Guest Blog by Emily Brendler Shoff
With young kids, it can be an accomplishment to get out the front door. So when my husband, Andy, and I decided to take our girls camping and meet up with some friends and their kids in Crested Butte for a long weekend in mid-August, we knew it was going to be busy. With four girls between us, ages four months through five, we were going to have to be creative to if we wanted to get our adventure fix. But that didn’t stop us from trying. We’re all mountain parents, desperate to get our kids outside and desperate to be outside ourselves.
Crested Butte is the quintessential Colorado adventure outpost, with access to some of the Rockies' best mountain biking, hiking, and running trails; a laid-back, kid-friendly downtown, where everybody gets around on vintage cruiser bikes; and plenty of rivers, creeks, and lakes for cooling off after a day on the trails.
We pulled into the Oh Be Joyful Campground late Wednesday and met up with our friends, Stewart and Blair. The perfect family adventure base camp, it sits right on the Slate River, about four miles north of town, and backs up against the Oh Be Joyful trail, a fantastic hike through a lush glacial valley (more on that later). Anywhere else in the world, this spot would be overrun and overpriced, but in Crested Butte, the site was free, and we had very few neighbors.When I stepped out of the car though, it took me a while to notice all of this. One look at Blair, and I could tell she wasn’t appreciating it yet either. I’d spent the last hour of the drive from Telluride facing backwards over Cottonwood Pass and entertaining children with the earthquake app on my iPhone. Blair had stopped to nurse the baby 14 times in the last 8 hours on the car ride up from Santa Fe. We let our husbands mess with the tents while we got down to more important things: opening some beers and admiring her four-month old’s tiny feet.
Waking up the next morning to the smells and sounds of our husbands cooking eggs and brewing cowboy coffee on the camp stove made it clear that the long drive and the challenges of getting young children to sleep in a tent would all soon be worthwhile. It was time to start planning our outdoor adventures for the week—mountain biking for us and creek-side frolicking for the kids.
Biking in CB is like drinking wine in France or skiing in Telluride. Few places do it better. Our husbands graciously gave us the first ride, but not before they snuck in a spectacular morning run on the five-mile Oh Be Joyful trail, while we took the kids exploring along the creek and looking for swimming holes.
That afternoon, Blair and I rode the rolling Snodgrass Trail, connected to the newly finished Lupine Trail, and finished up on the mellow Lower Loop. Then we topped it off with an espresso milkshake at Camp 4 coffee in a funky old mining shack wallpapered with license plates. Meanwhile, the dads had the kids exploring, building rock swimming pools, and sunbathing along the East River as they scouted out tomorrow’s adventure—CB’s signature singletrack: the 401 trail outside of Gothic.
One of the great things about Crested Butte is that there is fabulous stuff for everyone to do. Kids can have a great time riding bikes and exploring around camp, swimming in numerous rivers or lakes, or wandering the town of Crested Butte. Some of our kids’ favorites included the playground and climbing boulder at Rainbow Park, Saturday afternoon story hour at Townie Books, fruit smoothies at Camp Four, and swimming in Meridian Lake, three miles outside of town.
Blair and I returned to camp after our great ride and discovered our kids looked like children who’d lived through the Dust Bowl—their white smiles barely made it through the layers of grime. But a heavenly smell rose out of the kitchen area where Andy was making spaghetti bolognese with the elk he’d gotten the previous fall and bolete mushrooms that he’d gathered with the girls.
In the morning, we flip-flopped activities. Blair and I lost ourselves in chest-high wildflowers and ran the Oh Be Joyful trail. And while the guys biked the 401, we took the girls back to the same river spot in Gothic.
For five days, we rode CB’s best trails, swam in the river by camp, and explored the popular family destinations like Meridian Lake. Each night after all the girls went to bed, we built a fire, sat under the stars, and drank port long past anyone with young children should. Who says children (or their parents) should be clean and go to bed on time? We were tired and dirty, but happy to be out adventuring and sharing the beauty of the mountains with family and friends.
Emily Brendler Shoff lives in Telluride, Colorado, where she writes a regular column in the Telluride Daily Planet and the webzine, Telluride Inside and Out. She is still scrubbing mud out of her children’s ears.