We recently visited Crested Butte and I seriously could not get over how beautiful it was. We were there during wildflower season which added to the picturesque backdrops of mountains and meadows. While it’s a gorgeous mountain town worthy of a visit just for its beauty, there are actually a lot of awesome, free things to do in Crested Butte with kids.
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You can do the typical mountain activities, or you can seek out unique things to do. Whatever your style is, there are plenty of family activities in Crested Butte that you will love. Here is a guide to FREE things to do in Crested Butte with kids.
The great thing about vacationing in nature is that it doesn’t have to cost a lot. So if you are trying to visit Crested Butte on a budget, this should be helpful in planning a great family trip.
History of Crested Butte
Crested Butte was originally home to the Ute Indians. In the late 1800’s, miner began to inhabit the town and found that it was a great place to mine coal.
By 1880, Crested Butte was officially an incorporated town with just a few hundred residents plus a thousand miners. A year later, Crested Butte was connected to the rest of the country through the expansion of the railroad.
Through the decades, Crested Butte was a successful mining town. However, mines shut down repeatedly over the workers striking for better wages. Eventually in the 1950’s, the mines shut down for good due to many power sources changing from coal to diesel.
Today, Crested Butte (named by a geologist in the 1800’s because of it’s mountain tops) is a popular tourist town. Winter brings ski vacationers and summer brings more adventure in the sun.
Is Crested Butte Good For Families?
YES! I wouldn’t write about it if it wasn’t 😉
Crested Butte is such a fun place for summer adventure, beauty, and fun. Our whole family had a great time visiting Crested Butte.
Here, I’ll share some awesome FREE things to do in Crested Butte with kids that proves this is a perfect place for a summer family vacation.
>>>Check out the best places to stay for families!<<<
Fun and FREE Things to do in Crested Butte with Kids
#1 Find Some Great, Easy Hikes for Kids
The great thing about summer is that there are wildflowers galore all over Crested Butte. So when it comes to hiking, you really can’t go wrong. Wherever you go will be gorgeous.
The months of June and July bring the Wildflower Festival to Crested Butte. There are different activities you can sign up for (hikes, cooking classes, etc) to celebrate the wildflowers.
Columbines, the Colorado state flower
But even if you don’t pay for a wildflower activity, there are plenty of hikes you can do yourself to enjoy the flowers. And they are EVERYWHERE! Crested Butte has been named the official Wildflower Capital of Colorado. And when you hike around, you’ll see why.
We spent the majority of our time in Crested Butte hiking. There were so many different hikes to choose from, so we knew we had to choose wisely.
As far as easier hikes, I suggest Judd Falls and Budd Trail. If you have little ones, they will love going on the Story Walk and reading a page at a time of a featured story as they hike.
(Recommendation: check out the ^^^ hiking shoes my older daughter loves to use!)
#2 Play at Lake Irwin in Crested Butte
We love finding great lakes to use our Stand Up Paddle board. (See details and my review of our paddle board. It’s awesome, and affordable!)
Lake Irwin is the perfect place to spend a morning or afternoon. It is beautiful and peaceful. There were so many people out in kayaks, canoes, and SUPs. Kids were playing off the shore of the water. A few people were standing near the bridge fishing.
The scenery just sets you at ease and invites you to relax.
Bring your swimsuits and some snacks and water and just enjoy your lake day at Lake Irwin.
It’s really affordable compared to a lot of brands out there. I swear every time we pump it up, we comment on how much easier ours seems than others around us. We pump it nearly as quickly as the people with electric pumps, but keep the peace (and not the noise!)
Bonus: the pump can reverse, meaning when you’re done you can suck the air out with the pump rather than spending forever trying to shrink it by hand and fit it back in the backpack.
#3 Visit the Crested Butte Museum
I touched briefly on the history of Crested Butte above. But if you’d like more info with cooler descriptions, visuals, and exhibits, stop by the Crested Butte Museum on Elk Avenue.
You can browse the front area for free, which has plenty of interesting things to see.
They also offer historic walking tours and special events.
If nothing else, it’s fun to walk in and chat with the knowledgeable people there. And there is a gift shop filled with fun souvenirs to remember your trip by.
#4 Try to Spot all the Busses in Crested Butte
This was such a fun thing to do for kids in Crested Butte.
First, stop by the Visitor’s Center and grab a kid’s activity packet (free). Inside, there are pictures of the different busses to look for around town.
My kids loved searching for the various busses as we drove. They were able to find quite a few of them. It’s really fun seeing how each bus has been painted a different theme.
#5 Visit the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Crested Butte
The Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory is a cool field research center just up the mountain. You’ll pass right by it on your way to Judd Falls.
This cool little research town is dedicated to studying the ecological aspects of the area. Some of the science and research is also used to apply to human science.
For example, there are myriad combinations of human genetic make up. Since it’s near impossible to study that many, this research center sets out to study genetic makeup of tens of thousands of wildflowers in learning about gene interaction.
It’s all quite interesting and you can learn more about it at the RMBL.
To experience the RMBL, you can easily head to the Visitor’s Center of RMBL. There are exhibits for kids to play/learn from. There are also very lovely people there to pick their brain about the area.
Tours at RMBL ($)
If your kids are really into flowers, you can book a wildflower hike during wildflower season. Choose from a 2- or 3-hour hike to learn about the flowers in the area.
If you want a unique thing to do in Crested Butte, you can try a tour of the Gothic Townsite, which will cover the RMBL science and mining history. These tours are available at 11am and 2pm. You can just show up 10 minutes before (call ahead if you have a larger group 8+). The tour is free, but has a suggested donation of $20/$10 adults/kids.
#6 Play Disc Golf with the Family in Crested Butte
There are two courses to play disc golf in Crested Butte. One called “Big Mine” is right in town off 2nd and Whiterock.
The other is called “Ten-Three” in Mt Crested Butte (the mountain village just up the road) with 18 holes. It’s known as an awesome course with incredible views. This one begins at the top of the Red Lady chairlift, so you’ll have to get lift tickets to access it.
To access it for free, you can hike up or catch the free ride on Twilight Fridays from the end of June to the end of August.
#7 Visit Emerald Lake – great things to do in Crested Butte with Kids
Emerald Lake is a a longer drive up the mountain. From downtown Crested Butte, it’s about a 45 minute drive of 12.5 miles.
To get here, you’ll drive well beyond Judd Falls up Gothic Road. The road gets a little rough, but you’re still going the right direction.
You’ll pass by some pull-outs for wilderness day-hiking and some gorgeous mountain sides as you ascend.
The road is less than ideal in this short moment
And eventually the road will terrify you because it’s up against the wall of the mountain on one side and the cliff of the mountain on the other. With space for only one car.
That only lasts a very short time, luckily, and then it’s back to rough road.
Drop to the left here
Eventually the road will drop to the left, and that’s where you want to turn off to get to Emerald Lake.
And once you arrive, it is quite a site! It’s also a very short walk to get to the lake. There is a narrow dirt road that goes to the side of the lake that you can walk on. Just watch for cars because there isn’t room for both of you! (The cars are naturally going very slow here).
Emerald Lake is a smaller lake, but so beautiful. It’s name because of the color it takes on: emerald green.
You can stop at the water’s edge and watch for fish, enjoy the beautiful color, or take your SUP and spend the day on the lake.
Know that there are no facilities nearby as you are a ways from town, so pack up your snacks and water!
For easy hiking combined with water, check out these affordable, great hiking sandals we use when we know we have some splashing to do at the end of our journey!
#8 Walk the Rec Path and Play at Slate River
The rec path is an easy choice for getting out with the little ones.
Walk as much or as little as you want, but be sure to at least stop at Slate River and splash for a few minutes (at least!). This is a nice way to cool down on a hot summer day in Crested Butte.
#9 Visit One of the Parks in Crested Butte
We didn’t have a chance to visit all of them, but we did visit a couple cool parks in Crested Butte.
Rainbow Park is located near down town. You can park in the spaces at Eighth and Maroon and then get out and play! Rainbow park has a nice big playground, a covered pavilion, and a large soccer field right behind. If you head to the other side of the soccer field you’ll come to the town rec path. (Go left on the path to get to the bridge of Slate River and go down and play in the water!)
Ted Scheske Park is located up in Mt Crested Butte. Go up Gothic Rd (Rd 317). You’ll pass Paradise Rd (the 2nd one) on the left and Cinnamon Road on the right. Then watch for the pull-out to the park on the left.
Ted Scheske Park is about the most beautiful park I’ve been to. The backdrop of this park is a bit unreal.
The park itself is pretty fun. There is a fitness area for adults (or kids) to try their abilities on. If you go down the hill, you’ll find the kids playground as well as tennis courts.
#10 Walk Down Elk Avenue
Elk Avenue is the main hub of Crested Butte. We aren’t really into shopping on trips, but we do like to walk around downtown areas and get a feel for the town.
Elk Avenue is filled with fun, local restaurants and shops. If you need somewhere to eat, we loved the food at Pitas in Paradise and Secret Stash seemed to always be busy.
You’ll also find the Crested Butte Museum (mentioned previously) on Elk Avenue, where you can walk in and see a few front-room exhibits, rocks, and souvenirs.
Crested Butte has a main toy store on Elk Avenue as well, though it may turn from free-window-shopping to actual shopping.
It’s also fun to just feel like you are part of the old mining town with the old, restored buildings along this main street.
Deciding between Crested Butte and Aspen
Free Things to do in Crested Butte with Kids
Crested Butte is such a great town for finding free things to do. It’s full of adventure and overflowing with beauty.
We spent the majority of our time hiking and at Lake Irwin, so if your time is limited, make sure to take at least one hike and spend time relaxing at the lake. These were such fun moments to create memories.
Hopefully this has inspired you to find free things to do in Crested Butte with kids to help your budget and increase your fun!