For much of the year, there’s only one way to get in and out of Crested Butte, Colorado: Highway 135, which connects the town to Gunnison. But for a few months out of the year, when the snow has melted, you can take the “other” road into town — a easy-to-drive dirt road known as County Road 12, across Kebler Pass.
Okay, the truth is, there’s a third road, over Schofield Pass, and my original plan was to take it from Highway 133 into Crested Butte. It was still closed by snow (not to mention, it’s also a difficult 4×4 road — something I didn’t know at the time), so I ended up on CR 12 instead.
CR 12 splits off from CO 133 at Paonia State Park and the Paonia Reservoir. For the first seven miles…
… the road travels through a narrow valley alongside Anthracite Creek. You can get a good look at the creek at the Erickson Springs picnic area, which is located where CR12 crosses the creek and begins its climb into the mountains.
Then, for the next 25 miles, beautiful views of the mountains appear, one after another.
I’m fairly certain Mount Gunnison is amongst these peaks. For the first few miles after leaving the creek, the road travels southwest, which points you towards these 11- and 12-thousand foot peaks.
After passing by a meadow…
… the road turns southeast, as it skirts the foot of Marcellina Mountain. At 11,348 feet (3,459 meters), Marcellina falls thousands of feet short of Colorado’s highest mountains, but it’s still an impressive chunk of rock, especially since you’re so close to it.
CR 12 passes through some impressive stands of aspen trees, which would be beautiful in the fall. I’ve seen this area identified as the second largest aspen grove in the world. Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know, but it certainly seems possible.
As you get near the pass, CR 12 passes alongside some marshlands, which were just starting to come back to life in early June. I’m sure this area would have been filled with wildflowers just a few weeks later.
After this pond…
… and this view of the mountains, it’s only a couple more miles to Kebler Pass. I didn’t see a sign at the top of the pass, but there is a small parking area there. (Watch for Kebler Pass on the Drivelapse video around 6:20). You’ll know you crossed the pass when you see the turnoff to CR 730, the road that leads over nearby Ohio Pass, then down to Gunnison (bypassing Crested Butte).
For the final few miles into Crested Butte, the road runs alongside Coal Creek, and provides nice views of the town’s namesake 12,168 foot peak.
[tmt_info =””]The West Elk Loop Byway gets its name from the West Elk Wilderness, located between CR 12 and US 50. The West Elk Loop circles around the wilderness, which covers 176,412 acres (making it the fifth largest wilderness area in Colorado).[/tmt_info]
Here’s a time-lapse dash-cam video of the drive across CR 12 from Hwy. 133 to Crested Butte: