Southwest Colorado: Places to Explore

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Crested Butte

Like Aspen, the town of Crested Butte was once a small mining village (albeit for coal, not silver). The Victorian gingerbread-trim houses remain, many of them now painted in whimsical shades of hot pink, magenta, and chartreuse. Unlike Aspen, however, Crested Butte has retained much of its small-town charm despite its development as a ski area.

A lovelier setting could not be imagined. The town sits at the top of a long, broad valley that stretches 17 miles south toward Gunnison. Mt. Crested Butte, which looms over the town, is the most visible landmark. It’s surrounded by the Gunnison National Forest and the Elk Mountain Range.

It’s as an extreme-skiing mecca that Crested Butte earned its reputation with some of the best skiers in the land. Over the years, Crested Butte has steadily increased its extreme-skiing terrain to 550 ungroomed acres. Although this area, known as the Extreme Limits, should only be attempted by experts, there are plenty of cruise-worthy trails for skiers of all levels. The groomed trails are rarely crowded, which allows for plenty of long, fast, sweeping turns.

Crested Butte is also popular in summer. Blanketed with columbine and Indian paintbrush, the landscape is mesmerizing. Crested Butte is also one of the country’s major mountain-biking centers. Once the snow melts, mountain bikers challenge the hundreds of miles of trails surrounding the town.

At the confluence of the Gunnison River and Tomichi Creek, Gunnison is an old mining and ranching community and college town. It’s been adopted by nature lovers because of the excellent outdoor activities, including hiking, climbing, fishing, and hunting. In fact, long before any settlers arrived, the Ute Indians used the area as summer hunting grounds. Gunnison provides economical lodging and easy access to Crested Butte and Blue Mesa Reservoir. Gunnison’s other claim to fame is that it has recorded some of the coldest temperatures ever reported in the continental United States.

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