Windows on the Wild

Irwin Lodge

Emerson, eat your heart out: the front porch of Irwin Lodge    

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888-464-7946 >> www.goirwin.com

Rooms cost $90-$200 per night, including breakfast. Horseback rides cost $55 for a half-day, $95 for a full day. Wildflower tours and other miscellaneous guided outings cost $25 per hour per person.

COMPARED WITH THE QUAINT, Victorian B&Bs in nearby Crested Butte, Irwin Lodge more closely resembles a barn. But you forgive the lack of cutesy wainscoting when sipping a gin and tonic on the 10,700-foot-high veranda, watching meadows brimming with wildflowers, and basking in the glory of the West Elk, Raggeds, and Maroon Bells-Snowmass high-alpine wilderness areas. Guests at this weathered, unpretentious lodge spend most of the day outdoors, exploring 13,058-foot Mount Owen and slightly shorter mates Ruby Peak, Purple Peak, and Afley Peak (shaped like a Hershey's Kiss). At day's end, they return for fine dining and the evening show: sunset and mountains alight with alpenglow.
AT THE LODGE Built in 1977 and refurbished in 1997, Irwin sports a massive fieldstone fireplace surrounded by 8,000 square feet of common area (couches, board games, pool tables, books, and two hot tubs). Kitschy paintings of rams and bears adorn the walls, as do antique skis and snowshoes. Old West memorabilia are scattered throughout, helping distinguish the eminently casual lodge from a high-altitude frat house. (The 22 guest rooms, however, part ways with the Old West, offering up their own themes: Sunflower, Birch, Snowflake, and African, to name a few.) Irwin wisely pours its upscale energies into the kitchen, whose dinner specialties include elk medallions in shiitake-mushroom sauce.

THE SPORTS Mountain biking is spectacular here, for Irwin sits just 12 unpaved miles from Crested Butte and its world-famous trails. But you don't need to go that far: The Dyke Trail starts right out Irwin's front door, with 16 glorious miles of serpentine turns. Anglers fish for trout in Lake Irwin, just a few hundred yards below the lodge. Horseback riders hoof up to clear, glacier-fed Green Lake on lodge-supplied mounts. Hikers either stroll among the columbines and Indian paintbrushes or bag an alpine peak via the dramatic granitic rock of nearby Scarp Ridge.
BACKCOUNTRY FORAY With trails spidering off in every direction, Irwin can launch any number of backpacking trips, including the historic three-day favorite: hiking through the Maroon Bells to Aspen. Less trodden is a multiday trail through the West Elk Wilderness to the Castles of Breccia—startling pinnacles of volcanic fragments about 26 miles from the lodge. Follow the Dyke Trail to Trail 840 over Beckwith Pass, and then take Trail 438 southeast over Swampy Pass to Trail 450. From the Castles, either return the same way to Irwin or do a clockwise loop around the heart of the Elk Mountains, via Storm Pass.

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