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Crested Butte vs. Aspen

Crested Butte and Aspen are both iconic Colorado mountain towns. We’ve put together a comparison of these two vacation destinations to help you understand the similarities and differences between them as you’re planning your 2021 trip to Colorado. Crested Butte is known for its epic mountain biking trails, abundant wildflowers, steep skiing and laid-back atmosphere. Aspen is also home to many outdoor recreational activities and is famous for its arts and culture scene.

Where is Crested Butte, Colorado?

Gothic Road (Highway 135) winds through the mountains of the Gunnison Valley.

Highway 135 (Gothic Road) between Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte

Crested Butte is an iconic mountain town destination located in the Rocky Mountains of western central Colorado. Crested Butte has a year-round population of about 1,500. The elevation of Crested Butte is 8,909 feet. Crested Butte is located in Gunnison County. Just a few miles north of Crested Butte is Mt. Crested Butte, home of Crested Butte Mountain Resort. The city of Gunnison is located about 28 miles south of Crested Butte, also on Highway 135.

Where is Aspen, Colorado?

Aspen is another mountain town in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. Aspen is located about 15 miles northeast of Crested Butte as the crow flies. The population of Aspen is approximately 7,500. Aspen’s elevation is 8,000 feet. Aspen is located in Pitkin County.

How to get to Crested Butte, Colorado

You can fly or drive to Crested Butte. Crested Butte is located 28 miles north of where State Highway 135 and U.S. Highway 50 intersect in downtown Gunnison. The nearest airport to Crested Butte is the Gunnison-Crested Butte Regional Airport (GUC) in Gunnison.

How to get to Aspen, Colorado

Aspen is located on State Highway 82. Nearby towns include Snowmass Village, Basalt and Carbondale. The nearest airport is the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport (ASE), which is located on the north end of town.

Mountain Biking in Crested Butte, Colorado

A mountain biker tops out on a ridge overlooking lush green mountains.

Mountain biking in Crested Butte

Crested Butte, Colorado is famous for the hundreds of miles of alpine mountain biking trails in the area. Crested Butte’s proximity to the Gunnison National Forest and other public lands means that bike trails are both abundant and easy to access. Due to the mountainous terrain, many of the trails around Crested Butte involve a climb at the beginning, followed by a flowy descent. Trails like this include Trail #401, Baxter Gulch, Strand Hill and Snodgrass. There are also rocky, more technical trails, such as the Upper Loop and Trail #409. Gunnison has high-desert singletrack at Hartman Rocks and Signal Peak.

Mountain Biking in Aspen, Colorado

The Snowmass Bike Park is a lift-served bike park at Aspen Snowmass resort. The Sky Mountain Park trail system is a newer trail system accessible from town. The Rim Trail, Government Trail, the Hunter Creek trail system, Buttermilk Mountain Trail and the Power of Four route are other popular bike trails in Aspen.

Hiking in Crested Butte, Colorado

With more than 1000 miles of hiking trail in the Gunnison Valley, Crested Butte has a trail to suit every hiker’s taste. Many Crested Butte hiking trails, including Henry Lake, Oh-Be-Joyful and Emerald Lake, end at the shores of a high alpine lake. Trail #403, Rustler’s Gulch and Caves Trail offer sweeping vistas of the surrounding mountain ranges. Many Crested Butte trails wind through fields of wildflowers in the summer. When the aspen leaves change color in the fall, hiking is a great way to view the colorful foliage. The Gunnison National Forest, West Elk Wilderness, Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, Raggeds Wilderness, Fossil Ridge Wilderness and Curecanti National Recreation Area are some of the public lands near Crested Butte.

Hiking in Aspen, Colorado

Many hiking trails are available in the White River National Forest, Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area and Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness Area near Aspen. Smuggler Mountain, Sunnyside, American Lake, Crater Lake and Ute Trail are popular hikes near Aspen.

Hiking from Crested Butte to Aspen

There are three main hiking routes between Crested Butte and Aspen.

West Maroon Trail hike

West Maroon Trail is 10.2 miles each way. This is the shortest and most popular way to travel between Aspen and Crested Butte. Along the West Maroon trail, you’ll pass by Belleview Mountain, Pyramid Peak and Maroon Peak. The trail passes by Crater Lake and ends at Maroon Lake. Due to Aspen being at a lower elevation than Crested Butte, the hike from Crested Butte to Aspen is easier (less vertical gain) than hiking the other direction.

East Maroon Trail hike

Another way to hike between Crested Butte and Aspen is via Copper Creek Trail and East Maroon Trail. This route is about 14 miles one-way. From Crested Butte, you’ll start hiking on the Copper Creek Trail. At Copper Lake and East Maroon Pass, you’ll turn onto the East Maroon Trail. At the end, you’ll turn west onto the Maroon Creek Trail to get to the shuttle stop at the Maroon Bells Scenic Area.

Conundrum Creek Trail hike

The third way to get from Crested Butte to Aspen is via the Conundrum Creek Trail. You’ll start hiking on the Copper Creek Trail, then take the Triangle Pass Trail to the Conundrum Creek Trail. You’ll pass by the famous Conundrum Hot Springs on the way. There is no shuttle from the end of this trail, so you’ll need to plan accordingly if you choose this route.

Crested Butte shuttles

For shuttles to the trailheads in Crested Butte, view our Transportation Services partner listings.

Changes to Aspen shuttle in 2021

A free shuttle service from the Maroon Bells Scenic Area (Maroon Lake) to Snowmass and Aspen is available. Shuttle reservations are required for the duration of the 2021 summer season, June 7 to October 17. The shuttle runs every 15 minutes from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Parking at the Maroon Bells Scenic Area is available from May 14-October 24, 2021. Reservations are $10 per vehicle. Private vehicles can drop off passengers between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. without a parking reservation.

Driving between Aspen and Crested Butte

During summer, there are several ways to drive from Crested Butte to Aspen. One is via Kebler Pass Road, a smooth dirt road accessible to passenger vehicles. Kebler Pass is typically open from late spring to late fall. Another more challenging route is Pearl Pass. This is an expert four-wheel drive road that passes by some of the most iconic fourteeners in Colorado, including Castle Peak. Access is dictated by snow levels.

To get from Crested Butte to Aspen on paved roads, take Highway 135 south to Gunnison. Then, turn west onto Highway 50. From Highway 50, take Highway 92 north. At Hotchkiss, turn east onto Highway 133. At Carbondale, take Highway 82 into Aspen. The drive between Aspen and Crested Butte takes about three and a half hours.

For more information about traveling to the Gunnison Valley, check out our Getting Here page.

Skiing in Crested Butte, Colorado

Skiing and snowboarding is as tightly woven into the culture of Crested Butte as mountain biking. Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR) is the ski area located in Mt. Crested Butte, just north of the town of Crested Butte. CBMR is owned by Vail Resorts and is on the Epic Pass. Crested Butte Mountain Resort is famous for its extreme ski terrain, which is steep and technical. However, the terrain is quite diverse, so there is something for every type of skier. A free shuttle bus runs between Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte, offering convenient transportation between the ski area and downtown Crested Butte.

Skiing in Aspen, Colorado

Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass are the four ski areas near Aspen. They are all operated by Aspen Skiing Company. Highlands has the most extreme terrain of the four and lots of vertical gain. Buttermilk is known for its many terrain parks. Snowmass is the largest of the four and is the most family-oriented mountain. Aspen Mountain is known as Ajax and is within walking distance from the city of Aspen. Aspen Snowmass is on the IKON pass.

Culture of Crested Butte, Colorado

A beach cruiser bike leans against a fence in downtown Crested Butte.

Bikes are an integral part of the culture of Crested Butte.

Crested Butte is a laid-back and quirky town surrounded by towering peaks. Before it became a hub of outdoor recreation, Crested Butte was a mining town. Many of the buildings and homes downtown are historic. Elk Avenue, the main street, is chock-full of restaurants, art galleries and shops. Bikes are a huge part of the culture, with townies, fat bikes and mountain bikes being as common of a form of transportation as cars.

Culture of Aspen, Colorado

Aspen is known for its arts scene and many festivals, including the Aspen Music Festival in summer and the Aspen Filmfest in fall. It is also famous for being a vacation destination of celebrities and public figures. Downtown Aspen is a bustling hub of shopping, museums, restaurants and nightlife.

Crested Butte Hotels

Accommodations in Crested Butte range from cozy bed-and-breakfasts in town to traditional slopeside hotels in Mt. Crested Butte. Learn more on our Lodging page.

Author: Katy Mooney

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