A Peak Experience
Encompassing more than 1,000 square miles of untamed beauty, “ah factors” are a constant in this northeastern corner of Colorado’s mystical San Juan Mountains. From climbers, fishermen, hunters, 4-wheel enthusiasts, and hikers to bikers, horseback riders, birdwatchers, and Old West history buffs, magical moments are spun into heirloom memories passed on and recreated generation after generation.
If you’re looking for scenic beauty and absolutely no crowds in south-central Colorado, Lake City is your spot. Not only is it the only town in the entirety of Hinsdale County, but it’s literally surrounded by mountains. Ninety-six percent of the county is public lands, making Lake City the most remote mountain community on this list. But, it’s certainly not lacking in charm.
There are zero stoplights, commercial chain stores or even elevators in Lake City (none of the buildings has more than two stories). And the surrounding hillsides — and 13,000- and 14,000-foot peaks — are rife with places to camp, bike, hunt and hike.
Whether your passion is making a long-distance cast with a spinner in a mountain lake, teaching a child to catch his or her first trout with a worm and bobber, or sneaking up on rising fish with a fly rod, Lake City’s waters hold something special for you and your family.
Before you head out to the water, be sure to pick up a Colorado fishing license and a free copy of current regulations available at several locations in Lake City. All waters have daily bag limits, and some waters are restricted to the type of tackle used, slot limits, etc. Local tackle dealers are more than happy to help explain the regulations and to offer tips on where to fish and what to use.
One of the benefits of being in the most remote county in the lower 48 with 96 percent public lands is that it takes only a few miles by foot or hoof and minutes by bicycle to leave civilization behind. Hinsdale County offers seemingly endless miles of trails, 19 public campgrounds, five fourteeners, and over 20 thirteeners. Hikers and backpackers have a vast amount of options in three National Forests, one Bureau of Land Management district, four national wilderness areas, and two wilderness study areas, all of which have several access points within miles of Lake City. Hinsdale County does not limit itself to just hikers. There are trails open to horses and mountain bikes in addition to hikers.
Because of its remote location, Lake City is well suited for great stargazing opportunities. On a clear night, one can marvel at the moon, planets, constellations, and other spectacular phenomena of our universe. Certainly, a good set of binoculars or telescope will enhance your “up close” viewing.
An initiative is underway to have a sixty-acre parcel near Lake City designated as a Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Association. In the meantime, several areas in the area provide ideal stargazing opportunities such as Windy Point Overlook and several public campgrounds.
While the Slumgullion Discovery Center is a future project, the Lake Fork Valley Conservancy, owners of the sixty-acre parcel, are working on stargazing programs for the public in the near future.
Mountain biking near Lake City is supported by local bike rentals, along with the local availability of bike accessories, service, sales, and trails advice.
The area offers a tremendous range of mountain biking experiences. The choices include easy-going, in-town trails the whole family can enjoy, peaceful intermediate trails and jeep roads with delightful scenery, very challenging remote single track and jeep trails, and even epic rides like the Alpine Loop and circuits along high ridges of the Continental Divide.
Even at the height of the summer season, one can bike for hours within a few miles of town yet never cross paths with other bikers, hikers, or off-highway vehicles. But don’t be surprised to spot a herd of elk or catch a fleeting glimpse of a bobcat or bear.