The complete Camping guide

by Kendra Walker and Katherine Nettles

Camping in Crested Butte is a special treat. No matter where you choose to pitch your tent or park your trailer, scenic views are endless, wildflowers are your friendly neighbors, trails are bountiful and Crested Butte’s charming town amenities are never too far away.

While the camping opportunities in Crested Butte offer escape in the great outdoors, its growing popularity has also sparked some much-needed changes to the Crested Butte camping landscape. Starting this summer, several beloved camping areas in the valley will make the change from dispersed to designated camping. So plan ahead, know before you go and prepare for backup plans to ensure a successful camping experience.

Dispersed to designated
The popularity of north valley camping has led the Crested Butte Conservation Corps (CBCC) and Sustainable Tourism & Outdoor Recreation (STOR) Committee to collaborate with the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison (GMUG) National Forest to transition the six major drainages in the north valley to designated camping only, rather than the free-range, dispersed camping formerly available. The idea is a more sustainable backcountry experience for users and reduced resource damage.

New this summer, only designated camping will be allowed in the Slate River and Washington Gulch drainages. Those are all first-come, first-serve campsites and represent the majority of the most popular and often used sites in the north valley.

The CBCC took on the project last fall and completed 43 designated sites in the Slate and 48 in Washington Gulch with signposts, parking spaces and fire rings. Additional road signs guiding people to the designated sites have also been added. The same transition will be made to the Gothic, Kebler, Brush and Cement Creek drainages by the end of the year.
“The goal is for that all to happen this year, even if we put the last fire ring in on October 1 and it snows 2 feet the next day,” says Nick Catmur of the CBCC. “We plan to have designated camping only across all six drainages ready for May 2022.”

STOR contributed to the costs of the camping project with Great Outdoors Colorado grant dollars, and the Gunnison Stewardship Fund, a funding mechanism managed by the National Forest Foundation, has also contributed $150,000 to the project. The USFS partnered with the CBCC to install the infrastructure for the designated sites.

Expect reservations to be full
“The North Valley drainages experience some of the highest use of anywhere on the GMUG,” says GMUG public affairs officer Kimberlee Phillips. “The stunning beauty and world-class recreation amongst the mountains and valleys that drain into the East, Taylor and eventually the Gunnison River combined with easy access to the towns of Crested Butte, Mt. Crested Butte and City of Gunnison have us squarely on the map for destination camping and recreation for visitors from all over the country.”

As of this spring, the reservation system for campgrounds within the GMUG and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was 99-percent full, according to Phillips. That represents 1,534 total reservations for 26 campsites beginning July 15 and running for 59 days through Labor Day. Six additional sites are first-come first serve.

Phillips noted that the Lake Irwin campground is the top destination for occupancy and experienced a 300-percent increase in visitation last year. “It’s currently almost completely reserved for the 2021 summer season,” says Phillips.

Plan ahead, have a backup plan
As we all adjust to the new camping rules this year, campers should plan ahead and create backup plans for camping in the north valley without a reservation this summer.
“We expect record numbers of visitors as folks continue to see public land recreation as a safe and renewing activity in the midst of a global pandemic. Campers should not expect to easily locate a site arriving late in the evening or on a weekend in the drainages around Crested Butte,” says Phillips. “To assist campers, the district in partnership with the STOR Committee, TAPP and the chambers in both Gunnison and Crested Butte are advising visitors to have a “Plan B” if they intend to visit and camp in historically high-use areas like Crested Butte or the popular Hartman Rocks area near Gunnison managed by the BLM. This may involve travelling a good distance to find a drainage or area with available dispersed camping opportunities and campers need to be mentally and emotionally prepared for this eventuality, especially if they get a late start.”

The U.S. Forest Service and BLM recommend that camping visitors come prepared with all the essentials, including food, water and emergency supplies. The Chamber of Commerce is providing a recycling station for campers at the Four-way bus stop this year to help folks pack out waste. Wherever you decide to camp this summer, please always follow Leave No Trace principals and leave our beautiful valley the way you found it. For more info on backcountry etiquette, see page TK.

More information on the progress of the designated camping project can be found by visiting https://crestedbuttemountainbike.com and https://gunnisoncrestedbutte.com. Visit recreation.gov for more general camping information and to reserve a campsite.

Dispersed Camping
Brush Creek Road
(with transition to designated by end of year – timeline TBD)

Kebler Pass Road
(with transition to designated by end of year – timeline TBD)

Lake Irwin Road

Cement Creek Road
(with transition to designated by end of year – timeline TBD)

Gothic Road #317
(Not permitted June 15 – August 15)

The same transition will be made to the Gothic, Kebler, Brush and Cement Creek drainages by the end of the year.

Designated Camping
Sites are first come first serve. Camp only in sites that have a post with a campsite number, metal fire ring and parking spot.

Slate River Road
Washington Gulch Road
Hartman Rocks Recreation Area (Gunnison)

Established Campgrounds
Established campgrounds are managed by federal entities or privately owned and offer amenities such as water, toilets, showers, tent pads, picnic tables, RV hookups. These require a nightly fee, and often require reservations in advance.

Lake Irwin
Cement Creek Road
Slate River
Taylor Canyon
Crested Butte RV Resort