When you spend summers here in Frisco, just the thought of escaping the sweltering summer temperatures sometimes seems too good to be true. I do not know about you, but I often imagine myself relaxing among beautiful scenery, with a book in hand, to enjoy an afternoon without a to-do list and well out of the grasp of the rising heat index. A week before I left on my recent trip to Crested Butte, Colo., I had already checked the weather — a high of 80 degrees. I knew immediately I was in for a real treat.
This year, my family and I decided to make our summer getaway into a good, old-fashioned road trip. After stuffing our bags full of everything on our extensive packing lists, we loaded down the truck and headed to the mountains. The long hours (14 of them, to be exact) passed by painstakingly slow in the car, but we covered a lot of new territory. As we were approaching our tolerance limit for 1990s country music, snack food and the confinement of a moving vehicle, we finally saw the tips of the mountains peeking through the thick clouds way off in the distance. I love a new experience, so I had to get behind the wheel to drive over the lengthy, steep and somewhat terrifying pass of two-lane road through the mountains that led into town (I learned a lot more about everyone’s lack of confidence in my driving during this terrifying trek of the drive).
The town of Crested Butte, commonly referred to as “the gateway to the Elk Mountains,” sits at an elevation of 8,885 feet, and you can quickly feel the altitude change. Crested Butte Mountain itself sits at 12,170 feet. This former mining town is also known as the wildflower capital of the state, and the surrounding area was originally home to the Ute Indians.
Upon our arrival, I was pleasantly surprised to see just how quaint the little town of Crested Butte still is. I had not been in years, and unlike most places in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex, this place has not changed a bit. Little boutiques and dining destinations line the small streets that are full of pedestrians walking their dogs and people on bicycles, never in any kind of hurry. People still wave to strangers and are welcoming and friendly to visitors.
It did not take long for us to settle in at our Black Bear Lodge condo, located just outside of town, at the bottom of Crested Butte Mountain. We quickly went back into town for a much-needed meal and cold drink. We headed straight for our favorite, traditional spot, The Wooden Nickel. Located about halfway down Elk Street (the main area for shopping and dining in town), this historic dining destination is the ideal place for a hearty meal, if you are interested in indulging in a steak or seafood. Also, randomly enough, this restaurant serves the world’s best onion rings (at least, in my opinion). The antique walls of the restaurant are lined with memorabilia from the town’s past, and there is even a large buffalo mounted above the fireplace.
When we were planning our trip, there were so many activities to choose from that it was difficult to narrow them down. Since it is not ski season, we knew we wanted to incorporate hiking, scenery, fishing, rafting and a good amount of rest and relaxation. And what is a vacation without eating some delicious food and taking a few shopping excursions?
If your family enjoys being outdoors and participating in adventurous activities, Crested Butte is a great place to spend your summer vacation. There is truly something for everyone to enjoy.
We decided that our first full day would be a great time to put on the hiking boots and hit the trails. Our legs could use the challenge after sitting in the car for so many hours the day before. For the hike, we bought ski lift tickets at the bottom of Crested Butte Mountain and rode the Silver Queen lift as high as it would carry travelers up the mountainside. I looked back down at the townscape, which grew smaller and smaller the steeper we climbed. It was one of those sights that you cannot even really describe or capture in a photograph. Sometimes, being present in the moment is all that will do. Once we got to the top, we stopped to take in the scenery and capture some photos, then we started our descent.
I quickly realized that scaling down a mountain is a lot harder than it looks, but the scenery, wildlife and weather was unbelievable. With ski trails guiding the path, we encountered deer, curious chipmunks and all kinds of birds. Very skilled mountain bikers flew past us as they navigated the rocky trails. After a couple of hours, we made it to the bottom! As a word of advice, while little kids might not be able to walk the entire trail we chose, there is a shorter trail that is accessible via the Red Lady Express lift. Judging by the level of post-workout burn I felt in my muscles for the next couple of days, kids might be much better suited for a shorter trail.
For two days of our vacation, we also went fly fishing. As an amateur, I really was not sure what to expect, other than the fact that I would likely love it since I love bass fishing at home in Texas. For day one, we had a guide, Dan, with Scenic River Tours, who took us out on the chilly waters of the Taylor River in a large, blue raft. With our fishing poles and gear in tow, we ventured out on the river over large rocks and rapids that flowed alongside mountains and large, beautiful trees. The riverbank passed by as, time after time, we cast the lures into the icy, clear water. After a few beginner casts, I got lucky and pulled a little trout out of the water. Size wise, the fish was nothing to write home about, but to me, it was an induction into the official world of fly fishing.
As with most things, after a little success in the hobby, I was “hooked,” so the next afternoon, we decided to get another guide and wade the unpredictable waters of the East River outside of Almont. We stepped into the clunky waders and were off to the races. In no time at all, our guide, Blake, helped us find the perfect spot for pools of hungry fish. As I reeled in each exhilarating catch, the excitement only built. With a backdrop of snowy mountaintops and storm clouds rolling in to the sound of distant thunder, the scene could not have been more perfect. For a moment, I even lost my mind and convinced myself that I could move to the middle of nowhere to become a fly fishing guide … but I came to my senses once I managed to tangle the line and hook myself in the back with one of the lures. I guess practice makes perfect …
By mid-week, we had already packed a lot of adventure into our vacation, but we did not stop there! We made the short drive through the towering mountain landscape back to Almont where Three Rivers Resort offers white water rafting on the lower Taylor River. Float trips are classified in intensity on a scale from one to six. We were going on a class two rafting trip, so I was not too worried about it being frightening or intense. Once we were briefed on the safety procedures, I started to think that maybe I had underestimated the likelihood of falling out of the boat when met by the large, frigid rapids … and I could not wait for the adventure.
We tightened our lifejackets and climbed on the float. Our fantastic and extremely athletic guide, Ruth, made the journey through the jagged rocks and tight turns seem simple to navigate. I do not know how she did it, but no one fell out of the boat! We bounced around the float, held on for our lives and were sprayed with ice-cold river water several times. We laughed, screamed and had an absolutely great time.
An unexpected memorable moment happened as we were driving to the tiny ghost town of Gothic, located just a few miles from Crested Butte. It happened to be storming on this particular day, and on the way, the highway literally just ended and turned into a dirt road. I instinctively pumped the brakes when I saw how steep the mountainside was next to me. I am not afraid of getting a little mud on the tires, but this was some serious dirt atop some severe drop-offs! As we began to wonder if we were headed in the right direction, a sign for Gunnison National Forest appeared next to the road, positioned perfectly in front of the tall, beautiful trees, wildflowers and forestry. We later found out that Gunnison National Forest covers more than 1,672,136 acres. We only saw a small section of that acreage, but it was remarkable!
After traveling down the tiny road for a few more miles, we finally ended up at our destination, the town of Gothic. Here, only a few small houses sat at the base of the forested mountains. Researchers had sections of ground roped off, there were people walking to the learning centers and the road led to a waterfall trail. We decided to get out of the car and check it all out for ourselves. I am so glad we did because I have never been anywhere that had such an amazing 360-degree view. Fog and clouds gave the surrounding mountains a mysterious look as wildlife and rivers rushed by us at every turn. The site was nothing short of stunning.
As for dining in town, some of our favorite spots included The Secret Stash, which serves the best pizza I have ever tasted in my life. There is also the quaint Coal Creek Grill, located right on the river, in the midst of the historical section of downtown, and there is McGill’s, the best, old-fashioned breakfast diner around. The service at every restaurant we frequented was wonderful, and the locals are incredibly friendly and have great stories to share with visitors.
There are more than enough boutiques and stores to shop for yourself and for souvenirs to take home to your family and friends. From Chopwood Mercantile, which sells everything you could ever need to be fully-outfitted for an outdoor adventure, to Mountain Tops T-Shirts and Pooh’s Corner toy store, you can subdue your inner shopaholic with ease. Strolling the streets without having to check your watch or keep up with a schedule is a magical change of pace.
When the trip came to an end, I felt like I was 10 years old and it was the last day of summer break. I did not want to leave. The mountains do something incredible for the soul, and I will always remember this trip.
I hope your summer has been full of adventure. Sometimes, it takes getting away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life to appease your sense of wonder and to remind yourself to enjoy the little things.