Colorado has always embraced its history, even the more unsavory episodes. So this high mesa above Lake City is named for the most famous person to come this way: Alferd Packer, who during a perilous winter crossing in 1874 murdered and ate four of his companions in the vicinity. History aside, the views of the heart of the San Juan Mountains are worth it, rising like an impenetrable fortress above Lake San Cristobal. The trail itself is multi-use, so you may encounter ATVs as well as hikers. It winds for 5.1 miles to a dead-end, with plenty of opportunities for side trips. The plateau itself is mostly above timberline. Be sure to bring plenty of food because, well, you know. This place has a history.
After less than a mile there is a “no motor vehicles” sign where the old trail plunges steeply up the hillside. It was tempting to try this. After all, here was a shortcut only hikers could take. Thirty leg-burning minutes later I wished I hadn’t, because it really is incredibly steep until it meets the main trail again. Hike this at your peril.
- You don’t have to hike all the 5.1 miles to find great views. After 2 miles a trail veers off to the left, with a “no motor vehicles” sign. Try following this along the edge of a massive cliff to as high as you want on the mesa and enjoy the views.
- Forest Road 788 has plenty of campgrounds not far from this trailhead. Anglers will enjoy the Deer Lakes Campground, the most popular. For more solitude try the free Hidden Valley (tents only) or Spruce campgrounds. The Slumgullion Campground nearest the highway was closed as of 2016 because of dangerous trees in the area.
- On your drive back through Lake City (if that’s the way you’re headed) look for a historical marker about the Packer massacre on the right at the bottom of Slumgullion Pass.
Recommended season(s): Summer – early fall.
—R. Scott Rappold