Tucked away within the Rio Grande National Forest, this little town located about an hour from Gunnison in Hinsdale County is the perfect place to enjoy all that the region has to offer, including mountain biking, fourteeners, fly fishing, hiking, epic scenic drives, and more. Read on for our recommendations for how to spend the perfect weekend in Lake City.
Day 1 – Hiking Big Mountains
Plan your first day around climbing a fourteener; any trip to this uncrowded area of Colorado is incomplete without it. Lake City is nestled in a particularly high region of Colorado, boasting five unique fourteeners within Hinsdale County alone, so you’ve got options. While all five provide sweeping views and worthwhile adventure, we recommend Handies Peak in order to best take advantage of your short time in the area. From American Basin Trailhead, it is only a 5.5-mile round trip hike, so if you show up early enough, you will have time for another activity in the afternoon.
Wake up early for the climb and pay a visit to local favorite, The High Country Market, a mini grocery store with fresh produce, sandwiches on homemade bread, and more that will supply you with everything you need for a successful day hike. Once you’re stocked up, head south out of town until you hit County Road 30, which is the beginning of the famous “Alpine Loop” Scenic Byway. Follow County Road 30 until you see the sign for American Basin on your left, signaling the end of your drive.
As with any fourteener, safety should be your highest priority. Make sure you have adequate food, water, and clothing, and monitor the skies constantly for impending bad weather. If you’ve never climbed a fourteener before, check out this article for helpful tips on how to get into hiking fourteeners in Colorado.
Once you’ve made it back to the trailhead, head back towards Lake City and stop at Lake San Cristobal, Lake City’s namesake and Colorado’s second largest natural lake. Formed by a massive landslide hundreds of years ago that blocked and dammed up the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River, Lake San Cristobal is one of Colorado’s most exceptional mountain lakes. While there are trails around the lake, if you are too tired from the climb, turn onto County Road 33 to circumnavigate the body of water by car.
Once back in town, refuel from the day’s activities at Packer Saloon and Cannibal Grill. With outdoor seating and massive rectangular pizzas to share, there isn’t a better place in town to relax after a long day.
Day 2 – Angler’s Paradise
Spend your second day in Lake City fly fishing, mountain biking, hiking, or all three if you can manage. Start early at one of Lake City’s popular breakfast spots, including Lake City Café or the San Juan Coffee Company.
If you’re looking to go fly fishing, Lake City and the surrounding area is the place to be. Due to fewer visitors combined with excellent river conditions, fishing in the region can be spectacular. For a slightly longer trip, drive an hour north of town to Big Blue Creek, a gorgeous free stone river. This contributor has seen an angler catch and release sixty trout in a day a couple of miles upstream of the trailhead. For some fishing closer to town, head to the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River, which flows right through town and boasts fewer, but larger fish than Big Blue Creek. Cruise by Dan’s Fly Shop on Gunnison Avenue in Lake City for tips, gear, and a day of guided fishing if it suits you.
For those looking to take advantage of Lake City’s mountain biking opportunities, head to Lake City Bicycles to rent, if you don’t have your own, and to acquire information on the town’s access to trails. With hundreds of miles of combined single track and Jeep roads for mountain bike exploration, riders of all levels will find something that suits them. For the beginner, take the trail at Pete’s Lake Nature Area, a fun and easy trail that leaves directly from the visitor’s center. For the more advanced rider, take the Thompson-Crystal Lakes Loop, a classic 13-mile single-track ride that leaves from the north side of the cemetery in town.
Finally, no trip to the Lake City area would be complete without a visit to Colorado’s most photographed waterfall, North Clear Creek Falls. This massive waterfall gushes from a cliff wall, tumbling over one hundred feet to the canyon below. Pull off at the Observation Site off Highway 149 south of Lake City to enjoy the view and snap a view pictures.