As I mentioned in one of my previous messages, Robinson Basin is one of my favorite places to photograph wildflowers in the Crested Butte area. You probably won’t be able to drive all the way into the basin unless you have a high-clearance 4wd vehicle; however, you can drive a 2wd vehicle as far as possible, and then park and hike the rest of the way in. It isn’t too far of a hike to get to the cascades and columbine. Robinson Basin is just past Lake Irwin Campground, on Forest Road 826.
To get there, take County Road 12 (Kebler Pass Road) west out of Crested Butte. (The west end of WhiteRock Avenue becomes County Road 12 as you leave Crested Butte). Take County Road 12 about 6 miles west of Crested Butte, then turn right on County Road 826 (Lake Irwin Road) toward Lake Irwin. Drive past the lake and campground (on your right) and continue uphill. There are a few “squatters” cabins along a series of switchbacks in the road. You may get nervous when you see these shacks and be hesitant to go any further. Don’t worry, we’ve never had any problems here, and aren’t aware of anyone else that has either. You probably won’t be able to drive past the switchbacks without a high-clearance vehicle. There is also a chance that the road will still be impassable due to snow until about mid-July. Just park where it is convenient and continue hiking up the road. You will see cascades and columbine on the left of the road within a mile. This is one of the best areas near Crested Butte to photograph columbine. You can continue hiking up the road all the way to where it ends by a small mountain lake. This area will give you a beautiful view back down the valley, hopefully with wildflowers in the foreground.
Our second favorite area to photograph wildflowers in the Crested Butte area is along Gothic Road. (Hwy 135 turns into 6th street as you enter Crested Butte from the south, and then changes to Gothic Road as you leave the city to the north.) Take Gothic Road up through the Mt Crested Butte ski area and towards the town of Gothic. Depending on time of year and weather, you should be able to see and photograph columbine (early), lupine (a little later) or fireweed (later) along Gothic Road. This area is most spectacular if you hit the peak of the lupine bloom. There are some nice fields of lupine just prior to the town of Gothic.
Another of our favorite areas to photograph is Waterfall Creek, which is accessed via Cement Creek Road south of Crested Butte. Cement Creek Road is about 7 miles southeast of Crested Butte on Hwy 135. You can drive as far along Cement Creek Road as you are comfortable in search of wildflowers. The road is in fairly good condition for the first 8 or 9 miles, and then deteriorates. We’ve found nice patches of lupine along this road in the past. The real attraction for us though is Waterfall Creek. I didn’t note the mileage when we were there, but think that waterfall creek is about five miles in on Cement Creek Road. You will pass over a small bridge, with a cascade coming down from your left, and Cement Creek on your right. This small cascade is Waterfall Creek. Park your car in the small pullout area along Cement Creek Road, and then hike up alongside Waterfall Creek. You will find an almost endless series of cascades, which get better the further you go up the creek. There are a few faint trails along the creek, but for the most part you will be “bushwhacking” in this area so be sure to wear decent hiking boots.
I highly recommend that you purchase a couple of Trails Illustrated maps of the area prior to leaving on your trip. The two maps that you will need are this one: http://www.trailexplorers.com/mm5/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=TEO&Product_Code=NGCS131&Category_Code=NGCOS
[corrected link] that covers the Crested Butte and Gothic area (and Cement Creek as well) and this one: http://www.trailexplorers.com/mm5/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=TEO&Product_Code=NGCS133
that covers the Kebler Pass and Paonia Reservoir area (and Robinson Basin). (NOTE: I haven’t bought from trailexplorers.com before, this is just the first online store that popped up when I searched for these two maps.) You can also purchase these maps from Rand McNally’s online store and many other online outlets for a dollar more per map. (The map number codes are Colorado 133 and Colorado 131.)
Rustler’s Gulch is also a nice hike off of Gothic Road (north of Gothic), as long as you don’t mind getting your feet wet. There are several creek crossings, so make sure to wear waterproof boots or carry an extra pair of socks or two.
There are several other areas worth visiting, but I’m afraid you might not be able to access them that early in the year. (The east fork of West Maroon Pass trail for example, but I’m fairly certain the road to the trailhead will still be blocked by snow that early in the year.)
Hopefully this gives you some useful information to start planning your trip. Please let me know if you have any other questions.