Planning Your Crested Butte Vacation

We’ve made it easy to plan your Crested Butte vacation by collecting everything you need to know about flights, driving directions, where to stay and what activities to do while you’re here. The pandemic has made us all appreciate travel even more than we did before. Your 2020 Colorado vacation may look a little different this year than years past, but it will still be just as much fun. Although international travel is more difficult these days, travel within the United States is still allowed and can be done safely. Whether you drive or fly to Gunnison and Crested Butte this winter, please abide by all virus safety guidelines here and anywhere you travel through. Don’t forget your mask!

Where is Gunnison, Colorado?

Gunnison is situated on the Western Slope of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. It is about 200 miles southwest of Denver. Gunnison is located on Colorado State Highway 50, 65 miles east of Montrose and 65 miles west of Salida. Downtown Gunnison is centered around the intersection of Highway 50 and Highway 135. The Gunnison River, which is a tributary of the Colorado River, flows through town. The West Elk Mountains flank Gunnison to the west, and the Sawatch Range lie to the east. The city has a year-round population of around 7,000 and sits at 7,703 feet in elevation. Seventeen miles north of Gunnison is Almont, a tiny community centered around the confluence of the Taylor and East rivers.

What is Gunnison known for?

The Gunnison Valley is historically home to the Ute people. The city of Gunnison was founded by ranchers and miners in the mid-1800s. In addition to the deep-rooted cattle ranching culture, Gunnison is also known for its world-class mountain biking trails, great fishing, and being the home of Western Colorado University, a public university attended by approximately 3,000 students.

Where is Crested Butte?

Crested Butte is nestled deep in the Western Slope of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. It is located about 28 miles north of Gunnison at the end of Colorado State Highway 135. As the crow flies, it lies 20 miles south of Aspen. Surrounded by the Collegiate Peaks to the east and the West Elk and Elk Mountains to the north and west, Crested Butte is truly a mountain town. During the summer, it is accessible from Buena Vista via Cottonwood Pass, and Paonia and Aspen from Kebler Pass. The town is home to a year-round population of approximately 2,000 and sits at 8,909 feet in elevation. South of town are the residential communities of Riverland, Riverbend, Skyland and Crested Butte South, which are Crested Butte’s suburbs.

Crested Butte businesses with snowy Crested Butte (the mountain) in the background.

History of Crested Butte

The town of Crested Butte was founded in the mid- to late nineteenth century by coal miners. Later, silver was discovered in the area and experienced a short boom. In the 1960s, Crested Butte ski area was founded in the new town of Mt. Crested Butte. Since then, tourism has grown to be Crested Butte’s main economic driver.

What is Crested Butte known for?

Today, Crested Butte is an outdoor recreation paradise, with millions of acres of public land and hundreds of miles of hiking and mountain biking trails in summer. Winter sports are popular there, too. Crested Butte Mountain Resort is known for its steep and exciting extreme downhill skiing terrain, and Crested Butte Nordic is famous for its many scenic groomed cross-country ski trails.

Lodging in Crested Butte and Gunnison

The first and most important part of planning your vacation to Crested Butte and Gunnison is to figure out where you are going to stay. The Gunnison Valley has many different types of accommodations. It’s a good idea to choose a place to stay based on proximity to activities as well as the desired ambience. For example, a slopeside hotel in Mt. Crested Butte will put you in the center of all the action and provide easy access to downhill skiing at CBMR. A bed-and-breakfast in Crested Butte will put you in touch with the history of the town, plus you’ll be close to nordic skiing trails, shopping, restaurants and nightlife. In addition to being affordable, Gunnison hotels offer proximity to Blue Mesa Reservoir and the downtown Gunnison scene. Winter fishing on the Taylor or Gunnison rivers is easy to access from a cabin rental in quiet, scenic Almont. There are affordable vacation rentals in Crested Butte South, too. Find the perfect place to stay on our Lodging Partners page.

Driving directions to Crested Butte and Gunnison

Gunnison is about a four-hour drive from Denver. It’s 17 hours from Houston and 13 hours from Dallas. It takes about 40 minutes to drive on Highway 135 from Gunnison to Crested Butte. Check out our Getting Here page for detailed driving directions and more information about how to travel to Crested Butte and Gunnison.

Flying to Gunnison-Crested Butte Airport

Gunnison-Crested Butte Regional Airport, abbreviated at GUC, is a small airport located in Gunnison, Colorado. United Airlines provides daily service to GUC all year round. American Airlines provides daily flights into GUC during the winter.

Winter flights to Gunnison-Crested Butte Airport

During winter, United provides direct flights from Houston Airport (IAH) to Gunnison-Crested Butte Regional Airport (GUC) and from Denver International Airport (DEN) to GUC. American Airlines provides direct flights from Dallas/Fort Worth Airport (DFW) to GUC during the winter.

Things to do in winter in Crested Butte

Downhill skiing at Crested Butte Mountain Resort

Winter activities abound in Crested Butte, with downhill skiing being the most popular sport. Crested Butte Mountain Resort, which is located in Mt. Crested Butte, offers 121 trails on more than 1,500 skiable acres. 32% of the mountain is categorized as expert terrain, making Crested Butte a prime destination for adventurous skiers and snowboarders. Lifts spin from Thanksgiving weekend to the first week of April. Ski Crested Butte with your Epic Pass, or purchase a day pass online. Learn more about the winter 2020-2021 Vail Resorts reservation system on the Epic Pass website. Masks are required in the base area and on the mountain.

Photo of a woman in a red jacket skiing powder on steep terrain with trees.

Best days to ski at Crested Butte Mountain Resort

Crested Butte Mountain Resort rarely has long lift lines or big crowds. That being said, you’ll get lower rates on lodging and maybe even cheaper lift tickets if you choose to visit during less busy times. Weekdays are a great time to ski, especially in January and February when deeper snow has allowed more terrain to open. It’s always fun to ski on holidays, but if you can manage to schedule your trip during non-holiday times, you might save some cash.

Nordic skiing in Crested Butte and Gunnison

Crested Butte is the nordic skiing capital of Colorado. What makes it so special? The Gunnison Valley contains more than 30 miles of groomed nordic ski trails, and many more ungroomed trails. Trails are easily accessible from both Gunnison and Crested Butte (and everywhere in between). Due to the massive amount of open space and public land in Gunnison County, cross-country skiing here will provide you with a true wilderness experience. Whether you’re skiing along a river, in a canyon or in a valley surrounded by mountain peaks, the scenery is wild and untamed, and rarely crowded. Learn more about access to groomed trails on Crested Butte Nordic’s website. Check out local nonprofit Gunnison Nordic for updates and grooming reports on the free south valley trails, including Hartman Rocks.

Photo of a woman nordic skiing on a groomed trail with snowy mountains in the background.

Backcountry skiing in Crested Butte

Backcountry skiing has exploded in popularity in 2020. There is abundant backcountry ski terrain around Crested Butte and on Monarch Pass. Before you venture into the backcountry, please read our blog post about backcountry skiing in the Gunnison Valley this winter. Take an avalanche course. Make sure you have all the proper gear, and practice using it. And check the avalanche forecast on Crested Butte Avalanche Center’s website. Stay safe out there!

Other winter activities in Crested Butte and Gunnison

There are many other winter activities besides skiing in the Gunnison Valley. Hire a guide to take you snowmobiling or dog sledding near Crested Butte. Farther south, you’ll find great fishing on the rivers and lakes near Almont and Gunnison (consider hiring a guide for this, too). Ice skating on Blue Mesa Reservoir is possible during certain times of the year. If you enjoy mountain biking, try renting a fat-tire bike. If hiking is one of your favorite activities in the summer, a pair of snowshoes will give you a similar experience in winter. Explore the arts scene or visit a museum. The valley has great restaurants, too. Downtown Crested Butte and Gunnison have many shops where you’ll find the perfect holiday gifts for friends and family (or for yourself). Thanks for shopping local!

Gunnison and Crested Butte COVID-19 Health Regulations

While the Gunnison Valley might be an escape from certain realities, COVID-19 is not one of them. The pandemic has impacted our community greatly‚Äîand remains prevalent throughout Gunnison County. We ask that you work with us to stop the spread of the virus. Here’s what to expect‚Äîand what’s expected of you‚Äîduring your time in the Gunnison Valley:

  • Mask mandate
  • Social distancing
  • Hand washing and heightened hygiene

Click here for more details.

For more information on the coronavirus in Gunnison County, visit covid19.gunnisoncounty.org.

Planning your vacation to Crested Butte and Gunnison

Now that you know where to stay and what to do during your 2020 or 2021 Crested Butte winter vacation, all you have to do is show up! We can’t wait to see you.

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