Explore Colorado: Locals’ Guide to Summer in the Mountains

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A mountain bike trail with a serious view. Photo by Dave Kozlowski

CRESTED BUTTE
Officially designated the “Wildflower Capital of Colorado” by the state legislature, this small mountain town between Gunnison and Aspen is surrounded by 1.7 million acres of national forest. First settled in the 1880s as a mining supply camp, it offers dramatic scenery, a charming downtown and all the outdoor adventure you may crave.

CRITICAL STATS
From Denver: 4 hours
Population: 1,503
Elevation: 8,909 feet
Average July temps: 75/39

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THE EXPERT
JEN OBERLING

Age: 52
Occupation: Ski instructor
Years living here: 30-plus
Why I moved here: I came here in the early ’70s with my parents, and went to elementary school here. I moved to Boulder for high school and college, but came back to CB. My husband has been here since the early ’70s as well, and we are raising our son, Robby, 16, who was born here.
Why I love Crested Butte: One reason we stay here is that we have one of the best public schools in the state. And our kiddo does great here—he’s on the Crested Butte Nordic Team in the winter and the high school mountain bike race team and CB Development (mountain biking) team in the summer and fall.
Favorite local restaurants: My new favorite is Revelden, a farm-to-table spot with great organic dishes and small plates. My old favorite is The Wooden Nickel, the oldest bar in town. I feel at home there and I always have a good meal.
Best hikes: My go-to hike is the Whetstone Vista trail to the Upper Loop, then the Brush Creek Road Loop. I pretty much walk it every day with my Portuguese water dog and a friend. If I find myself with more time, I love Scarp Ridge—the vista is spectacular. I also like our annual pilgrimage to Aspen over West Maroon Pass. We have done it as a family since Robby was 4 years old.
Favorite bike trails: My husband and my son’s favorite mountain bike trails are Monarch Crest Trail and Reno/Flag/ Bear/Deadman’s Gulch.
Take the kids here: I usually bike when friends come to town and we take their kiddos on the Lower Loop and the Upper Lower to the Slate River for a swim.
What’s in my daypack: I have tons of water, Kind bars and my raincoat.
Must-attend fest: Alley Loop Nordic marathon (Feb. 2, 2019)
Best-kept secret: Paddle-boarding the Slate River. It’s a flat float and since our house is on the Slate, I can float home from town.

graham-holland-crested-butte

THE EXPERT
GRAHAM HOLLAND

Age: 27
Occupation: IT consultant
Years living here: 2 ½
Why I moved here: I have always loved Crested Butte—the skiing and biking drew me here.
Why I love Crested Butte: The awesome small town, and the proximity to the outdoors. You can literally walk out your front door and be hiking, biking or skiing.
Favorite local restaurant: Tassinong Farms in CB South. It’s a fantastic place with amazing food and wine.
Where to grab a drink: The Dogwood is my goto happy hour cocktail spot, and grabbing beers on the deck of the Brick Oven Pizzeria & Pub is always an excellent time.
Favorite local spirit: This would have to be Montanya Distillers; they make their own rum and great cocktails.
Don’t leave town without Instagramming this: A perfect view of the Butte
Best hike: Hiking from Crested Butte to Aspen is one of the most amazing hikes; seeing the Maroon Bells from that high up is awesome.
Favorite bike trail: It would have to be Doctor Park. It’s a brutal climb up, but so worth the ride back down.
Take the kids here: Crested Butte Mountain Resort’s Adventure Park has rock climbing, ziplining, bungee trampolines— everything they could want!
If you’re looking for a real adventure: Biking Teocalli Mountain is pretty incredible. You get right up to the tree line, then get to bomb back down the mountain.
What’s in my daypack: Beef jerky, a rain jacket, some dog food for the pup, a bike tube and multi-tool, plenty of water and, hopefully, a cold beer
Favorite place to take out-of-towners: Secret Stash is perfect for pizzas, and the famous Volcano Bowl, which serves four, contains 48 ounces of booze and comes served on fire.

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THE EXPERT
CAROLINE SINGLETON

Age: 32
Occupation: Manager at the Lodge at Mountaineer Square
Years living here: 9
Why I moved here: I always had so much fun visiting, and being away from it drew me in.
Why I love Crested Butte: The people are active, adventurous and a little crazy. You get in a car with friends and think you’re going to the lake to float on turtle-shaped inner tubes and instead end up sledding on those tubes in August.
Favorite local dish: The Tuna and Avocado Poke at Lil’s Sushi Bar & Grille
Where to grab a drink: Bonez for margaritas
Favorite local product: Jackson’s Honest “Purple Heirloom” potato chips
Don’t leave town without Instagramming this: The actual Mount Crested Butte
Best hikes: Copper Lake and West Side at the resort
Take the kids here: Lower Loop is relatively flat and you have access to the Slate River.
If you’re looking for a real adventure: Rent a board from CB SUP and go up to Lake Irwin. Jump in the water—it will be icy cold but rejuvenating!
What’s in my daypack: I’m big on snacks so I’ll have a charcuterie kit (knife, cutting board, cheese, salami), but also always bring a rain jacket, sunscreen and plenty of water.
Must-attend fest: The Music on the Mountain free concert series (Wednesday nights through Aug. 15). It’s fun to hang out with friends, listen to good music and watch some interesting dancing happening near the stage.
Best-kept secrets: Visit Rain Crow Farms at the farmers’ market (Sundays through Oct. 7). They have the most beautiful flowers from Paonia. Also, Clark’s Market has really good made-to-order sandwiches for your hike.
Helpful hint: Don’t speed (the speed limit in town really is 15 mph). They will catch you and you will end up in our newspaper’s Mountain Mischief column. I’m serious.
Favorite place to take out-of-towners: Slogar’s for family-style fried chicken in an Old West atmosphere. Just bring your appetite: You will eat at least six biscuits with honey butter.
Best view: Washington Gulch to Trail 403. You’ll be rewarded with incredible views of the Gothic Valley.

CRESTED BUTTE, ALONG WITH MARIN COUNTY, CALIF., IS THE HOME OF MOUNTAIN BIKING. CB ALSO IS HOME TO THE STATE’S LARGEST ASPEN GROVE, ON KEBLER PASS (ONCE REGARDED AS THE WORLD’S LARGEST SINGLE ORGANISM).

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Take a ride at the annual balloon fest and rodeo. Photo by Noah Wetzel

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS
Ski Town U.S.A. is famous for its Champagne Powder, but we love this Yampa Valley city just as much in the summer. Hot springs, a summer rodeo series, tons of festivals, great restaurants and fun shops, plus fly-fishing, hiking, biking, river tubing, SUPing and all sorts of outdoor adventures keep us coming back each year.

CRITICAL STATS
From Denver: 3 hours
Population: 12,690
Elevation: 6,900 feet
Average July temps: 82/44

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THE EXPERT
SCOTT LARSON

Age: 28
Occupation: Web and communications manager, Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association
Years living here: 6
Why I moved here: I had a year-round job offer, which helped, but, really, to be a ski bum.
Why I love Steamboat: I’ve lived in other Colorado mountain towns but none have the amazing community of locals.
Favorite restaurants: The fish tacos and bison burger at Rex’s American Grill & Bar are really good. My favorite gem, though, is the deli in the Clark Store 20 minutes north of town. I haven’t had a thing there that I didn’t like.
Where to grab a drink: The BARley for its Colorado craft beers
Favorite local product: Honey Stinger
Don’t leave town without Instagramming this: Fish Creek Falls or, if you’re willing to work for it, the top of Emerald Mountain Quarry
Best hikes: The Divide Trail and Zirkel Circle are easily accessible and you feel like you’re in a different world.
Favorite bike trails: MGM on Emerald Mountain or the Divide Trail accessed from the ski area
If you’re looking for a real adventure: Mountain bike on the Divide Epic Trail up the ski area and down the new trails on Buffalo Pass, or go for a multi-day backpacking trip in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness area.
Must-attend fest: OktoberWest (Sept. 14–15) features local craft beers and perfect weather.
Best-kept secrets: Hahns Peak Lake, about 30 miles north of town, is great for camping and SUPing and is home to wildlife like moose and bald eagles.
Favorite place to take out-of-towners: I’m a big fan of north Routt County. A drive up Elk River Road will take you to the Clark Store, Mount Zirkel Wilderness area (home of Gilpin Lake and the Zirkel Circle hike), Steamboat Lake State Park and more.
Best view: Along Mountain View Trail between the ski area and Fish Creek Falls. There are a few vistas with fields of wildflowers that come alive in July.

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THE EXPERT
SARA TLAMKA

Age: 38
Occupation: Marketing manager at Honey Stinger
Years living here: Combined, nearly 20
Why I moved here: I was born in Steamboat Springs and I’ve lived all over the globe, but the “Yampa Valley Curse” brought me back to make this little mountain town my home.
Why I love Steamboat: It sounds cliché, but Steamboat is a real Western mountain town with all the adventure activities you could ask for, where the cowboys still tip their hats and the people are genuinely friendly.
Favorite local dishes: The Chili Relleno at Creekside Café; the Twisted Pretzel with cheese and porter cream at Mahogany Ridge; the Miles O’ Smiles roll at Sake2U; salads at Freshies
Where to grab a drink: The upstairs deck at Salt & Lime, or on the river at Sunpie’s Bistro or E3 Chophouse
Favorite local beer: The Citra Lawnmower from Storm Peak Brewing Co.
Don’t leave town without Instagramming this: You, on the bridge at Fish Creek Falls; the falls featured on the original Coors can
Best hikes: The Zirkle Circle is an awe-inspiring 10-mile hike with stunning mountain and lake views. For something more mellow and close to town, Spring Creek is a great hike or run.
Favorite bike trails: Flash of Gold is Steamboat’s newest mountain biking trail on Buff Pass and is a beautiful ride through the aspens. The Steamboat Stinger course is also a fun ride on Emerald Mountain.
Take the kids here: The Steamboat Springs Rodeo is perfect for any age. My daughter thinks the lamb scramble is a riot. And don’t leave town without stopping in at Ohana, a great shop where the kids— and you—can pick up a unique locally made souvenir.
If you’re looking for a real adventure: Scramble up and over the terrifying Devil’s Causeway Trail on your way to a night at Trappers Lake Lodge.
What’s in my daypack: Honey Stinger (of course!), sunscreen and plenty of water
Must-attend fest: It makes for an early morning, but the Hot Air Balloon Rodeo (July 14–15) is not to be missed.

Favorite place to take out-of-towners: Strawberry Park Hot Springs. Honestly, there is nowhere else like it.
Best view: Sunset at the top of the gondola provides the best valley and mountain views.

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THE EXPERT
TONY D. COUNTS

Age: 48
Occupation: Sales rep at Steamboat Pilot & Today; co-host of “Harvey’s Huddle” radio show; host of “Hello Steamboat” morning TV show
Years living here: 18
Why I moved here: To escape the traffic-filled drive to work in Denver that started draining me mentally.
Why I love Steamboat: No traffic! Also, the athletic, energetic, honest people and the four beautiful seasons— even though winter plays tricks on us occasionally.
Favorite local dishes: The cheeseburgers at Johnny B Good’s Diner and Back Door Grill and anything from Bésame, Rex’s American Grill & Bar, Table 79 Foodbar or Salt & Lime
Where to grab a drink: The Press, Salt & Lime, Bésame, Dude & Dan’s Bar & Grill, Sunpie’s Bistro, Mambo Italiano, Harwigs, Mahogany Ridge Brewery & Grill, E3 Chophouse or Aurum Food & Wine
Favorite local beer: Butcherknife Brewing Company, but Storm Peak and Mountain Tap breweries always keep me coming back.
Don’t leave town without Instagramming this: You soaking in the Strawberry Park or Old Town hot Springs, plus a shot on the river in the summer and at the free concert series (at Howelsen Hill, select Saturdays)
Best hikes: Devil’s Causeway in the Flat Tops Wilderness; the Sarvis Creek Trail
Take the kids here: The two 230-foot water slides at Old Town Hot springs; horseback riding at Howelsen Park; a balloon ride with Wild West Balloon Adventures; the indoor climbing wall at Love Climbing Adventures; bowling at Snow Bowl; and the Adventure Zone at the base of the ski area
If you’re looking for a real adventure: Steamboat Zipline Adventures’ six-segment course
Must-attend fest: The Springalicious Festival held each April
Best-kept secrets: Devil’s Causeway, fishing below Stagecoach Reservoir, camping at Steamboat Lake State Park Favorite places to take out-of-towners: Strawberry Park Hot Springs; McKnight’s Irish Pub
Best view: Take the Steamboat Gondola to Thunderhead (9,100 feet up) for an epic sunset.

A SEASON PASS FOR THE ADVENTURE ZONE, $199, GIVES ACCESS TO THE RESORT’S ACTIVITIES, INCLUDING MINI-GOLF, TUBING, THE CLIMBING WALL, WATER WALKERZ, GONDOLA RIDES AND TWO DAILY OUTLAW MOUNTAIN COASTER RIDES.

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