Day Trips Around the North Fork Valley
Crested Butte via Kebler Pass/Lost Lake (2 hour drive to get there – from Hotchkiss)
No matter which route you take to Crested Butte, it will be breathtaking and well worth the trip. The route over Kebler Pass takes you through the world's largest and oldest living organism - a huge aspen forest - with lovely mountain scenery (especially beautiful the second half of September and into October during color changing). Consider stopping at Lost Lake along the route for nice scenery and an enjoyable hike. Crested Butte is a charming and historic mountain town with a past rooted in mining. Present day Crested Butte is an artsy bohemian town with a nice downtown, supporting fun and interesting shops and a very nice selection of restaurants. During winter Crested Butte is a ski destination. Keep in mind that Kebler Pass is well-maintained but partially gravel - and closes over winter.
Crested Butte via Hwy 92 & Gunnison (2 hour and 15 minute drive to get there – from Hotchkiss)
This route to Crested Butte (south on Colorado Highway 92) is totally different terrain than over Kebler Pass. The drive takes you along the Black Canyon and offers stunning views, including the San Juan mountains in the distance. The road is paved and well-maintained. The drive is especially curvy with many drop offs. If you are troubled by such road conditions, it might be best to take the Kebler Pass route. This southern route takes you over the Blue Mesa Dam - Blue Mesa Reservoir is the largest body of water in Colorado and popular for water sports. You will travel through the small college town of Gunnison which has some nice shops and good spots to eat.
Redstone & Marble (1 hour drive to get there – from Hotchkiss)
If you drive north and east on Colorado Highway 133 you will enjoy wonderful views over McClure Pass (paved and well maintained). The first town once you clear the pass is Marble, which is accessed off the highway by taking Gunnison County Road #3 for 8 miles. Marble is really less of a town than the site of the old marble quarry and factory, a collection of summer homes (mostly), an art gallery or two and a locally well-liked BBQ restaurant. If you continue on the road past Marble for some distance you will come to an old mill site that is one of the most popular locations in Colorado for photographers. The old Marble mill site is enchanting. After an avalanche destroyed the old marble factory earlier in the 20th century, the remains (mostly large marble pillars) feel reminiscent of ruins you might find in Greece. A level, and fairly primitive foot path lets you meander through the site, which borders the Crystal River - aptly named.
Leaving Marble (backtracking to Colorado Highway 133) you will then travel east an additional 11 miles to the former coal mining town of Redstone. Redstone, a planned mining community with a very interesting history, is situated on the other side of the Crystal River from the highway. You will turn at the beehive-looking coke ovens along the highway and cross the bridge. The first thing you will see upon entering town is the Redstone Inn, a charming historic inn with a nice restaurant (featuring the world's largest collection of original vintage Stickley furniture). It is worth stepping inside for the historic feel and a good meal. The town has a dozen or so shops and galleries as well as a wonderful riverside park (with public bathrooms and a playground for kids). This is a marvelous place to relax and watch the river or read a book. Don't miss the tiny, but very informative, museum adjacent to the park. Understanding the history of Redstone really enhances the experience. Walking the main street (only street) is ultimately enjoyable... and if you have the time, continue on the road as it leaves town. Redstone Castle, about a mile west of town - and accessed from a drive leading from the Redstone Inn - was a masterpiece of its day. Check for tour times. Note: Redstone has a marvelous summer music festival - free admission every Saturday night in summer. For details, click here.
Avalanche Ranch Hot Springs (1 hour and 10 minute drive to get there – from Hotchkiss)
If you have plans of visiting Marble and/or Redstone, and enjoy a good soak, you will want to drive an additional five miles east on Colorado Highway 133 to check out Avalanche Ranch Hot Springs. This is a fairly new hot springs and admission is carefully managed, so a drop in will probably not result in soak time. You will want to call the hot springs for a reservation well in advance. Click here for the website. There are four soaking pools of various sizes and temperatures, and this is one of the most scenic locations for a hot springs that you will find. To enhance the experience there is an antique/gift shop on site that is very enjoyable. If you want a more rustic hot springs experience, look for cars parked along the river between Redstone and Avalanche Ranch - that will be the location of Penny Hot Spring - lovingly referred to as "the Hippie Dip". Free in every way imaginable.
Aspen (2 hour drive to get there)
What can be said about Aspen that hasn't been said before? For those with deep pockets and a fascination with the world of glamor, Aspen is a "must see". Many super-exclusive shops and restaurants of impeccable credentials, nightlife galore and endless people watching opportunities. Except for the service class, there are probably fewer Coloradans in Aspen than anywhere else in the state. Still, it is a sight to behold.
Ridgway & Ouray/Hot Springs (1 hour and 30 minute drive to get there – from Hotchkiss)
Ridgway, where much of the classic Western "True Grit" was filmed, is also the unlikely home town the Grammy awards (made by three craftsmen in a small shop). The town has an absolutely marvelous town park, downtown, plenty of interesting old-west buildings, nice shops and many options for good food. Ridgway is small but fun and has seen a recent renaissance. Worth a stop if going to Ouray or Telluride.
Ouray, just about eight miles south of Ridgway, is known as "The Switzerland of America" due to the indisputably stunning Alp-like San Juan Mountains which surround the town on three sides. The town is an excellently preserved example of an old west town. Plenty of architecture and history to sate your curiosity. Ouray is an enjoyable diversion and a jumping off point for those wishing to enjoy the wilder areas of the surrounding mountains. Lots and lots of shops, restaurants to draw your attention, as well as the famous Ouray Hot Springs. Unlike most other Colorado hot springs, this is managed by the municipality of Ouray and is popular with families. For information, click here.
Orvis Hot Springs (1 hour and 30 minute drive to get there – from Hotchkiss)
Just a mile south of Ridgway is one of the best hot springs in the state, Orvis Hot Springs. There are three indoor pools, six outdoor pools, a sauna and massage services on-site - set amongst lovely landscaping and marvelous views of the surrounding mountains. This is a great destination for a day trip (when combined with stops in Ridgway and Ouray), however, be aware that the outdoor facilities are clothing optional. Click here for information on Orvis.
Telluride (2 hour and 10 minute drive to get there – from Hotchkiss)
The second best-known ski town in Colorado - maybe a rung or two down the glitz ladder from Aspen - Telluride is still pretty upscale with great shops and notable restaurants. Walking the side streets and along the river is enjoyable, as is the free gondola from Telluride to sister town, Mountain village. No visit to Telluride is complete without the gondola ride! Mountain village is an exclusive "planned village". Not bad for that sort of thing, but not historic or particularly interesting.
Carbondale, Glenwood Springs & Hot Springs (1 hour and 45 minute drive to get there – from Hotchkiss)
Beyond Redstone, on Highway 133, is Carbondale - and further north, Glenwood Springs. Both have their bright spots and both are primarily bedroom communities for those serving the rich and powerful of Aspen. Carbondale has a historic downtown with some nice shops and restaurants - a quarter mile off the highway. Glenwood Springs is best known for its hot springs - there are two. The older, historic, Glenwood Hot Springs, features a very large hot springs pool, including lap lanes, as well as a therapy pool. This is where Doc Holiday came to unsuccessfully treat his tuberculosis (he is buried on a hillside on the edge of town). Iron Mountain Hot Springs is relatively new, and sports 16 smallish soaking pools of various temperatures. Both have lovely views, but the latter requires reservations to secure soak time, as well as soaking time limits. To learn about Iron Mountain Hot Springs, click here. To learn about Glenwood Hot Springs, click here. On the nearby mountainside is Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park. Tour the "Fairy Caves" and ride one-of-a-kind rides. It's an odd combo, but is worth checking out. Click here for the website. Also, consider white water rafting on the Colorado River by working with a local guide.
Colorado National Monument (1 hour and 10 minute drive to get there – from Hotchkiss)
Colorado National Monument is located just outside of Grand Junction and serves as a preview of the grand landscapes of Utah. A worthwhile stop, with some amazing views.
Lake City (2 hour and 30 minute drive to get there – from Hotchkiss)
Billed as the most remote town in the lower 48 states, Lake City is near... well, nothing really, except lovely scenery and lots of wildlife. This is a small town frequented by outdoor enthusiasts and containing a handful of fun shops situated in the historic downtown. Several restaurants and coffee shops provide sustenance. There is also a nice museum downtown as well as a small park. A charming stop and a nice place to chill.
Pitkin/Tin Cup (2 hour and 15 drive to get there – from Hotchkiss)
Once the fifth largest city in Colorado, during the silver mining boom of the early 1880's, Pitkin's fortunes quickly went south with the silver bust of 1893 when the town went into steep decline. Fires did not help matters. Today, Pitkin has 66 full-time residents and a number of summer homes. It is mostly an outpost for forays into the surrounding national forest, and as the jumping off point to 12,000 foot high Cumberland Pass - the highest passenger vehicle pass in the United States. Be aware, this is not recommended unless you have a four wheel drive vehicle - if so, it is highly recommended! At the top of the pass, consider taking a short hike. The thin air will make a short hike just about right! Once summiting the pass from Pitkin you will eventually end up in Tin Cup. Not really a town, but an almost-ghost town with no full-time residents. A few old settler buildings exist, however, the pioneer/miner's cemetery is worth the trip in itself. One can return over Cumberland Pass to Pitkin or continue on to Taylor Park Reservoir and then west to Almont... and ultimately on to Crested Butte or Gunnison.