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Summer in Crested Butte CO – a family vacation haven

Eileen Mel and Reg on the Scarp Ridge hike
Eileen Mel and Reg on the Scarp Ridge hike


CRESTED BUTTE, CO — I’m on top of the world.

It feels like it anyway. We’re more than 11,000 feet above sea level looking out at Scarp Ridge in the Gunnison National Forest just outside of Crested Butte, CO.

The view is spectacular—craggy peaks, one after the other, ribbons of snow running down them, waterfalls and a riot of wildflowers—yellow, red, purple. But that’s not the view I’m focusing on—I’m looking at my beautiful, accomplished daughters, Reg, 30, and Mel, 25, who are joking with my husband Andy after the arduous hike up here. I treasure moments like this as the girls live far from us—Mel here in Crested Butte and Reg and her husband in San Francisco.

This hike, Mel told us, was our “practice run,” for our big trek tomorrow between Crested Butte and Aspen—an arduous 12-plus miles at high altitude that is a favorite of locals for the wildflowers and the views.

Wild Columbines Colorado State Flower
Wild Columbines Colorado State Flower

Crested Butte, in fact, bills itself as the Wildflower Capital of Colorado and there is a Wildflower Festival going on with everything from art classes, guided wildflower hikes, photography classes and more.

This hike in the Gunnison National Forest, Mel said, was a good way for us to get acclimated to the altitude. She was right and we rewarded ourselves with giant home-made ice cream cones at Third Bowl on Crested Butte’s main street, Elk Avenue, crowded with tourists. (The lavender honey was amazing!)

We first got to know tiny (population 3500) Crested Butte in southwest Colorado (9,375 feet above sea level) when our kids were young and we came here to ski. We liked the mountain, the relaxed vibe, and that there is a free 10-minute bus ride from the mountain to the historic mining town—the entire downtown with restored 19th century buildings is on the national historic register.

On the Scarp Ridge Trail
On the Scarp Ridge Trail

But I love Crested Butte just as much in the summer. We are staying at the Lodge at Mountaineer Square convenient on the mountain, where there are plenty of activities—free concerts on Wednesday night, hiking and biking at the mountain top, mountain biking trails (there is the Evolution Bike Park), archery on Friday nights…the list goes on and on.

Another word about mountain biking—there are trails for everyone from beginners (Painter Boy) to experts (Timeline). Mel regaled us with her tale of the annual “chainless race” – 20 miles all downhill from Kebbler Pass to Crested Butte. The racers take the chains off their at the top of the pass.

For kids, there are bungee trampoleens, mini golf and the Trailhead Treehouse in the summer Adventure Park, even a Trailhead Children’s Museum. And for those with special challenges, there is the Adaptive Sports Center. Let’s not forget the zipline

Every Sunday there’s the Crested Butte Farmer’s Market and the free Downtown Concert Series Alpenglow at the town park and all varieties of hikes from easy walks too arduous climbs.  There is Camp CB and Mountain Adventures for kids and young teens—canoeing, rafting, fly fishing, disc golf, rock climbing

Above the tree line on the Scarp Ridge Trail
Above the tree line on the Scarp Ridge Trail

Try something here you’ve never done or want to become better at. Flyfishing maybe?

They say many come to ski towns for the snow and stay for the summers. That could be said of my daughter Mel, now working for the non-profit High Country Conservation Advocates, and running the town gardens with a group of dedicated volunteers.

This is the kind of town where you see a mom on a bike, her dog on a leash trotting along with her, her child on a little bike next to her. When it rain (and afternoon thunderstorms are frequent) you don’t see any umbrellas—everyone pulls out rain jackets from their backpacks.

Everyone looks healthy and happy. I’m going to hate to leave.

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