It’s time for a road trip. Not your boring, ‘try not to doze off whilst staring at the double yellow line in front of you that never ends’ type of drive. Instead, find yourself winding up alpine switchbacks, traversing 14,000 foot peaks, taking in 100 mile valley views, and exploring the great aspen-filled American West. This is how to get to Crested Butte and what driving is supposed to be like. And if you start feeling a little numb-butt, just remember how not too long ago they made this whole journey on horseback and wagons. So, where are you coming from?
Click where you’re coming from:
CO Springs | Montrose | NM-TX-OK | AZ | SoCal | NorCal/Salt Lake
From Denver – In good conditions Denver to Crested Butte takes just around four hours. This can vary depending on the lead content of your foot and your penchant for gas guzzling and speeding tickets. If you’re coming from Denver International Airport, hop on I-70 west, exit highway 470 west to route 285 south.
For the fastest route in the summer, take highway 285 south to Buena Vista and be greeted by the 14er Mt. Princeton straight ahead. Then turn right onto route 24 into town and make a left at the stoplight to head up Cottonwood Pass (route 306), which tops out at over 12,000 ft (you may want to pull off for some photos). The descent into Taylor Reservoir is gravel and dirt, but easily managed by nearly any car. It turns back to smooth pavement as you descend route 742 next to the Taylor river and are neighbored by beautiful rock and cliff formations. Another shortcut here takes you to Jacks Cabin road (back to dirt) for a few miles until you hit pavement again and turn right onto Highway 135. From here it’s just a short 10 minute drive up the valley to view mountain paradise. Map
In the winter, Cottonwood Pass is closed and the route turns south from Buena Vista down to Poncha Springs. Veer right at the junction and hop on highway 50 over the 11,000 ft Monarch Pass. Descend into wide valleys on your way to Gunnison, less than a hour from the summit. In Gunnison, make a right at the stoplight onto highway 135 north for another 30 minutes. Enjoy the scenery as the surrounding aspen covered mountains get higher every mile of the way. Map
From Colorado Springs – Take route 115 south to Penrose and make a right turn onto highway 50 as it winds through Canon City. Feel free to stop and check out the Royal Gorge just off to your left hand side. It’s worth the 10 minute detour to see one of the world’s highest suspension bridges (if you haven’t already). Continue on highway 50 through Poncha Springs and over Monarch Pass. In less than an hour from the summit you’ll be in Gunnison and taking a right at the stoplight onto 135 north. Enjoy the ride up Gunnison Valley for another 30 minutes into Crested Butte. Map
From Montrose – Take highway 50 east for about an hour through rolling hills as you approach the Blue Mesa Reservoir, the largest body of water in Colorado. Feel free to pull off onto highway 92 just before you hit the reservoir for a quick glimpse of the Black Canyon from the Blue Mesa Dam (5 minute detour). The trip up highway 92 along the north rim of the Black Canyon is also a worthy detour to see aspen filled cliffs on one side and thousand foot drop-offs on the other. Highway 50 runs along the reservoir until you eventually roll into Gunnison. Turn left onto highway 135 and enjoy the scenery the rest of the way into Crested Butte. Map
From New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma – Take US-87 north through New Mexico to I-25 North. Cross into Colorful Colorado through Trinidad and turn onto highway 69 north just past Walsenburg. Take 69 north through Westcliffe and take in the dramatic Sangre de Cristo mountains on your left hand side as you ascend into the Wet Valley. Pass many 14,000 ft peaks and eventually veer left onto Co Rd 1a for 7miles before merging with US 50 west. Take 50 west through Poncha Springs, over Monarch Pass and down into Gunnison. Turn right at the stoplight in Gunnison onto 135 north and take in the ascending mountain views for 30 more minutes to Crested Butte. Map
*Alternate route from Walsenburg, take highway 160 west to Alamosa, then turn onto 285 north to Saguache and highway 114 north to US 50 west.
From Phoenix, Arizona – Take I-17 north through Flagstaff on highway 89. Turn onto route 160, past Tuba City and through the 4 corners. Feel free to stop and stand in 4 states at the same time if that’s your thing. Continue on to Cortez and turn onto route 145 north, passing close to Telluride. Being a bit more picturesque than the 4 corners, a detour into this fellow mountain town may be worth while. Continue up 145 and switch over to highway 62 to Ridgway. From there hop on 550 north to Montrose and then US 50 east to Gunnison. Turn left at the stoplight onto 135 north and the last 30 minutes of your journey is ahead of you into Crested Butte. Map
From Southern California and Las Vegas – Take I-15 through Vegas (don’t stop there unless you can count cards) until it turns into I-70 in Utah. Follow I-70 through the picturesque canyons of Utah to Colorado. At Grand Junction, turn onto US 50 east and take it all the way through Montrose and the Blue Mesa Reservoir to Gunnison. Turn left at the stoplight onto 135 north and follow the yellow brick road to Crested Butte only 30 minutes further. Map
From Northern California and Salt Lake City – Hop on I-80 to Salt Lake City and turn south onto I-15. Just past Provo, turn onto US 6 east as it makes its way down to I-70 near Green River. Follow I-70 east to Colorado and turn onto US 50 east just after Fruita and before Grand Junction. Take this through Montrose, past the Blue Mesa Reservoir and into Gunnison. Turn left at the stoplight onto 135 north and countdown 30 minutes, but don’t close your eyes. The last leg of the trip is quite picturesque into Crested Butte. Map