7 Best Fall Hikes in Crested Butte

(Last Updated On: September 13, 2017)

Fall is a beautiful time in Crested Butte. While some of our leaves are already changing, our peak usually occurs during the last two weeks of September and into the first five days of October. Many people travel to Crested Butte during this time to enjoy the changing colors. I can think of no better way to enjoy the spectacular scenes of fall than on foot. To help you enjoy the yellow aspen leaves, we have summarized the best fall hikes in Crested Butte, described below.


Mill Castle Trail / Storm Pass

The Mill Castle valley is a wonderful spot.
Distance: Up to 16 miles, but best leaves are in the first few miles.
Level: Beginner to Intermediate
Description:The Mill Castle Trail is one of the most scenic hikes in the Crested Butte area, especially in the fall. Mix beautifully colored trees with amazing rock formations, and that’s a recipe for beauty.

The Mill Castle Trail follows along the valley floor before beginning to steeply ascend toward Storm Pass. While the views from Storm Pass are spectacular, it is quite a long hike. The best leaves can be seen within the first 3 or 4 miles of the trail, before it begins to really ascend. Since the Mill Castle Trail is generally done as an out-and-back, the best fall scenes can be viewed in a 4 to 8 mile hike, for those needing a hike shorter than 16 miles.

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Swampy Pass

Views of the Castles from the Swampy Pass trail.
Distance: up to 12 miles
Level: Beginner to Intermediate
Description: The Swampy Pass Trail begins in an aspen grove and winds through these tall aspens for quite a while. Occasionally, the aspens open up to reveal stunning views of the Castles or the Anthracites. Not very steep in nature, the Swampy Pass Trail is a fabulous fall hike.

The best part of the Swampy Pass Trail is within the first 3 miles before it ducks into a rather long section of dark pine forest. Since Swampy Pass is usually hiked as an out-and-back, this hike can easily be shortened. Another option is to set up a shuttle, leaving a car at the Cliff Creek trail near Horse Ranch Park. Then, you could continue hiking to Swampy Pass, then on to Beckwith Pass, finishing at Horse Ranch Park. There are a lot of beautiful sections of aspens between Swampy Pass and Beckwith Pass that are worth checking out. This version of the hike is a little under 12 miles.

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Pass Creek

The Castles towering over Pass Creek Trail.
Distance: up to 9.5 miles
Level: Beginner
Description: Pass Creek is a hike full of aspens and wonderful scenic mountain views. The trailhead is the same as that of Swampy Pass. A 5-6 mile loop or a 13 mile loop can be created between the Pass Creek Trail and the Swampy Pass Trail. I personally think the views of the Anthracites and the Castles are generally a little better on the Pass Creek trail than on the Swampy Pass trail.

Being not very steep, this trail is great for a wide variety of hikers. The distance can be easily altered as the trail is done as an out and back. To get one of the best views of the Castles, you have to hike about 4.5 miles to a wide open field before retracing your tracks.

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Beckwith Pass via 842

Aspen forest on trail 842.
Distance: up to 8 miles
Level: Beginner
Description: Typically, people access Beckwith Pass via the Cliff Creek (840) trail. But, trail 842 is a great less steep, but longer, alternative. It also winds through many aspen groves, where the Cliff Creek trail does not, making it a great fall hike.

The aspens will be located a bit lower on the trail, in the first 3 miles. So, reaching Beckwith Pass is not necessary to enjoy the changing leaves. But, the views from Beckwith are worth the trek if you’re up for it!

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Dark Canyon Trail / Dyke to Dark Canyon Loop

Dyke trail in fall
The geological dyke caps a golden-colored aspen grove.
Distance: Loop: 6.5 miles, Dark Canyon Trail: up to 14.5 miles
Level: Intermediate
Description: This area is known to have the largest aspen grove in the world making for some absolutely fabulous fall hiking.

This loop that connects the Dyke Trail and Dark Canyon trail ascends and descends multiple times through the hike. There are some steep sections, but if you do the loop counter-clockwise, most of these steep sections are on the downhills. They are also very short. The Dyke to Dark Canyon Loop is a favorite among families. To shorten this hike, start by hiking directly on the Dark Canyon trail as an out-and-back. The first mile or two of the Dark Canyon trail as an out-and-back has some fantastic view points that should not be missed.

Another way to hike this area is to hike the entirety of the Dark Canyon Trail, which is 14.5 miles. To do this, you can set up a shuttle or hitch hike between the two trailheads (hitching here is relatively easy) – one at Horse Ranch and the other at Erikson Springs. The Dark Canyon Trail is fabulous the whole way!

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Ruby Anthracite

Marcellina standing above an aspen grove on the Ruby Anthracite Trail.
Marcellina standing above an aspen grove on the Ruby Anthracite Trail.
Distance: 7 miles to reach the bottom of the gorge, but can be shortened or lengthened.
Level: Intermediate
Description: This trail is extremely lush and passes through many beautiful aspen groves as it descends into the scenic Ruby Anthracite gorge.

The Ruby Anthracite Trail begins by descending into the gorge. This trail is quite steep at times. Remember that you do have to turn around and go back up! The trail can be shortened or lengthened based on your desire, as it is an out-and-back. You could hike a couple of miles, or you could hike twenty. It’s up to you 😉

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Meridian Lake, also called “Long Lake”

Long Lake or Meridian Lake near Crested Butte.
Looking down on Long Lake.
Distance: 1 to 2.5 miles depending on hiking route
Level: Beginner to Intermediate
Description: Meridian Lake is a sometimes overlooked as a fall hike. But, it does have a nice grove of aspens near the southwestern side of the lake and does make a fine hike to see the fall colors.

The typical trail to the lake is only about a half mile long, but it is very steep. But, the lake can be accessed by walking on a longer, but less steep, old dirt road, which is about a mile long between the trailhead and the lake. The whole thing can be made into a 2.5-mile loop.

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leaves

Other Suggestions

Crested Butte ski area is an especially good place to hike in mid-September as the leaves change earlier there than many of the other locations mentioned in this post. In September, the lifts are usually running only Fri-Sunday. If you wish to access hiking via the lifts, I recommend starting with the Red Lady lift to enjoy more of the fall colors. Riding the lifts is not necessary though, as your own two feet can certainly take you up and down as well. Trails that make good fall hikes on the ski area include Painter Boy, Columbine, and Westside. When hiking the ski area, please pay particular attention to signage, as some trails are only intended for bikers. More information about the trails and lifts can be found on my CBMR Biking Guide, as well as a link to a map.

Other worthy fall hikes include the Carbon Trail near Ohio Pass, and the Three Lakes Trail on the other side of Kebler Pass.


Get Out There!

The leaves have already changed in some spots. The air is clear and there’s a cool breeze in the air signifying the arrival of fall. Leaf-changing-season is one of the best times to enjoy Crested Butte. So, get out there and enjoy the colors and the aroma of fall!


Summary
Best Fall Hikes in Crested Butte
Article Name
Best Fall Hikes in Crested Butte
Description
Fall is a beautiful time in Crested Butte. What better way to see the changing leaves than on foot? Find out about the best fall hikes in Crested Butte.
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Brittany Walker Konsella

Aside from skiing, biking, and all outdoorsy things,Brittany Walker Konsella also loves smiles and chocolate 🙂 Even though she excels at higher level math and chemistry, she still confuses left from right. Find out more about Brittany!

Latest posts by Brittany Walker Konsella (see all)

Brittany Walker Konsella

Aside from skiing, biking, and all outdoorsy things, Brittany Walker Konsella also loves smiles and chocolate :) Even though she excels at higher level math and chemistry, she still confuses left from right. Find out more about Brittany!

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