Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

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Gunnison National Forest

With more than 1.7 million acres, over 20 13,000-foot-plus mountains (including two14ers) and a hefty bounty of recreational opportunities, the Gunnison National Forest is Crested Butte’s outdoor playground.

  • Gunnison National Forest National covers over 1.7 million acres all around Crested Butte. 
  • The National Forest provides a surfeit of recreational opportunities, everything from hiking to biking to ATVing to boating and more. 
  • Scenic drives up Kebler and Cottonwood Pass and along the Alpine Loop Byway are a popular way to tour parts of Gunnison National Forest. 
  • Contact the Gunnison National Forest at 970-874-6600.


The Gunnison National Forest is located throughout the Gunnison-Created Butte area of Colorado. Filled with lush green forests, high mountain peaks and wide mountain valleys, the Gunnison National Forest is a vast playground for those who enjoy all types of outdoor recreational activities. Scenic drives, hiking, camping, boating and fishing on Taylor Reservoir and more – the Gunnison National Forest has everything.

Scenic Drives

Any number of scenic drives can be found in the Gunnison National Forest, combining highways, back roads and Forest Roads into loops that climb over mountain passes; burst above tree-line to uninterrupted views of the surrounding mountains; wind through forests bright with fall colors; and pass near mountain lakes, crystal-clear creeks and running rivers.

Kebler Pass (which climbs along an old railroad grade through aspen groves and meadows on its way to Paonia) and Cottonwood Pass (a 12,126-foot pass that crosses the Continental Divide between Buena Vista and Altmont) are both beautiful drives in the summer and fall.

But if you’re looking for the classic scenic drive in the Gunnison National Forest, the Alpine Loop Scenic Byway will really rev your engine. This rugged road, which passes through majestic and brilliantly colored high mountain scenery, provides access to ghost towns, stunning mountain meadows filled with wildflower, beautiful fall colors, several of Colorado’s 14ers and the heart of the San Juan Mountains. The Alpine Loop runs between Lake City, Silverton and Ouray.

Hiking and Backpacking

It’s hard to express the amount of hiking and backpacking that Gunnison National Forest has, everything from short, easy trails like Snodgrass Mountain (1 mile along a dirt road, just outside of Mount Crested Butte) to long, strenuous hikes (climb to the top of 12,625-foot tall Gothic Mountain, just north of Crested Butte), not to mention 130 miles of the Continental Divide Scenic Trail. For a good day hike (five or six hours), try the High Basin hike, just outside of Pieplant. The trail climbs 1,700 feet over five miles, passing a historic mill and mine while following a creek until it climbs up and above tree-line before obtaining the alpine basin on the west shoulder of Jenkins Mountain, where you’ll find panoramic views of the Sawatch Mountains. Ambitious hikers can continue on to the summit on Jenkins (13,432 feet).

If overnight backpacking trips are what you’re looking for, consider Twin Lakes (a moderate hike up to a grassy alpine basin northeast of Crested Butte Mountain) or taking Conundrum Pass from the small town of Gothic past Copper Lake and down to Conundrum Hot Springs, where campers can enjoy a nice soak before curling up in their sleeping bags.


The Gunnison National Forest has numerous campgrounds, both developed and undeveloped, that accommodate campers, tents and small trailers not exceeding 18 feet in length. Campgrounds fees vary between sites; stop into one of the local Forest Service Offices or check with a local outfitter or gear shop for more advice.

Taylor Park Reservoir

Taylor Park, about an hour-and-a-half from Crested Butte, is a popular get-away retreat for anyone looking for a beautiful place to fish (Taylor Reservoir has excellent fishing for big trout and pike, and nearby creeks, Taylor River and Mirror Lake all have great fishing of their own), boat, camp and hike. In addition to camping, cabins and an RV park provide lodging options.

Native American Ruins

It’s not unusual or unheard of for recreationalists in Gunnison National Forest to come across Anasazi ruins or artifacts, some of them previously undiscovered. If you are lucky enough to discover ruins or artifacts during your travels, please leave them as you find them and alert the local Forest Service office.

Other Activities

In addition to the activities detailed above, Gunnison National Forest has opportunities for road and mountain biking, horseback riding, backcountry skiing, rock climbing, kayaking, ATVing, dirt biking and more. Check with local outfitters or the local National Forest Office for more information.

Location and Contact Info

The Gunnison National Forest surrounds Crested Butte in every direction and borders White River, Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, San Isabel and Rio Grande National Forests. It contains all or parts of the Collegiate Peaks, Fossil Ridge, La Garita, West Elk and Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Areas.

For more information, call 970-874-6600, email or visit the Gunnison National Forest Office at 216 N Colorado Street in Gunnison.