Stem cells are responsible for maintaining differentiated cell numbers during normal physiology and at times of tissue stress. They have the unique capabilities of proliferation, self-renewal, clonogenicity and multi-potentiality. It is a widely held belief that stem-like cells, known as cancer stem cells (CSCs), maintain tumours. The majority of currently identified intestinal stem cell populations appear to be rapidly cycling. However, quiescent stem cell populations have been suggested to exist in both normal intestinal crypts and tumours. Quiescent CSCs may have particular significance in the modern management of colorectal cancer making their identification and characterisation a priority. In this review, we discuss the current evidence surrounding the identification and microenvironmental control of stem cell populations in intestinal crypts and tumours as well as exploring the evidence supporting the existence of a quiescent stem and CSC population in the gut and other tissues.