Day hikes near Lake City, Colorado

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
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Day hikes near Lake City, Colorado
Question: Do you know of any good day hikes, places to camp, and other activities in the Lake City, Colorado, area?

Dan Cosper
Albuquerque, NM
[email protected]

Adventure Adviser: If your trip to Lake City involves more than just quick in-and-out peak-bagging, base yourself at the Forest Service's first-come, first-served 21-site Slumgullion Pass Campground, about nine miles south of town on Colorado 149. From there, take a stab at Uncompahgre or Handies peaks, two of the area's many fourteeners. Both are doable in a day--albeit a long one. Or scout for brown trout on nearby Lake San Cristobal, the state's second-largest natural lake. The frequently stocked Lake Fork of the Gunnison River, just below Lake San Cristobal, is a good spot for dry-fly fishing.

Rule number one if you've got fourteeners on your mind: Get an early--and I mean early--start to avoid afternoon thunderstorms. Rule number two: Bring plenty of energy food. While the distances can be deceptively short, the elevation gain--4,300 feet for Uncompahgre--can be a nightmare.

Pick up the trail to 14,309-foot Uncompahgre just northwest of Capitol City, about nine miles west of Lake City via Hensen Creek Road. In Capitol City, take a side road northwest for about two miles up the North Fork of Hensen Creek to Matterhorn Creek. Turn right here and drive about a mile up to the vehicle barrier, where you'll park. Follow this road on foot, which soon turns to trail and brings you above tree line to a saddle between Matterhorn and Uncompahgre peaks. Follow the right-hand Uncompahgre Trail to the southeast for about a mile and a half beyond the saddle, where it joins a northbound trail before ascending the southeast ridge. Total round-trip distance is 16 miles, but for the most part the climb is long, gradual, and not too strenuous.

For a shorter hike, try 14,048-foot Handies Peak; an easy three-mile round-trip trek will get you to the summit and back in under five hours. From Lake City, head south past the lake to the "Shelf Road," a steep, narrow route toward Cinnamon Pass. Just as you're about to make the first switchback, take a left on the American Basin turn-off and drive as far as you can up this road. After lacing your boots, take a minute to catch your breath, since the climb begins immediately, moving southeast along a side stream to a marshy area. From there, the route heads northeast and begins its full-court press on the mountain. Most of the ascent from here on is on open, rocky, trail-less tundra. Nonetheless, it's won't be hard to pick your way to the top.

For more details on Lake City-area hikes, call the Creede Ranger District office at 719-658-2556. For the scoop on fishing, the folks at The Sportsman (970-944-2526) are your best bet.

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