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Nestled in a valley in the San Juan Mountains, Lake City used to be a boomtown. In the late 19th century, prospectors seeking their fortunes in a nearby mine poured into the remote outpost, a railroad followed not long after, and a bustling city sprang to life. But the burst of activity was short-lived — when the mines produced disappointing hauls, the prospectors went elsewhere. Their loss has been present-day Lake City’s gain, as the lack of hustle meant the town stood relatively unchanged for years.
Today, its lovingly restored historic district contains more than 200 buildings that look much as they did more than a century ago. Chinked-log pioneer cabins, Queen Anne homes, and wooden storefronts with false-front facades line the streets. Many of the structures — such as a church outfitted with a rare Estey organ — are still used by residents. Lake City’s well-preserved downtown draws its share of admirers, as does the breath-taking landscape that surrounds it, which includes the Gunnison National Forest, Lake San Cristobal (the second largest natural lake in Colorado), and an unusual phenomena called the Slumgullion Earthflow — a slowly moving, four-mile hunk of partially decomposed volcanic rock that creeps about 20 feet a year.
Gunnison-Crested Butte Regional Airport (GUC) is the closest airport to Lake City, about 60 miles north. Denver International Airport (DEN) is nearly 300 miles away, but offers significantly more flight options. Both airports offer car rentals, the best way to see rural, mountainous Lake City and the surrounding area.
Summer is high season in Lake City, with lots of warm weather, and the little city swells with visitors. The streets bustle with craft fairs, live music, historic walking tours, and a Fourth of July celebration. Summer thunderstorms are common, so plan ahead for bursts of wet weather. Lake City’s relatively short autumn is marked by brilliantly colored fall foliage and much lower crowds. Lake City is a low-key alternative to Colorado’s busier ski resorts in winter, offering a hushed landscape for snowshoeing, a local ski hill, and ice fishing. In spring, the forest bursts with life and the streams and waterfalls surge with snowmelt.
You can pick up this 117-mile road in Lake City and follow it for a two-to-four-hour trek through many natural wonders and nearby historical sights. The byway will take you to Lake San Cristobal, through the nearby town of Creede, where you can tour an underground mining museum, and past the mighty Rio Grande River. Elk, moose, and bighorn sheep have been known to make guest appearances along this route.
Installed inside a circa-1877 stone lodge with a pressed-tin ceiling, the Hinsdale County Museum chronicles the history of Lake City and the surrounding area; its holdings include antique medical instruments and vintage firearms. In the summer the museum conducts historic tours, including ghost tours of the local cemeteries.
Technically a mass wasting, and most commonly called the Slumgullion Slide, this particular mass flow is named after a kind of pioneer stew. The yellowish hump of rock is a nexus for outdoor exploration. Here you’ll find the Slumgullion Center, an International Dark Sky Association designated park, where you can gaze into the heavens unobscured by light pollution and enjoy hiking trails and scenic overlooks.