First: How to arrive? Will it be from the north, crossing Blue Mesa Reservoir and following Colorado 149? Or will it be from the south, over Slumgullion Pass?
Either scenic way, one drops into a place that seems a dream.
Sure, it gets busy in Lake City. Some affectionately call it North Texas in the summer, when those travelers return to their second homes and their generational vacation traditions. And, sure, it’s not exactly quiet with all of the off-roading around.
But Lake City is true to its rustic character. The only paved road is that stretch of 149. No stoplight is here. No chain establishments. No building higher than two stories — no obstruction to the panoramic views of the San Juan Mountains.
This is the only town within Hinsdale County, made up of 96% public land. The county claims to be the most remote in the Lower 48 states, making Lake City a one-of-a-kind basecamp for backcountry adventure.
That’s only the start of summertime possibilities.
Chase your curiosity
The town counts more than 200 historic structures. History is everywhere you look in this settlement of cabins. Several homes post written stories by their yards.
Start from the museum, where old trains are on display along with relics from pioneer days. Stop by the courthouse to see the gallery with benches situated as they were in 1883, when the judge ordered a most notorious man to be hanged until he was “dead, dead, dead.” This was Alferd Packer, the storied cannibal. Dare to visit the massacre site in the nearby hills. Other tales are told during cemetery tours.
You might also chart a course to surrounding ghost towns, including Capitol City, Burrows Park and Old Carson off the Alpine Loop.
Swig before showtime
Lake City’s overall charm is defined by the businesses inside its colorful, Victorian buildings.
Perhaps most eye-catching is San Juan Soda Co., a vintage spot to satisfy the sweet tooth with ice cream sodas, malts, shakes and cones. It’s conveniently situated among other cozy shops selling gifts, antiques and artwork.
After a long day in the hills, Lake City Brewing Co. is here to refuel with a cold beer and pub grub. Or you can grab a drink and step back in time at Old West saloons, including one named for Packer.
Also honoring the past is Mountaineer Theatre, with one big screen in a showroom from yesteryear.
Dream day and night
The town’s welcome sign promises “a peak experience.” That’s had on the Alpine Loop, a rugged, high-altitude track exploring mining remains, wildflower meadows, waterfalls and sweeping mountain vistas. Hearty souls head to trailheads for 14,000-foot peaks, while most venture for day trips aboard ATVs and Jeeps.
But one doesn’t have to go far to enjoy the natural spoils. Stay in town and soak up the sun at Lake San Cristobal, Colorado’s second largest natural lake. Or cast a line along the stream running through town.
Sightseers delight in the ancient earth flow along Slumgullion Pass. At the toe of that is Slumgullion Center, an International Dark-Sky Association-designated place for stargazing.