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Wild About Flowers

Crested Butte Celebrates Nature’s Blooms Each July

The Crested Butte area is blanketed with wildflowers each summer, from mid-June into early September.

The Crested Butte area is blanketed with wildflowers each summer, from mid-June into early September.

By July, this Alpine valley is blanketed with swaths of red and orange Indian paintbrush, and periwinkle columbines drape the hillsides around and above the town. Dainty scarlet gilia, iridescent blue flax, cheery yellow sunflowers, deep purple delphiniums and dusky blue lupines round out the palette.

Then it’s time for the Crested Butte Wildflower Festival.

This annual celebration of blossoms happens July 8-14 this year (but there’s plenty to see and do before and after the festival, too).

Focusing on this upscale event (a little more sophisticated than, say, donkey races), consider all the things that are planned around wildflowers. There are guided wildflower hikes, herb talks, painting classes, cooking classes, in-town garden tours, butterfly hunts and aromatherapy classes. There are dozens of photography classes (learn how to capture a hummingbird in flight). You can also mountain bike on your own to remote fields of flowers.

“There’s a great bike path between the town and the ski area that is just lined with elephant head, which is rare” says Sue Wallace, executive director of the event. For those not into hiking or biking at 9,000 feet and higher, there are 4-by-4 Jeep tours up to Paradise Divide at 12,000 feet, and also easy walking tours. The guided walking tours continue after the festival, offered each weekend throughout the summer. There are also three-day hikes to Aspen and back and other more in-depth events available before, during and after the festival itself.

This year, check out the gardening classes, providing tips on growing wildflowers and creating your own native garden. Do a little bird watching of species attracted by the blooms. Relax with yoga or pilates performed in a field of flowers. Or wind down at the end of the day with a Wildflower Happy Hour, where the festival folks have joined with the Crested Butte Music Festival organizers to provide a chamber quartet performing classical works to soothe the weary body and soul.

For those leery of exercising at Crested Butte’s 8,888 feet in altitude, “there’s an oxygen bar in town. It’ll fix you right up,” Wallace says.

Parents with younger children in tow can enroll them in nearby nature camps, too – including the Rocky Mountain Biological Lab, where they may do some of the same things their parents are doing. For camps and day-care information, go to the festival website listed below.

The most typical festivalgoer is between the ages of 40 and 60, fit and female.

“More and more men are getting dragged into it and they’re finding they enjoy it, too,” Wallace says. “A lot of them are coming back the next year.” In addition, the festival is actively recruiting visitors who are fit and able to hike and bike. Sierra Club groups and Elderhostel groups are frequent visitors.

Born as a mining town, as many of Colorado’s ski resorts were, Crested Butte is a lot like the wildflowers for which it is famous: small, hardy and charming. It has great little restaurants and the town is set apart just enough from the ski area so that it has maintained its historic ambience. Yet there’s a mother lode of rooms for festivalgoers at that same ski area, just three miles and a few minutes away by shuttle.

The area gets more than 200 inches of snow each winter, which leads to the profusion of flowers. Not to be outdone, residents and businesses in town plant their own bounty of blooms, seen on every street planter box and in yards and gardens. Don’t be surprised to see a “town bike” propped up against a flower box – they’re for public use to get around the village. But you don’t have to count on finding one to be mobile. Many local lodgings have free bikes for guests to use and there are a number of bike rental places. Have a bike of our own?

“You gotta bring your bike, if you have one,” Wallace says.

Even if you don’t participate in any of the festival events, or go at a different time, there’s plenty to do in the area. Take a scenic drive (several options) or stop at Almont on the way up from Gunnison and do a little fishing on Taylor Creek or at the Taylor Creek Reservoir. If you have a high-clearance vehicle, visit one of several ghost towns in the area. You won’t be bored.

For more information on the festival, visit www.crestedbuttewildflowerfestival.com. Sign up for classes before you go. The best ones fill up fast. Or call them at 970-349-2571. For general information on visiting Crested Butte, including lodging and dining options, go to www.GunnisonCrestedButte.com.