Hiking in Crested Butte and Gunnison

by Katy Mooney

Hiking in Crested Butte and Gunnison


by Katy Mooney

If you love hiking, there’s no better place to visit than the Gunnison Valley. The trails in this geographically diverse area allow you to explore everything from alpine lakes, to high desert rock formations, to peaks, to lush river valleys. Public lands abound, with National Forest, BLM land and Wilderness Areas sprawling across every corner of the valley. On the trail, you might glimpse wildlife such as elk, bald eagles, bears, bighorn sheep, beavers, mountain goats, marmots or pika. You’ll be dazzled by the legendary wildflowers in the summer and golden aspen leaves in the fall. Below, we’ve put together a collection of hikes for every ability level.

With over 1,200 miles of trail in the Valley, this is by no means a comprehensive list. Combine our trail mileage with 300+ summits in Gunnison County and you can explore for a lifetime and not see everything.

Tips for Hiking in the Gunnison Valley

  • Install the free CBGTrails app on your phone before you go. The app provides an interactive offline map of local trails. Picking up a traditional paper map is also a good idea.
  • Bring plenty of water and snacks.
  • Wear lightweight clothing that protects you from the sun and the elements. Stash an extra warm layer and a rain jacket in your pack.
  • Check the weather before you go, and plan accordingly. Start early, and be prepared for sudden weather changes, especially afternoon thunderstorms.
  • Remember that you are hiking at high elevation. Take it slow!
  • Leave no trace. Pack out all trash, and stay on the trail. Never pick wildflowers. Observe wildlife from a safe distance.
  • If you plan on bringing your dog, research leash laws and pet regulations before you go. Always clean up after your dog.

Easy Day Hikes

Search or browse on the map to view hiking trails. Be sure to download the CBGTrails app on your phone before your hike!

Lower Loop trail system: Access this trail system by walking from downtown Crested Butte or by driving west on Peanut Lake road and parking in one of several small lots. Trails here are appropriate for hikers of any ability level. As you follow the Slate River northwest out of town, you’ll be rewarded with views of Mineral Point, Peanut Lake and Crested Butte (the mountain).

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Emerald Lake (.8 miles out-and-back): From the town of Crested Butte, drive north for 13 miles on Gothic Road. The road will become rough, rocky and narrow. Park in the lot on the west (left) side of the road. Follow the short trail around the east side of the lake. Enjoy a picnic lunch or explore the lake on your stand-up paddle board (SUP).

Beaver Ponds (.5 miles out-and-back): Kids will love this hidden gem in the West Elk Wilderness Area off Ohio Creek Road. If you’re lodging in Crested Butte, you’ll drive to the trailhead via County Road 12 (the Kebler Pass road). If you’re staying in Gunnison, you’ll take Highway 135 north to Ohio Creek Road. Either way, you’ll park at the large sign at the trailhead. Meander through aspens until you get to the ponds, which are nestled into the south side of the Anthracite Range.

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Hartman Rocks: This recreation area is located a few miles southwest of Gunnison. It’s a hub for many different outdoor activities. Most trails are about a mile long and can be linked to create a loop. Trails vary in difficulty, but generally, the rolling hills of this area are more forgiving than the steep alpine terrain near Crested Butte. Some of our favorite trails for hiking are The Ridge, Jack’s and Bambi’s. As you walk, you’ll dip into lush gullies and ascend to wide-open rocky ridges with 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains. This off-leash area is also a pooch’s paradise. Be sure to bring plenty of water for you and your pup!

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Van Tuyl: Trails in this area are wide and flat, which makes this an ideal place for folks who are visiting from low elevations. In addition, it’s beautiful. Spring wildflowers abound, and the nearby Palisades rock formation provides a scenic backdrop. The circular perimeter trail is a 3.2-mile (5 kilometer) loop with several options for shorter loops or out-and-back routes. The north edge of the trail skirts the bank of the Gunnison River. Take a break here or on one of several benches along the way. Leashed dogs are welcome.

Signal Peak trail system: Walk to these trails from Gunnison or park in the lot near the Western Colorado University football field. This BLM land offers a wide breadth of options for trails. When planning your route, be sure you’re using the CBGTrails app or another up-to-date map, since new trails have been added in the last few years. Our favorite hiking trail in this area is the Ridgeline trail, which offers a bird’s-eye view of Gunnison.

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Neversink (1.3 miles out-and-back): Explore the banks of the Gunnison River from this fun little trail in Curecanti National Recreation Area. You’ll park in the large paved lot off Highway 50 a few miles west of Gunnison. This easy trail is great for the whole family. Bring your fishing pole!

Judd Falls (2.2 miles out-and-back): This is one of the most popular trails in Crested Butte. Park at the trailhead on Gothic Road just north of the Gothic townsite and the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL). Hike or drive up the short, steep dirt road to the small upper parking lot. From the upper parking lot, you’ll continue onto Copper Creek Trail. Enjoy the view of picturesque Gothic Mountain as you gently ascend. The waterfall is tucked into a granite cliff. Most hikers choose to turn back here, but if you’re looking for a longer hike, continue on towards Copper Lake, East Maroon Pass and Triangle Pass.

Moderate Day Hikes

Search or browse on the map to view hiking trails. Be sure to download the CBGTrails app on your phone before your hike!

Long Lake (2.5 miles or .5 mile out-and-back): These trails off Washington Gulch road are a favorite of locals and visitors alike. There are two different trails, but both end at Long Lake. The longer, less steep option starts at Meridian Lake. You’ll park across the road from the dam. Walk across the dam and up into the woods. This trail cuts through private land, so be sure to follow all signs. You’ll ascend up the wide, gradually sloping trail to the top of the ridge. The other route is much shorter and begins near the parking lot where Washington Gulch Road turns to dirt. Cross the creek and climb the very steep trail up to the ridge. If you’re brave, take a plunge into the chilly lake. Or, just enjoy the view!

Upper Loop trail system: You’ll be rewarded with a unique view of Whetstone Mountain as you hike this 1.5-mile trail that runs along the west side of Crested Butte. Access the Upper Loop from the first switchback of Hunter Hill Road or via the Rec Path and Tony’s Trail. The Upper Loop also connects with the Whetstone Vista, Bridges and Upper Upper Loop trails.

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Dark Canyon (3-mile out-and-back or 6-mile loop): Kebler Pass is a popular area to view aspen leaves in the fall, but it’s just as stunning in the summer. Park at Horse Ranch Park, 12 miles west of the town of Crested Butte on the Kebler Pass Road (County Road 12). Hike about 1.5 miles up the rather steep Dark Canyon Trail to an overlook that will take your breath away. Turn back here, or make a 6-mile loop by hiking clockwise to Silver Basin Trail, Irwin Trail and the Dyke Trail. This option is more challenging, but offers some of the most unique and varied scenery in the area. For backpacking trip options in this area, see the Backpacking section of this guide.

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Scarp Ridge (5-mile loop): A favorite among locals, Scarp Ridge offers some of the best scenery of any hike in the Crested Butte area. Park north of Lake Irwin near the Lake Irwin Lodge. Link the two Scarp Ridge trails (419 and 421) to create a loop. This route can be hiked either clockwise or counterclockwise. Either direction you go, you’ll end up on the top of Scarp Ridge. Take in the views of the Ruby Range to the west and the Raggeds Wilderness to the north.

Three Lakes Loop (3.5-mile loop): The Three Lakes Trail begins at Lost Lake Campground off Kebler Pass. This loop has a gentle grade and lots of shady lakeside spots to take breaks. Start by hiking south past Lost Lake Slough (the first and largest of the three lakes). You’ll then pass Lost Lake, where the trail veers east. Take a right at the fork for a short out-and-back trail to Dollar Lake. When you get back on the Three Lakes Trail, you’ll head north back towards Lost Lake Slough. Take the road west through the campground to return to your vehicle.

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Oh Be Joyful (20.2-mile out-and-back): No matter how far you choose to venture up this trail, it’s guaranteed to please. Park at the Oh Be Joyful campground on Slate River Road. Cross the Slate River via the new footbridge and continue up the wide, steep dirt road. After about a mile, be sure to peek over the edge of the gully on your left to view a waterfall. Shortly hereafter, the road will narrow to singletrack and you’ll cross into the Raggeds Wilderness Area. The trail slopes gently up the valley for 9 miles from the wilderness boundary to the intersection with Daisy Pass Trail. The nearby peaks, including Garfield, Peeler, Oh-Be-Joyful and Afley, will tower above you as you go.

403 (4.2 miles point-to-point): This trail can be accessed from trailheads on Gothic Road and Washington Gulch Road. Whichever side you choose to begin from, you’ll go uphill to the top of the ridge. From Washington Gulch the climb is shorter, but it’s harder to get to with 2wd vehicles. If you’re hiking in summer, you’ll encounter dozens of varieties of wildflowers on the way. At the top of the ridge you’ll be rewarded with an unforgettable view of Baldy Mountain, Mount Belleview and many other peaks in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. To summit Gothic Mountain, turn onto the faint spur to the south. Follow the ridge for several more miles to the peak (12,631’). The 403 is an all-levels trail, but the trail to the summit of Gothic Mountain is steep and exposed, and should only be attempted by seasoned hikers.

Rustler Gulch (8-mile out-and-back): With incredible wildflowers, a bubbling creek and 360-degree mountain views, this trail provides a quintessential Rocky Mountains experience. Park in the large parking area on Gothic Road. Walk (or drive) across the East River and up the 4x4 road to the green gate, where the trail begins. You’ll cross Rustler Gulch creek a few times along the way as you ascend up the valley towards Precarious Peak and Cassi Peak, where the trail dead-ends.

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Crested Butte Summit (2 miles out-and-back): If you’ve ever visited Crested Butte in the winter, you may have explored the peak of the mountain on skis. The summer hiking trail takes you to the same place. It begins at the top of the Silver Queen chairlift, so you can either hike from the base area, adding significant elevation and mileage, or purchase a lift pass (for about $20) to ride the lift. From the top of Silver Queen, follow the wooden steps up towards the saddle. Continue on the ridge up to the rocky peak, which tops out at 12,162 feet above sea level.

Caves: The Caves Trail near Crested Butte South is a starting point for many different hiking routes. Park in the parking area on Cement Creek Road about a mile after it turns to dirt. The Caves Trail switches back and forth across the hillside. The climb is strenuous, but once you break out above treeline, you’ll see why it’s worth it. Red Mountain looms to the west. At the top of the ridge, you’ll see the rock caves for which the trail was named. From here, you have lots of options. Take Trail 409 (Farris Creek) to Point Lookout Trail for more elevation gain and more views. Or, create a loop with Walrod Gulch Trail and Cement Creek Trail.

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Twin Lakes (5.9-mile out-and-back) and Cumberland Basin (5.5-mile out-and-back): At the east end of Brush Creek Road are several 4x4 roads. The Pearl Pass Road, which cuts through the White River National Forest to the city of Aspen, is one of them. Pearl Pass is rough, and there are several stream crossings. A four-wheel-drive vehicle with high clearance is required. Twin Lakes Trail and Cumberland Basin Trail are two lightly trafficked hikes in this area that are worth the drive. Both trails have a similar elevation profile and are about the same length. Twin Lakes Trail culminates with a spectacular view of two bright blue alpine lakes. Cumberland ends with an incredible view of Castle Peak.

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Mill-Castle: Nestled in the rugged West Elk Range are The Castles, rock spires formed by ancient volcanic activity. This trail provides scenery of these famous rock formations and the rest of the peaks in the West Elks. In its entirety, Mill-Castle Trail is 12.5 miles long, but most hikers choose a shorter out-and-back route starting at the trailhead off Ohio Creek Road. Starting here, you’ll follow Mill Creek up towards Storm Pass. About three miles in, there is a saddle with excellent views and a flat rock outcrop. For a day hike, this is a good place to rest your legs and eat a snack before turning around. For backpacking routes in this area, see the Backpacking section of this guide.

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Dillon Pinnacles (5-mile loop): If you have ever driven into Gunnison from the west, you’ve probably noticed the Dillon Pinnacles, a towering rock formation on the north side of Blue Mesa Reservoir. You’ll see them up-close on this hike. Park in the paved lot off Highway 50. The trail begins near the boat ramp. Along the way, you’ll enjoy panoramic views of the lake as well as the pinnacles. Informative signs line the trail. Due to its lower elevation and southern exposure, this is one of the first trails in the valley to thaw out in springtime.

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Lamphier Lakes (5-mile out-and-back) and Mill Lake Trail (3-mile out-and-back): East of Gunnison near the towns of Ohio City and Pitkin is the Fossil Ridge area. This pristine wilderness contains dozens of miles of trails. Two of them begin at Gold Creek Campground at the end of County Road 771. Mill Lake is the shorter, easier option here. Keep an eye out for fossilized marine life in the rock in this area, and consider packing in a fishing pole to snare some trout in the lake. Lamphier Lake Trail is longer and steeper. Ascend up the gulch, making a pit stop at Lower Lamphier Lake along the way. See the Backpacking section of this guide for overnight options in the Fossil Ridge area.

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State Highway 92 trails: About 30 miles west of Gunnison, Highway 50 intersects with Highway 92. There are several great hikes along Highway 92, all of which lie within Curecanti National Recreation Area. Our favorite is Curecanti Creek Trail, which begins about two miles north of Highway 50. Take a very short stroll to Pioneer Point Overlook for a bird’s-eye view of where Curecanti Creek flows into the Gunnison River. The remaining 2 miles of trail are much steeper. You’ll descend into the rocky canyon, eventually reaching the creek at the bottom. During certain times of year, waterfalls cascade over the canyon walls.

Advanced Day Hikes

Search or browse on the map to view hiking trails. Be sure to download the CBGTrails app on your phone before your hike!

Copper Creek (12 miles out-and-back): This trek through some of Colorado’s most scenic wilderness takes you to Copper Lake, a surprisingly large alpine lake adjacent to East Maroon and Triangle Passes. Copper Creek Trail connects with East Maroon Trail and Conundrum Creek Trail, which end near the city of Aspen. For backpacking routes and campsite options in this area, see the Backpacking section of this guide.

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Green Lake (7.4 miles out-and-back): This long, steep trail is not for the faint of heart. Start your hike from the town of Crested Butte behind the Nordic Center. Follow the signs through dirt roads and private property before entering into the Gunnison National Forest. Stay strong as you continue to climb towards Mt. Axtell. Continue straight at the intersection with Wildcat and Carbon trails. You’ve finally made it to the lake! The crystal clear water is home to cutthroat trout.

Backpacking

Tips for backpacking:

  • Abide by the principles of Leave No Trace. Pack it in, pack it out, and tread lightly. Camp at least 100 feet away from water.
  • Educate yourself about any rules specific to the area in which you are recreating. Follow all regulations on campfires, bear mitigation techniques and human waste disposal.

West Elk Wilderness: We highly recommend exploring the West Elk Wilderness. This little-known area is a backpacker’s dream, no matter what the season. A good place to start is on the Mill-Castle Trail off Ohio Pass Road. It’s a long way from here to Storm Pass, but we guarantee it’s worth it. Another access point is Rainbow Lake trailhead, which is about 20 miles north of Highway 50 just west of Gunnison.

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Fossil Ridge Wilderness: Access this area from Henry Lake Trail or Summerville Trail in Taylor Canyon, or from the east side at the Gold Creek campground trailhead. Henry Lake is a good camping spot in this area (be sure to camp at least 100 feet away from the water). This small alpine lake is situated in a gorgeous rock basin below Henry Mountain.

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Dark Canyon: The Raggeds Wilderness is a beautiful area with spiny rock formations that provide great scenery as you hike. Starting at the Horse Ranch Park trailhead on Kebler Pass, hike up the Dark Canyon Trail and create a loop with Irwin Trail.

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Oh-Be-Joyful: This is another route through the Raggeds Wilderness. From the Oh-Be-Joyful campground on Slate River Road, follow the Oh-Be-Joyful trail northwest for about six miles. From here, you have several route options, most of them being out-and-backs. One way is to turn south onto Daisy Pass Trail and ascend to Blue Lake. This crystal-clear lake is a great place to rest your feet after a long day of walking.

A man and a dog walk along a trail in fall with three mountains in the background. Oh-Be-Joyful Trail

Hiking or backpacking to Aspen: The East Maroon and West Maroon trails on Schofield Pass traverse northwest across the Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness to Aspen. The East Maroon route is slightly longer and less steep than the West Maroon option. Some hikers choose to do the hike all in one day; others prefer to extend their stay in the mountains by camping out for a night or two. If hiking one-way, arrange a shuttle service in Crested Butte or Aspen in advance. Permits are required. Remember to pack your bear canister!

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