain beyond the loop area is basically a fire road in the woods and does not offer any other interesting views.
This is the view from the summit –
If you are going hiking at Snodgrass Mountain, I would recommend simply looping back at the meadow for an approximately 4-mile hike, which includes the fields of wildflowers and walk through an Aspen forest. However, if you want get some extra exercise, hiking to the summit of Snodgrass Mountain is also a good option. You can peak-bag an 11er!
Turning in for the Evening
Hiking Snodgrass Mountain took longer than we thought, and by the time we drove back to the campground, it was starting to get dark. We set to filtering our water, boiling it, and making dinner by re-hydrating our freeze-dried Mountain House food. In order to add calories to the food, we added dehydrated pasta we had prepared separately at home using our dehydrator. This method worked well. Instead of having to eat two Mountain House meals to satiate our hunger for dinner, one meal with added pasta was enough.
The major detracting factor for staying at a public campground such as the one we stayed at, however, is that there are no quiet hours enforced. Because of this, camping parties can stay up late chatting and laughing. We brought ear plugs, but loud revelry woke me up at least once in the middle of the night. I guess you can’t expect much quiet in a free public campground.
Sleeping Bag Liners
If you remember from our backpacking trip to the Indian Peaks Wilderness two weeks ago, at night we were so freezing cold, we couldn’t sleep for several hours. At the time, we were using the Sea to Summit Premium Blend Silk/Cotton Liners. In order to avoid this situation again, we purchased Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor Extreme Sleeping Bag Liners. These liners add 25°F of warmth to a sleeping bag.
Although the temperature in Crested Butte was not as cold as it was in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, the liners felt toasty warm. We only needed to sleep in our base layers, no extra layers of pants, jackets, or hats. A nice feature to the new liners is that one side is longer and has a cinch to tighten the liner over your head. This has the dual function of keeping your head insulated, while also protecting your sleeping bag from the dirt/oils on your head.
Morning at the Campground
We were in no particular rush in the morning, so we got up around 6:30 am. The first thing we did was boil some water to make coffee.
We’ve been trying to find the best, most satisfying freeze-dried coffee that we can take on camping and backpacking trips. On this trip, we found the answer! Alpine Start Instant Coffee. We tried 2 flavors – Coconut Creamer Latte and Dirty Chai Latte (coffee and chai latte), which we bought at REI.
Both had a thicker flavor than other instant coffees we have tried. My personal favorite was the Dirty Chai Latte because of the additional spice to it. The heat from the spice is so satisfying and warming on a cold morning after sleeping outside. I think this will become my go-to choice for instant coffee on our camping trips.
The Coconut Creamer Latte was quite good too, but the flavor of the coffee is somewhat sour. Even though sour-flavored coffee is not our favorite, the overall effect of the thick coffee and creamer was much more satisfying than other instant coffees we’ve tried. Neither of the coffees left a strange aftertaste.
Previous instant coffees we’ve tried include various versions of Starbucks VIA and the Trader Joe’s Instant Coffee packets with creamer and sugar. We never liked any of the Starbucks varieties, and the Trader Joe’s one is good, but thin.
Morning View at the Campground
After taking some pictures of the mountains and packing up our tent, we were ready to head out. Since the best wildflowers at Snodgrass Mountain were located within the first mile or so of the trailhead, we decided to check out a the first mile of a few trails in the area.
Judd Falls Trail
A friend of mine in Boulder recommended Judd Falls and Copper Creek Trail. Unfortunately, we did not have time to complete the 12-mile out-and-back hike, and it started thundering a lot, so we headed back to the car before we could reach the falls.
On the way to the trail we saw some beautiful views of Gothic Mountain (12,631′) from Gothic Road –
View of the mountains near the trailhead –
And the view of Gothic Mountain from the trail –
Judd Falls/Copper Creek Trail is just beyond the town of Gothic, so we stopped by the little town on our way back. Most of the buildings are old and built out of wood, reflecting it’s history as a failed mining town-turned scientific field station about 90 years ago.
There is a visitor center that sells gifts and ice cream, and includes a small display featuring the history of the town and the research that is done at Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory. Next door is a cute little coffee shop that sells beverages and baked foods.
You can also go on tours of the town from the visitor center at specific times. We were a bit strapped for time, and our priority was to see wildflowers, so we skipped the tour this time.
Brush Creek Trail / East River Trail
After lunch, we headed to Brush Creek Trailhead to the south of the town of Crested Butte. On both AllTrails and Hiking Project the trail is labelled as “Brush Creek Trail“, but the actual maps in the area identify it as “East River Trail”.
This trail featured some of the best displays of wildflowers that we saw in Crested Butte. For the first mile or so of the trail, you pass by several hills filled with yellow Aspen Sunflowers and purple Larkspurs and Lupines.
Since we needed to start our long drive back to Boulder, and it was threatening to thunderstorm soon, we turned around at mile 1.2, after seeing this lovely view –
Some areas of the trail had a different variety of wildflowers –
Recommended as a Trip for Wildflower Hikes
If you are a fan of wildflowers, you cannot miss the opportunity to visit the wildflower capital of Colorado, Crested Butte. In particular, the Snodgrass Mountain meadow and Brush Creek/East River Trail had the best displays of wildflowers at this time. You can see hills blanketed with a variety of wildflowers and rare flowers such as the Monument Plant in abundance.
We’ll definitely go back, whether for wildflower viewing, or in autumn to see the yellow Aspen foliage.