Nestled amidst the breathtaking San Juan Mountains, Lake City, Colorado, is an idyllic destination that effortlessly blends the allure of history with the call of the wild. This enchanting high-altitude town is a testament to the enduring spirit of the American West, boasting a well-preserved historic district that harks back to its roots in the 19th-century silver mining boom. But history is just the beginning of what Lake City has to offer. Beyond its rich past, the town serves as a gateway to a host of recreational activities, thanks to its scenic setting and changing seasons. If you are looking for the best things to do in Lake City, look no further!
In this article, we’ll explore the multifaceted charm of Lake City. From a glimpse into its captivating history to an array of fun-filled activities across different seasons, get ready to discover why this mountainous retreat should be on every traveler’s bucket list. We’ll also guide you through the best places to stay, be it a cozy lodge or a nature-kissed campground. Let’s start with 19 of the best things to do in Lake City, Colorado in each season.
Table of Contents
The History of Lake City, Colorado
Lake City, Colorado, is a historic town rich with tales of silver and gold discovery, boomtown life, and pioneering spirit. The Ute Native Americans originally inhabited the region until the 1870s when the Brunot Agreement led to their displacement. Following the discovery of rich silver and gold deposits, Lake City was founded in 1874 during the Colorado Silver Boom and became the center of a mining district, with over 500 buildings constructed within just a few months.
The area experienced rapid population growth, peaking at about 5,000 in the late 19th century. While the mining boom eventually declined, several of the 19th-century structures have been well preserved, providing the town with a distinct historic character. Today, Lake City is designated as a National Historic District, providing visitors a glimpse into the region’s fascinating past. It is now a recreation haven, with many visiting the nearby Alpine Loop 4WD road.
Where is Lake City, Colorado?
Lake City is located about 45 minutes south of Blue Mesa Reservoir, 60 minutes from Gunnison, and 2 hours from Montrose. It is the only incorporated municipality in Hinsdale County, Colorado, United States. As of 2020, the permanent population was 432. During summer, the population swells to nearly 1,000 to serve the tourists and second home owners who flock to the town.
Getting Around Lake City (Area Map)
Lake City is a small mountain town and easy to get around by walking, biking, or driving. If you are driving ORVs, you can drive them on Lake City streets so long as you follow normal driving regulations (drivers have a license, follow the speed limit, wear belts, etc.)
Here is a map with some of the best things to do in Lake City.
19 Fun Things to Do in Lake City, Colorado
Lake City is busiest during the peak season from late spring through early fall, but it’s worth visiting all year round! The quiet winter season offers a stark departure from busy summer days in town. Here are some fun things to do in Lake City, Colorado and the surrounding San Juan Mountains for the entire family.
Spring Activities in Lake City
During the spring season, Lake City comes alive as its deep winter snow melts. Spring comes to higher elevations late in the year – expect plenty of snow on the ground in May and early June still, especially above 10,000 feet.
1. Hike or Drive the Alpine Loop: As the snow begins to melt, hiking trails open up. The Alpine Loop Scenic Byway offers spectacular views of the San Juan Mountains.
2. Bird Watching: With a variety of bird species returning in the spring, Lake City is an ideal spot for bird watching.
3. Visiting the Lake City Museum: Learn about Lake City’s rich history as a silver mining town in the 1800s at the Hinsdale County Museum.
4. Horseback Riding: Experience the scenic beauty of Lake City on horseback. There are several outfitters who offer guided rides.
5. Whitewater Rafting: The Lake Fork of the Gunnison River offers thrilling whitewater rafting opportunities as the spring thaw increases water flows.
Summer Activities in Lake City
The Lake City summer season is short but spectacular. Blue skies, green evergreen trees, red rocky peaks, and white puffy clouds provide colorful panorama views across the San Juans. Bring your sunscreen and be ready for afternoon thunderstorms!
6. Fishing: Lake City offers excellent fishing spots, with Lake San Cristobal and the Gunnison River teeming with trout during the summer months.
7. Attending the Lake City Uncorked Wine & Music Festival: Held every September, this festival is a must-visit for music and wine lovers.
8. Boating on Lake San Cristobal: Rent a boat or kayak and spend a day on Colorado’s second-largest natural lake.
9. Climbing a 14er: The surrounding San Juan Mountains are home to five 14ers within a 45-minute drive of Lake City. Redcloud Peak, Sunshine Peak, and Handies Peak are great options for beginners, while Wetterhorn Peak and Uncompahgre Peak are good options for experience peak baggers.
10. Mountain Biking: With a vast network of trails, Lake City is a paradise for mountain biking enthusiasts.
Fall Activities in Lake City
As the temperatures start dropping again in early autumn, the aspen tree leaves start to turn vivid shades of red, yellow, and orange. This is a great time for hiking to check out the colors. It is also hunting season around Lake City for elk, deer, turkey, and many other animals.
11. Leaf Peeping: With Aspen trees turning golden in fall, Lake City offers stunning foliage views.
12. Hunting: Lake City is a gateway to some of Colorado’s prime hunting grounds, with opportunities for hunting elk, deer, and moose in the fall.
13. Photography: The stunning fall colors and unique wildlife provide ample photo opportunities.
14. Visit the Slumgullion Earthflow: This geological marvel is especially beautiful during the fall.
15. Tour the Historic District: Stroll through the historic district with beautifully preserved Victorian buildings.
Winter Activities in Lake City
The Rocky Mountain winter buries Lake City and the surrounding mountains with a thick blanket of snow and ice. This is no reason to stay inside, as the area is home to world-class backcountry skiing, ice climbing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling opportunities. Here are some things to do in Lake City during the winter.
16. Ice Fishing on Lake San Cristobal: When the lake freezes over, it becomes a hotspot for ice fishing.
17. Snowmobiling: Lake City offers excellent snowmobiling trails across the stunning winter landscape.
18. Cross-Country Skiing: With miles of groomed trails, Lake City is perfect for cross-country skiing.
19. Snowshoeing: Another way to explore the snow-covered wilderness, snowshoeing is a popular winter activity in Lake City.
Lake City, Colorado Climate and Weather
Nestled in the heart of the San Juan Mountains, Lake City, Colorado experiences a unique climate heavily influenced by its high-altitude setting. Its location at more than 8,600 feet above sea level means cooler temperatures and more precipitation compared to lower-lying areas. Winters here are typically cold and snowy, providing a stunning white landscape ideal for snow sports and cozy indoor activities. Summers, while relatively warmer, are still comfortably cool with daytime highs rarely exceeding the mid-70s Fahrenheit, making it perfect for outdoor exploration.
Where To Stay in Lake City
Lake City is a small mountain town with only a few motels and bed and breakfasts to stay at. Here are four of my favorite places that I personally recommend for your next visit.
Best Lake City Lodging
- The North Face Lodge: This comfortable lodge is situated in the heart of Lake City and offers a range of cozy, well-equipped rooms. Some of the amenities include free WiFi, flat-screen TVs, and a daily continental breakfast. Its central location makes it an excellent base for exploring the town and surrounding natural attractions. Book Now.
- Inn at the Lake: A charming option, this Lake City Inn is a family-owned motel offering comfortable rooms with the convenience of kitchenettes. The inn is located in a quiet part of town, yet still within walking distance to restaurants and shops. Book Now.
- G&M Cabins: For a more rustic experience, consider these cabins located right in downtown Lake City. Each cabin comes with a fully equipped kitchen, and there’s a picnic area with BBQ grills available for guests. Book Now.
- The Matterhorn Motel: A Victorian-style motel nestled among beautiful mountain views, the Matterhorn Inn offers cozy, individually decorated rooms and a hearty continental breakfast. It’s also located close to hiking and fishing spots. Book Now.
- Alpine Moose Lodge: This charming lodge offers rooms with mountain-themed decor and includes a restaurant and bar onsite. The Alpine Moose Lodge is located near the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River, making it a great location for those who enjoy outdoor activities. Book Now.
Best Lake City Camping
- Wupperman Campground: Located on the eastern shore of Lake San Cristobal, Wupperman Campground offers a scenic camping experience with a stunning view of the lake and surrounding mountains. It’s a county-run campground with sites available on a first-come, first-served basis. Read more.
- Henson Creek RV Park: Situated along the picturesque Henson Creek, this RV park is just a short walk from downtown Lake City. It offers full hookups and has a peaceful, quiet atmosphere. Read more.
- Williams Creek Campground: About 15 miles outside of Lake City, you’ll find this national forest campground located on the banks of Williams Creek Reservoir. It’s a perfect location for fishing, hiking, and enjoying the natural beauty of the area. Read more.
- Elkhorn RV Resort: Ideal for RV campers, this resort offers full-service sites within easy walking distance of Lake City’s historical downtown. Amenities include free WiFi, laundry, and a common area with a fire pit and BBQ grills. Read more.
Plan Ahead and Stay Safe on Your Visit
While Lake City, Colorado, offers a spectacular array of experiences to adventure-seekers and nature lovers alike, it’s essential to remember that the high-altitude terrain and ever-changing weather conditions can pose unique challenges. Here are some safety tips to consider:
- Understand Your Limits: Be realistic about your physical fitness level and plan activities accordingly. If you’re not used to high-altitude environments, take time to acclimatize and avoid strenuous activity during the first few days.
- Stay Hydrated and Nourished: High altitudes can lead to quicker dehydration. Drink plenty of water, eat regularly, and carry energy-boosting snacks on hikes or other physical activities.
- Dress in Layers: Given the fluctuating weather conditions, dressing in layers is recommended. Also, remember to carry rain gear, sunscreen, and sunglasses to protect against UV rays which can be intense at high altitudes.
- Watch the Weather: Weather in the mountains can change rapidly, and thunderstorms are common in the afternoon during summer months. Keep an eye on the forecast and plan your activities accordingly.
- Stay Aware of Wildlife: Lake City is home to diverse wildlife, including bears, moose, and mountain lions. Maintain a safe distance and store food properly to avoid attracting them.
- Know Emergency Procedures: In case of an emergency, know the local authorities to contact. The local sheriff’s office can assist with search and rescue operations if necessary.
- Respect the Environment: Stay on marked trails to prevent damage to the flora, and respect posted signs and closures to protect the fauna and their habitats.
Do You Know How to Leave No Trace?
While enjoying the beauty and serenity of Lake City and the surrounding San Juan Mountains, it’s crucial to follow the Leave No Trace principles. These guidelines help ensure the conservation of our natural spaces for future generations.
- Plan Ahead and Prepare: Understand the regulations and special concerns for the area you plan to visit. Be prepared for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies.
- Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces: Stick to established trails and campsites to minimize impact on the environment.
- Dispose of Waste Properly: Pack out all trash, leftover food, and litter. Follow proper human waste disposal methods if no facilities are available.
- Leave What You Find: Allow others to enjoy the beauty of nature by not picking plants, moving rocks, or disturbing historical or cultural artifacts.
- Minimize Campfire Impact: Use established fire rings, keep fires small, and burn only small sticks from the ground. Always put out your fire completely and scatter the cool ashes.
- Respect Wildlife: Observe wildlife from a distance, never feed animals, and store your food securely to avoid attracting them to your campsite.
- Be Considerate of Other Visitors: Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience. Keep noise levels low and yield to other users on the trail.
Things to Do in Lake City, Colorado: Now You Know
Lake City, Colorado, is an enchanting destination that has successfully preserved its rich historical charm while blossoming into a recreational haven for outdoor lovers. This hidden gem of a town, tucked away in the San Juan Mountains, is more than just a monument to the region’s mining past. It offers an incredible array of activities across all seasons, from serene bird-watching and exhilarating whitewater rafting in the spring to leaf-peeping in the colorful landscapes of fall, not forgetting the invigorating winter sports when the snow falls.
Lake City, Colorado FAQs
A: Lake City is primarily known for its rich history and stunning natural beauty. The town, born during the Colorado Silver Boom, boasts a well-preserved historic district, reflecting its roots in the 19th-century silver mining industry. In addition, Lake City’s prime location amidst the San Juan Mountains and close proximity to the second largest natural lake in Colorado, Lake San Cristobal, makes it a haven for outdoor recreational activities, from hiking and fishing to snowshoeing and ice fishing.
A: Yes, Lake City is near Lake San Cristobal, Colorado’s second-largest natural lake, located about two miles south of town. The lake is a favorite spot for fishing, boating, and scenic views.
A: Lake City was founded in 1874 during the Colorado Silver Boom following the discovery of significant silver and gold deposits. The town saw rapid growth, becoming the center of a mining district with over 500 buildings constructed within just a few months. Although the mining boom eventually declined, many 19th-century structures have been preserved, lending Lake City a distinct historic character. Today, the town is a designated National Historic District.
A: The closest major airport to Lake City is Gunnison-Crested Butte Regional Airport (GUC), which is approximately 55 miles away. Montrose Regional Airport (MTJ), located about 92 miles from Lake City, also serves the area. However, please note that due to Lake City’s remote mountain location, a drive from either airport involves traversing high mountain passes which can be challenging, especially in winter months.
A: Lake City is located in the San Juan Mountains, a sub-range of the Rocky Mountains in southwestern Colorado. The San Juans are known for their stunning beauty, wilderness areas, and recreational opportunities.