Ask me for the one Colorado town everyone must visit, and I won’t hesitate to say, Crested Butte. Though this breathtaking Elk Mountains town isn’t necessarily a quick getaway, it provides unparalleled rewards worth every minute of the time it takes to get there.
Perhaps the ‘greenest’ town in Colorado, Crested Butte sparkles like emeralds during the summer months. Its hiking and mountain biking trails are considered some of the most epic in the state, and its downtown bursts with so much charm, it’s easy to believe you’ve stepped into a Norman Rockwell painting. While this is all wonderful and good, there’s another unique feature that makes Crested Butte even more special and has jaws dropping and cameras clicking year after year. It’s Crested Butte’s wildflowers.
Crested Butte’s wildflowers put on a stunning show for hikers and shutterbugs every summer. From early June to late August, the ultra-green Elk Mountains are awash in shades of color as field after field of blooms line roads and drown trails like paint on a pallet. Tucked in ditches, slumbering in the shade of Aspens, and towering high in the mountains, Crested Butte’s wildflowers are so extraordinary, the town was designated the “Wildflower Capital of Colorado” by the state legislature in 1990 and has remained undisputed ever since.
Why are Crested Butte’s wildflowers so bountiful? It has to do with Crested Butte’s unique location. Isolated within the Elk Mountains, plants have had the opportunity to survive and evolve, which contributes to the large variation of species. Additionally, Crested Butte is also abundant in the three factors wildflowers need to flourish—sunlight, snowpack for moisture, and really good soil.
Since 1986, Crested Butte has been sharing Mother Nature’s colors with flower lovers in fun, fresh ways at the Crested Butte Wildflower Festival. In mid-July, when the greatest number of flower varieties are expected to be in bloom, visitors can take part in over 200 wildflower-based events, including guided hiking tours, jeep tours, and photography and painting workshops. For more information on the Crested Butte Wildflower Festival visit www.CrestedButteWildflowerFestival.com.
Exploring Crested Butte’s wildflowers on your own is easy, too. Whether from the road, biking trail, or hiking trail, there is so much to see. Following are some of the best wildflower hikes depending on the time of year:
Early to Mid-June
June is Crested Butte’s greenest month, and it’s when the lupine are most dominant. Find them on Upper Loop Trail and Lupine Trail. There will also be larkspur, paintbrush, and other “wetter” flowers on the Copley Lake Trail and the Lower Loop Trail.
Late June to Early July
This tends to be the peak of wildflower season and when aspen sunflowers, mule’s ear, sneezewood, scarlet gilia, monkshood, and columbine make their debut. Check them out on Cliff Creek Trail, Oh-Be-Joyful, Rustlers Gulch, Meander, and Prospector.
Late July to Early August
During this time, sunflowers can be found at higher elevations, and late summer flowers like asters and firewood can be found throughout town. Get the most of late summer’s wildflowers on Rustlers Gulch, West Maroon Pass, Frigid Air Pass, and Hasley Pass.
I can’t urge you enough to make the trip to Crested Butte. Its scenery is unlike anything you’ve ever seen, and the magic that comes from such a dense concentration of wildflowers is something you’ll never forget. You might even find yourself pulling out your inner Sound of Music and running through the hills with your arms held wide. But hey, you’ll never know until you go.
Where to Eat:
The Eldo Brewery and Taproom – (970) 349-6125
After a day of playing outside, reenergize yourself with fresh beer and delicious American-style food at this lively brewpub.
Where to Imbibe:
Montanya Distillers – (970) 799-3206
Relax with a glass of hand brewed, made from scratch, local Rum. Montanya Distillers offers daily tours, tastings, and a full rum bar with artisan cocktails, appetizers, and small plates. They also host wonderful live music on many evenings during the ski and summer seasons.
Where to Play:
Evolution Bike Park – (877) 547-5143
The Evolution Bike Park was established at Crested Butte Mountain Resort in 2009. Since the beginning, it has been designed to meet the needs of all riders; from beginners on two wheels to gravity experts. The Bike Park has a diverse network of trails that now contains over 30 miles of singletrack on the resort; both lift served downhill trails and cross country rides that connect to some of the legendary rides in and around Crested Butte.
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Lindsay Diamond is a novelist and freelance writer living in the mountains of central Colorado. Visit writerlindsaydiamond.wordpress.com to learn more.
photo credit: J.C. Leacock