I had to laugh a bit. It was getting close to sunset on my first evening in town when the news broke. I was munching on an overstuffed burrito from Teocalli Tamale
in downtown Crested Butte when I read that the sparkling clean and lovely town of Bentonville, AR had recently given itself the designation as the "MTB Capital of the World", going so far as to actually trademark the phrase. I've been through Bentonville on a couple of occasions and it is very, very purpose built and presents quite a lot of really cool and creative trail designs to be sure. Reading about the trademark on my phone while surrounded by some of the American West's most iconic mountains that house upwards of 750 miles of breathtaking trails and terrain just kinda struck me in a peculiar manner. Looking around you realize that the people who are here could not care less about available trademarks, or how they might stack up against other mountain bike destinations around the world. I mean, just so we're clear, they're certainly aware that they have it really, really good here, it's just hard to get caught up in self-aggrandizing when you have so much trail to explore and only so much time in the day.
Listen, I am certainly not interested in propping up Crested Butte by diminishing the quality or experiences found in other parts of the world. Bikes are awesome, and it's actually pretty encouraging to see that an entire community sees enough value in mountain biking to actually trademark our sport into their official slogan. The truth is that Crested Butte's mountain bike history simply runs deeper than it does anywhere else on the planet. Case in point: While I was in town I made sure to swing by Chopwood Mercantile to say hi to my friend and Pivot Cycles compatriot Lisa Cramton, where we spent some time catching up. We watched a couple of old videos
that documented the Crested Butte to Aspen Klunker Classic
from 1980, pointing out some of the streets and buildings shown in the video before looking up from the phone to see those very landmarks just a few feet away. It occurred to me then that there's no amount of marketing savvy that can replace what decades of history has done for Crested Butte, and to be honest there's just no need for it. Listen, I'm not entirely sure that the world actually needs a "MTB Capital", but if there was actually such a thing, Crested Butte would surely be somewhere near the top of the heap. There are more than enough examples around the planet showing that mountains aren't really requisite for top notch mountain bike trails, but Crested Butte stands as a stark reminder of the undeniable magnetism that surrounds them, and if the high altitude doesn't take your breath away, the towering peaks that surround town certainly will.
// Local FlavoursAge:
Wilmington, DE, USASupporters:
Pivot Cycles, Maxxis Tires, Pearl Izumi, 9point8, Julbo, Shimano, Stan's No Tubes, Deity Components, Dialed HealthInstagram: @bricyclesFavorite Trail in Crested Butte: 409.5Preferred Terrain:
CB has managed to fight off corporate encroachment over the years, an impressive feat considering its popularity.
A Bit About the Region
This was originally the land of Núu-agha-tʉvʉ-pʉ̱, or more commonly known as the Ute Tribe
. Today the Utes have a tribal membership of just under 3,000 and oversee approximately 1.3 million acres of Northwestern Utah land, but prior to European colonization, the Utes were the original stewards of what is now Crested Butte. As early American settlers continued to venture west, the region that is now southwestern Colorado became well known as a source of mineral wealth, and the subsequent mining and attendant settlement sadly brought with it some devastating consequences to the land as well as the Ute Tribe.
Coal reigned supreme in the first half of the 20th century, but as that began to wane Crested Butte transitioned into one of the country's preeminent ski towns, with the summit of the namesake Crested Butte
towering over 3,000 feet above downtown, which sits at just under 9,000 feet above sea level. There are actually two distinct towns here: Crested Butte and Mount Crested Butte. Colorado has something called the "home rule municipality", which I truly don't understand the nuances of, but the net result of which means that the 2.22 square miles of land that sits along the north facing base of Crested Butte 9 (the mountain) is its own little town, and it includes the resort operations. 1,000 feet below sits the town of Crested Butte. They have a separate collection of elected officials and different zip codes, but for the purposes of this story, they are one and the same. Let's go ahead and get that out of the way because we have bikes to get to.
While skiing and snowboarding dominate the winter months here (which is exactly why I came here for my first trip in 2009), the singletrack and stunning visuals available during the summer months have become an allure and cultural staple unto themselves. The town is purpose built for adventurers: easy and bountiful access to world class terrain during the day, and just as easy and bountiful access to food and beverage on many a deck and patio along Elk Avenue in the afternoon and evening. It presents an intoxicating lifestyle, and is precisely why many who pay CB a visit eventually call this place home.
Getting to Crested Butte
Crested Butte has never been an especially "easy" place to get to when you compared it to Colorado's other popular resort communities, and that's exactly what makes the journey here so sweet. There are zero interstates or international airports within a 60 mile radius of town, which means that a trip here is almost assuredly going to include the "scenic route", which is cool with me.
If you are looking to fly, the closest option is the Gunnison-Crested Butte Regional Airport
located in Gunnison, about 30 minutes south of Crested Butte. It's serviced year-round by United Airlines, and seasonally by American Airlines. Connections are made through Denver International Airport as well as George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, TX. Flights to and from Houston are not running this summer due to Covid, but those are scheduled to resume by the winter and will include roundtrip service to Dallas as well. If you were interested in a flight to another airport in Colorado and then a scenic drive, here's a list of additional options and their respective drive times to Crested Butte: Denver, CO - 4.5 hours, Colorado Springs, CO - 4 hours, Grand Junction, CO - 3 hours, and Montrose, CO - 1.5 hours.
While in town, a car isn't necessary, but I'd highly recommend one if you're keen to explore the area's legendary mountain passes or to set up some shuttle rides. Crested Butte has an amazing system of free
public transportation year-round, including during the winter via the Mountain Express
You can stay up to date on all Covid-19 public health orders, as well as available community and business resources for Gunnison County here
The Best Trails to Ride in Crested Butte
Crested Butte is fairly high up on many a rider's bucket list, so this will be an exercise in futility as I'm sure there are cases to be made for just about every single trail in town to end up on this list. Of course when you have 750+ miles of trail between Crested Butte and Gunnison, you could elect to just close your eyes, and point to a random spot on the trail map to make your decision, but I'll do my best to distill it down a touch for you below. Keep in mind that the nature of these trails is one of connectivity and massive rides, so while you'll see them broken down into various "networks" or regions, they aren't quite as distinctive compared to places where each network is cutoff from one another, often defined by various drainages in the area. This allows for any number of combinations that can be linked throughout Crested Butte.
Consider downloading the CBGTrails app
on your phone before your visit. CBGTrails is a unique map app specifically designed for the Gunnison Valley. The app includes both online and offline map capabilities and helps users navigate all 750+ miles of trail. It can also be used to log your ride, run or hike. For more information about trails in Gunnison and Crested Butte, visit the CBGTrails website
Crested Butte Mountain Bike Park
Due to Covid-19, the resort will not be reopening operations outside of scenic lift rides, on-mountain trails, and select grab-n-go food service. That said, when it does reopen and you're itching to bring a bigger bike to Crested Butte, the bike park formerly known as Evolution is where you can take it to task. With 30+ miles of trail available on Crested Butte, it's a properly fun and rowdy lift-served option.Key trail - Psycho Rocks
: Possibly the most challenging and high risk trail at the bike park. Mandatory drops and gaps abound! Have a spare tire or two at the ready.Key trail - Avery
: Nice mix of natural tech and purpose-built flow. The rock gardens are scattered throughout and have multiple lines available, and the bottom third of the trail is full of fun and poppy tables.
The trails that butt up against downtown are truly world class, which is funny because typically one associates a "town loop" as a bit of an afterthought, if not simply an after-work kind of ride. Not here. The views are staggeringly good, and the speeds can be staggeringly high. Oh yeah, and the have a bike park in town that connects to the trails.Key trail - Baxter Gulch
: This is often used as a means of climbing up to the ridgeline trail, Para Me a Para Te
before descending Green Lake
. However, no one would blame you for making it an out and back as well. It's 6 miles long and on the way up gains 2,500 feet, which means when you turn around, you get to drop all of that at a significantly higher rate while taking in views of Crested Butte and Teocalli Ridge.Key trail - Green Lake
: Starting at an alpine lake (yes, Green Lake) in the shadow of the summit of Mount Axtell, Green Lake is best ridden as a descent (as most trails are, ermaright?) due to the abundant rock drops and root gardens that will generate many more smiles if ridden down compared to ridden up.
A few miles to the south of town, the Cement Creek drainage is a popular spot for dispersed camping, as well as those looking to destroy the legs. The miles and elevation add up quickly out here, and as is the case with most of the drainages south of town, you should prepare for a day in the backcountry, even if you aren't planning for a day in the backcountry.Key trail - Double Top
: This can be a sizable point to point ride, or it can be easily cut into or out of via a variety of trails that connect to it. As is, Double Top offers up amazing views for 14 miles end to end, and ridden east to west climbs 3,000 feet and descends 4,600 feet. Key trail - Deadman's Gulch
: This is a connection between the Spring Creek and Cement Creek drainages, but it's the descent into Cement Creek that really makes it something special. Ridden from Spring Creek, you climb for 4 1/2 miles at a reasonably comfortable gradient as you gain 1,300 vertical feet. It's the final mile and a half and 1,370 feet of descending that count. Oh, and I counted 30 total switchbacks during the descent. Enjoy.
Spring Creek is the furthest drainage south of town before you are essentially not riding in CB. You are way the hell out there, and it's heavenly.Key trail - Rosebud Gulch
: Spoiler alert: it was his sled and an inference to the loss of his morality. Citizen Kane aside, you have yourself a lovely adventure just to get to the start of the descent that involves a fireroad climb to Cement Mountain Trail
, and an undulating trip up and down Cement
before turning right onto Rosebud. From here, it's quite literally all downhill. 3 miles and 1,300 feet of descending on Rosebud and you can add another mile of downhill by turning right onto Deadman's Gulch
and finishing on Spring Creek Rd.Key trail - Dr. Park
: This trail is effectively a midpoint between Crested Butte and Gunnison, and it's arguably the most popular descent in all of Colorado. As it should be. It's a 7 mile long trail from end to end, and in reality the descending doesn't begin in earnest until you're about 2 miles in. From there, you'll drop 2,750 feet over the course of 5 miles. It's beautiful, it blisteringly fast, and it's worth all of the hype.
Brush Creek is on the backside of Crested Butte, and for me is one of the single prettiest corners of the planet. There's a depth to the color back here that was pretty stunning for me personally. It is also home to my favorite trail in all of Crested Butte, and is a short drive from town and a reasonable pedal if you want to leave the car behind.Key trail - 409.5
: While 409 seems to get all of the love, it's 409.5 that I would call my personal favorite ride in all of Crested Butte. It's a grunt to get to the top of any way you slice it, but my goodness the trip down is really something special. The first half is a dark timber forest loaded with natural features galore, before dipping into lightening fast sections through a beautiful Aspen forest and exiting into a screaming fast meadow. If you can, make it a sunset ride and be ready for some life changing visuals.Key trail -Strand Hill to Canal
: So you can
do some shorter rides here! Strand Hill is crazy playful and fun, and requires relatively little effort to get to via a 20+ minute climb. Most of it is straightforward enough, although there are a few sections that can catch you off guard with some techy lines, but the fun continues when you turn left onto Canal and get another mile and a half of ripping fun in a beautiful alpine meadow setting with views for days.
Strand Hill is often overlooked, but it shouldn't be. Loads of fun packed into a 90 minute loop.
Winter reigns supreme here. Despite its relatively moderate snowpack compared to other ski destinations in the American West, Crested Butte's snow doesn't really go anywhere until April or May depending on the year. You can bank on most trails being open by June, and the riding is full on until October, which can be hit or miss depending on how early the snow starts to fly. The combination of high altitude and generally sunny days can mean that it feels warmer than it is, particularly in July and August, but in reality the average daytime high never exceeds 76 degrees (F). Of course it can get into the 80's and rarely the 90's, but from late Spring until early Autumn, the weather is generally quite lovely. You can expect regular afternoon storms to roll through town during the summer, but they do little to dampen the extremely dry dirt in CB, and are typically over in an hour or so.
Nearby Gunnison has a much longer riding season, and is the go-to for locals looking to get back on the bike as early as March and later into the winter months.
Crested Butte Mountain Resort is home to the Evolution Bike Park, which is probably the only reason you'd want to bring a long travel rig here. Otherwise, I spent the entire week on my Pivot Trail429, and at no point did I ever feel like I needed or wanted to be on anything else. Most modern short to mid travel trail bikes are built to handle themselves reasonably well when things get rowdy, and you can bet that there will be fast and loose moments here, but by and large the trail in Crested Butte are fast and relatively smooth. Moreover, there's no such thing as a quick ride here short of choosing to simply pedal out and back on a given section of trail, and you're going to want to keep things tidy and your energy output efficient for the many hours-long climbs that await you here.
Local Clubs and Advocates:
The Crested Butte Mountain Bike Alliance
(CBMBA pronounced 'Simba') is the planet's oldest mountain bike club, having been in operation since 1983. CBMBA puts a lot of energy and resources into the 450 miles of singletrack immediately surrounding the town of Crested Butte as well as cultivating a strong and cohesive community through volunteer trail work days, group rides, events, and a professional trail and stewardship crew, the Crested Butte Conservation Corps (CBCC).
CBMBA has a board of directors comprised of 11 volunteers, as well as 3 full time paid staff which include David Ochs (Executive Director), Lauren Koelliker (Development Director), and Nick Catmur (Operations Manager).
Accommodations and Food:
For a town as tiny as Crested Butte, the per capita food, beverage, and lodging options are incredibly abundant. That's no surprise, as the primary source of income for many here is the draw that outdoor recreation provides, which means that there is no shortage of hungry mouths and tired legs.
Camping in these parts is enormously popular, and definitely a good choice given the current climate of uncertainty amid the pandemic. There are really two types of camping here: developed and dispersed. Developed camping is probably what many families and people are familiar with, typically offering potable water, bathrooms, and occasionally electric hookups. Dispersed camping is a very different style of camping, and most of the drainages offer up some form of dispersed camping, which often means if you find a nice quiet spot in some alpine meadow off of a forest service road, you can camp there. However, with the privilege of dispersed camping comes a lot of responsibility, including packing it in and out, camping in established spots, and of course don't feed the wildlife. You can find more information on camping in and around Crested Butte here
Of course rest is important when you're hammering at altitude, so CB offers a bevy of available options to suit a bevy of budgets and many are indeed bike friendly given the nature of the area. From resort hotels, to Airbnb and everything in between, you can take a comprehensive look at lodging options here
- Best coffee in all of Colorado? I heard that somewhere, and while I can't say I have had a chance to sample all of Colorado's coffee to be sure, they do in fact serve really good coffee at Camp 4 Coffee
- I'm a smoothie in the morning kinda guy, and that's what you get at A Daily Dose
. Plus burritos, sandwiches, salads and more!Lunch:
- Remember that song by Jimmy Buffet? It's like that but with Pitas
- The Avalanche Bar & Grill
is a bar and restaurant in the CBMR base areaDinner:
- I ate at Montanya's
for dinner almost every night. Super delicious bowls and they make their own rum. So there's that.
- Who wants some calories? Secret Stash Pizza
has you covered. Voted the best slice in CB.
- Contemporary Mexican fare with really, really good drinks can all be found at Bonez
Local Bike Shops:
- The Alpineer
is your go-to for bike service rentals, as well as general outdoor goods.
- Big Al's
offers up top notch service on virtually everything, from suspension to drivetrain and all stops in between. They're also dedicated trail advocates and environmental stewards, recycling metal, tubes and tires.
- Crested Butte Sports
is a full service shop with e-bike and kids bike rentals.
1. Take Some Time
: A trip to Crested Butte will mean that you will be spending all of your time between 9,000 ft - 12,000 ft above sea level, which can be uncomfortable for the first several days if you're not accustomed to the altitude. Build some time into your trip to adjust if you can.
2. Cast a Reel
: The Gunnison Valley is home to Colorado’s state-record brown, rainbow, kokanee salmon and lake trout. There is a lot of fantastic stream and river fishing in Crested Butte proper, and a 45 minute drive south of town will take you to the state's largest body of water, the Blue Mesa Reservoir, which allows fishing from the shore as well as by boat.
3. Drop the Kids Off
: The Trailhead Children's Museum is located in Crested Butte at 16 6th St. near the Teocalli bus stop and offers nature and science day camps during the summer, winter, and during school breaks.Crested Butte mountain biking trails