Lake City - Colorado

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Lake City

Lake City is another of those amazing Colorado places which first sprang up during the gold and silver rushes of the late 1800s, and then metamorphosed into quaint, historic tourist towns. What makes Lake City different from the rest is its remote location in a canyon on the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River, surrounded by the highest peaks of the San Juan Range with a large lake just down the road.

Until the gold rush of 1874, the Ute had fiercely protected this area for themselves. But not all of the ferocity is credited to the native Indians. In the winter just before gold was found, a man named Alferd Packer guided a group of white prospectors over the mountains from Delta. They had set out with only enough provisions to last the party ten days. Packer appeared six weeks later, some 76 miles north of the Lake City area -- alone but with several wallets containing money which he used to go on a binge. Late that summer, five partially decomposed bodies were found a few miles south of Lake City, beside Lake San Cristobal. Four of the men had been murdered with an axe, and the fifth had been shot to death.

By this time, Packer had disappeared. He was found nine years later in Wyoming and was tried in the Lake City Court House. After two trials (the first was declared unconstitutional) Packer was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 45 years in the Canon City penitentiary. However, the governor pardoned Packer who was released after serving only five years. He died in 1907 and is buried in Littleton. A historic marker stands at the massacre site, and every September the citizens of Lake City hold their "Alferd Packer Jeep Tour & Barbecue".

Lake San Cristobal is the second largest natural lake in Colorado and was formed more than 800 years ago when the valley was blocked by the Slumgullion Earthflow. The lake has a marvelous setting, with high peaks all around. Rainbow and brown trout and mackinaw are found in the lake. To get to the lake and recreation sites, drive two miles south from town on Hwy. 149 and turn onto County Road 30.

Backroad fans have one of the best drives in the Rockies starting from Lake City. The Engineer Pass/Cinnamon Pass Loop is a National (BLM) Scenic Byway. The 49 mile loop connects this area with Ouray, with an additional spur to Silverton. To get started (and normal cars can do the first part of the drive), depart from the south end of Lake City -- a sign points to the byway -- and head for Engineer Pass. The road reaches the ghost town of Capitol City after nine miles. Cars can drive for another 4.5 miles, to Rose's Cabin. From then on, it's four-wheel-drive all the way to Ouray. The road leads above the tree line to Engineer Pass (el. 13,100 feet), and then descends to Ouray.

Where to Stay -- Hotel Guide

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Crystal Lodge, (970) 944-2201
Two miles south of Lake City, the lodge has 14 rooms and a few cabins just above the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River. It has a fine restaurant and a wonderful ambiance.

Woodlake Campground, (970) 944-2283
On a riverbank, this campground is 2.5 miles south of the town on Highway 149. There are RV hookups and tent sites.

For details on nearby towns and attractions,
Go to
Durango, Silverton, Ouray, Creede

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