Natural Wonders

Edible Arrangements

Hinsdale County offers the perfect climate and soil for many kinds of edible mushrooms, including boletus, inky caps and scaly urchins.  Mushrooms are usually in their prime in August, although their growth does depend on the year’s rainfall. Some trails that may produce a hearty mushroom population include Cataract Gulch, Williams Creek and Alpine Gulch. Be sure to verify that the mushrooms collected are not poisonous. It is recommended that while picking mushrooms, each find should be wrapped individually in case a poisonous mushroom was collected by mistake. Other edible parts of the scenery include wild raspberries and choke cherries. Wild strawberries can be enjoyed by those lucky enough to spot them.   

Lake San Cristobal

Lake City's namesake was formed hundreds of years ago by a rare natural earthflow called the Slumgullion Slide, which blocked the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River.  Lake San Cristobal is the second-largest natural lake in Colorado.

A variety of trout live in the cold waters of this lake.  You can fish from any of the public access areas of the shore, including those near the lake outlet, and those located on the east side of the lake along County Road 33 at Wupperman Campground.  Or, you can float your boat and fish from the surface.

State catch and possession limits apply and licenses are required.  Fishing licenses are available at the lake and in town from several equipment outfitters.

Boats, including canoes, kayaks, and fishing boats, are available for rent from local businesses.  A public boat ramp, dock and parking area are located part way along the west side of the lake.  Eight slips are available: two for day use and six which can be reserved, for a fee, by calling Hinsdale County at 970-944-2225.

Camping at Wupperman Campground
Located on the east side of Lake San Cristobal, this county-owned public campground features 31 sites with excellent views of the lake.  Various site lengths will accommodate RVs and/or tents.  Water, trash removal, vault toilets, picnic tables, grills and fire grates, dump station.  No electricity.  Cost is $15 per night.  Elevation is 9000 feet.  

From Lake City, travel south on highway 149 for 2 miles and then take a right onto County Road 30.  Travel 1.5 miles to the junction of County Road 33, turn left.  Travel 2 miles (road becomes gravel).  Wupperman Campground is located on the right hand side.  During the summer months, campground hosts can assist you with your questions.  For more information, contact Hinsdale County at 970-944-2225.

Wildlife Viewing at Lake San Cristobal
Water sources typically attract a big variety of wildlife, including migratory birds, beavers and other small mammals, and larger animals such as elk and moose.  At Lake San Cristobal, you are likely to see many animals, especially during the warmer seasons.

Canada geese can usually be seen at the lake outlet near the junction of County Roads 30 and 33.  Migratory birds, including geese and a variety of ducks, can be seen at the marshy, south end of the lake, along with smaller birds, beavers, and more rarely, elk and moose.

Red Mountain Gulch Day Use Area is a good place to park, as is the area by the bridge at the lake inlet a little further up the road.

Red Mountain Gulch Day Use Area
Located at the south end of Lake San Cristobal on County Road 30, the Red Mountain Gulch Day Use Area is a great location for your small picnic or large gathering.

Facilities include several picnic spots, each with a picnic table and grill, plus a pavilion shelter with a large outdoor cooking grill.  Restrooms are available seasonally.  This picturesque area is close to the marshy end of the lake where many birds and other wildlife may be seen.  For more information about this area, call Hinsdale County at 970-944-2225.

Night Skies

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. One of the best astronomy activities in Lake City is absolutely free and requires nothing more than patience, the naked eye, and mostly clear sky conditions. That activity is watching for meteors. Although they last only seconds, meteors are always fun to watch as they streak across the sky. And, there are times a fireball (a very large meteor) may flash above. There will be an abundant variety of astronomical events in 2013. Here are some dates you should mark on your calendar:

Astronomical Event Calendar

Jan 3 - Quadrantids meteor shower

Mar 20 - Vernal equinox – Official start of spring!

Apr 21 - Lyrid meteor shower

Apr 28 - Saturn will be at its best for viewing tonight.

May 5 - Eta Aquarids meteor shower

May 28 - Conjunction of Venus and Jupiter with Mercury nearby

June 21 - Summer Solstice – Official start of summer!

July 28 - Delta Aquarids meteor shower

Aug 3 - At dawn, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, and the Moon are together

Aug 12/13 - Perseid meteor shower – Public stargazing @ Windy Point
on August 13

Sep 22 - Autumnal equinox – Official start of fall!

Oct 21 - Orionid meteor shower

Nov 17 - Leonid meteor shower

Dec 13 - Geminids meteor shower

Dec 21 - Winter solstice – Official start of winter!

International Space Station Schedule
You can frequently see the Space Station go by overhead.  Click here to see the schedule from NASA.

Protecting Dark Skies
For more information about preserving the night sky, visit the International Dark Sky Association.

Slumgullion Earthflow

National Natural Landmark or "Slumgullion Slide"

The Slumgullion Earthflow National Natural Landmark is a rare example of an earthflow, called mass wasting.  About 700 years ago, an area of Mesa Seco, composed of partially decomposed volcanic rock, slid down the mountain and blocked the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River.  This natural dam formed what is now known as Lake San Cristobal.  The earthflow is about 4 miles long and covers over 1000 acres.

A second earthflow began about 300 years ago and is still active today.  The United States Geologic Survey (USGS) tracks the movement of the slide, which in some places moves as much as 20 feet per year.  It covers some of the original slide, and can be detected by observing the trees growing on it that are tipped at odd angles.

A good view of the Slumgullion Slide, as is it locally known, can be seen from highway 149 south of Lake City as you ascend Slumgullion Pass.  There is a pull-off at mile marker 67.  Also, the Windy Point Overlook offers great views of the Slide and of the San Juan Mountains that surround Lake City.

Where Does the Name "Slumgullion" Come From?
The Slumgullion Slide was likely named by early settlers of Lake City who noted that the yellowy color of the soils resembled Slumgullion Stew.  "Slum" as it was also called, was generally a watery stew made from beef, potatoes, carrots, and onions, or whatever leftovers could be found.  Also, miners of the 1800s referred to the leftover mud in gold sluices as slumgullion.  Whatever the source, you might want to try one of these recipes next time you are making supper at your camp site.


North Clear Creek FallsOf all the natural elements, it can be argued that water is the most awe-inspiring. The Lake City area is home to a number of spectacular waterfalls that exhibit power and beauty. North Clear Creek Falls is just off the Silver Thread Scenic Byway, hidden just beyond the road. A short drive to the parking area lets visitors walk to the falls to get a striking view of the most photographed waterfall in Colorado. Whitmore Falls is another thrilling waterfall, one that is just off of Engineer Pass Road near Capitol City. The observation point is a short hike off the road, but is well worth it for a sensational photo opportunity. Nellie Creek Falls is a thrilling two stage waterfall about a half mile up Nellie Creek Road which is four wheel drive only. The road can be a bit rough but the view of the falls is worth the trek. Horseshow Falls on the Engineer Pass road is a wide, beautiful cascade of water. The Alpine Loop offers smaller unnamed waterfalls, many along the road, that enhance the beauty of the drive.

Wilderness Areas

One of the main attributes of Hinsdale County is that it is 96 percent public land, which includes four wilderness areas and two wilderness study areas, allowing for plentiful outdoor recreation opportunities in the area. Hinsdale County offers hundreds of miles of hiking trails, five fourteeners, over 20 thirteeners, the Alpine Loop National Backcountry Byway, six different limited license hunting units, and plenty of public waters for anglers.


Uncompahgre Wilderness

Spanning 102,721 acres, the Uncompahgre Wilderness is home to two of Lake City’s fourteeners, Wetterhorn Peak and, its namesake, Uncompahgre Peak. The trailheads of these two peaks can be accessed from North Henson Creek Road and Nellie Creek Road, both of which require four wheel drive. Other access points to the 75 miles of hiking trails in the Uncompahgre Wilderness can be found near Lake City at Independence, Big Blue, and the Little Elk Trail.


La Garita Wilderness

This lesser traveled wilderness area of 128,858 acres was one of the original five wilderness areas in the state. San Luis Peak, standing at 14,014 feet, and Wheeler Geologic Area, a beautiful site of towering rock spires formed by ancient volcanic eruptions, are both located in this remote wilderness. The La Garita Wilderness can be accessed at several points along the Cebolla Creek Loop, as well as access points near Spring Creek Pass and from the town of Creede. Most of the trails in this wilderness area are suitable for horses.


Weminuche Wilderness

At 488,210 acres, the Weminuche Wilderness is Colorado’s largest wilderness area. It contains sections of both the Colorado Trail and the Continental Divide Trail, making it highly traveled. One access point is from the Rio Grande Reservoir south of Lake City. For directions to the Rio Grande Reservoir, see page 20.


Powderhorn Wilderness

To the north of Lake City are the 61,250 acres that comprise the Powderhorn Wilderness. Cannibal Plateau and Calf Creek Plateau come together in this wilderness to create what is considered the largest continuous tundra in the lower 48 states. From the plateaus, striking, 360-degree panoramic views of the surrounding San Juan Mountains are seen. Hiking trails into the Powderhorn Wilderness can be found at Devil’s Creek, Powderhorn Lakes, Ten Mile Springs, Powderhorn Park, and the Deer Lakes Campground area. 


Redcloud Peak Wilderness Study Area and Handies Peak Wilderness Study Area 

These two wilderness study areas of 54,321 acres host three of Lake City’s fourteeners: Handies, Redcloud and Sunshine Peaks. Contained in these wilderness study areas is spectacular evidence of the volcanic events that spawned the San Juans and remnants of Hinsdale County’s rich mining history. Numerous hiking trails access the Wilderness Study Areas from the Alpine Loop, such as Alpine Gulch, Williams Creek, Cataract Gulch, Cuba Gulch, Grizzly Gulch, Silver Creek, Cooper Creek, and American Basin Trails.


Recommended Hiking Trails
Horseback Riding Trails and Outfitters
Guided Hiking Tours
Outdoor Recreation Equipment Rentals & Sales

Maps are available at the Lake City Visitor's Center, 800 Gunnison Avenue, and at local retailers.




A wave of beauty, reflected in the blossoms of wildflowers, slowly surges up the San Juans from the spring through the summer.  The San Juan Mountains are home to over 150 species of wildflower, many of which can be found in high mountain meadows. These species include native columbine, Indian paintbrush, forget-me-nots, old man of the mountain, sneezeweed, larkspur, lupine, harebell, bluebells, and monkshood. The best place to see a spectacular show of wildflowers is American Basin, where the flowers are usually in full bloom by mid-July. Hikes with stunning fields of wildflowers include Wetterhorn Basin, Cataract Gulch, Cooper Creek, Grizzly Gulch and Big Blue. The Visitor Center has more information on wildflowers and specific hikes.  


Wildlife & Birds

A wide variety of wildlife and birds live in or migrate through the magnificent San Juans. Frequently seen are deer, which often wander throughout town, and elk herds that graze just north of Lake City in the winter. Rabbits and coyotes are known to live in and around the town limits and are often seen on the Silver Thread Scenic Byway. After an introduction to the area by the Colorado Division of Wildlife in the early 1990s, moose are now thriving occupants of the San Juans and Hinsdale County. These solitary creatures are known to take cover in willows and the brushy area on the south side of Lake San Cristobal and up at Deer Lakes. The lynx, a member of the cat family, was reintroduced to the area and is not often spotted around Lake City because they prefer dense spruce and fir forests. Other animals in the area include pikas, black bears, marmots, chipmunks and squirrels. For those who prefer to watch the winged species of our area, know that there are plenty of birds to observe. The most common birds in the Lake City area include stellar jays and chickadees that are seen year round. Seasonal residents include western tanagers, Cassin’s finch, American goldfinch, evening grosbeaks, black headed grosbeaks, and two common types of hummingbirds: broad tailed and rufous hummers. A wonderful spot in town for bird watching is Pete’s Lake, which has a walking trail. Warblers, other songbirds, and numerous waterfowl are known to spend time at Lake San Cristobal.    


Species of Area Birds

  • Osprey:  Know also as the fish eagle, osprey are almost always located near water.  They make spectacular dives, feet first, for fish, sometimes going completely under the water.  Some sources indicate fish, 2 pounds and larger, make up 98% of this bird’s diet.
  • Mountain Bluebird:  Have you noticed the many bird boxes that are on the fences along the highways in this area?  Bluebirds had almost disappeared from the area years earlier because of the lack of suitable nesting sites.  Cavity nesters need trees with holes and firewood cutters had taken down most of the old dead trees.  Because of the blue bird boxes, the mountain bluebird has returned to its habitat.
  • Broad-tailed Hummingbird: This tiny bird migrates from Guatemala to this area annually.  It is the common nesting hummer that spends the summer here.  A female, banded in Colorado, was the oldest known hummingbird at 12 years of age.  Easterners will often mistake this species for the ruby-throated that inhabits the eastern areas of the United States.    
  • Rufous Hummingbird:  This feisty, rust colored hummer often stops in Lake City on its return migration to south central Mexico and the gulf coast.  This tiny bird goes to the Pacific Northwest (southern Alaska) to nest and raise its young.  They migrate up the Pacific flyway, mostly through the California area.  Rufous usually arrive in the Lake City area around the Fourth of July and move on by the first part of August.  Males fiercely defend feeders from other hummers, including the broad-tails.   
  • Mountain Chickadee:  Both the Mountain and the Black-capped Chickadee inhabit this area.  Mountain chickadees have a black line through the face like a little bandit whereas the black-capped does not.  Chickadees are fearless and are willing to take sunflower seeds out of your hand if you have a little patience and are quiet and still.  Chickadees are “name-sayers” since one of their calls is “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” or “Fee-bee-bee”.  Listen for them in the forest. 
  • Stellar Jay:  The large, brilliant blue bird, with the topknot, or crest, common in the Lake City area is the noisy stellar jay.  They are not Blue Jays, which are not found in the west. The Stellar is a close cousin to the camp robber or gray jay, but is a little more reserved.
  • Western Tanager:  The bright yellow and red bird with the black wings is the male western tanager.  Looking almost out of place, it is the only neo-tropical bird that migrates to this area.  The females are a dull yellow – likely Nature’s way of protecting the nest.  The females spend a significant amount of time incubating and their drabber color is less obvious to predators.
  • Black-headed Grosbeak:  Both black-headed and evening grosbeaks spend time around Lake City in the summer.  An occasional red-breasted grosbeak will also show up.  Grosbeaks are so named because of their heavy beak.  The beak is a clue as to the diet of birds.  Heavy beaks are typically used to crush seeds.
  • American Goldfinch:  The small, lemon yellow male goldfinch is one of the few birds that molts, or changes feathers, twice a year.  Often incorrectly called wild canaries, American goldfinch travel in small flocks and their unique call sounds a lot like po-ta-to chip.  They are distinguished from other “wild canaries” (small yellow birds) by their black wings.
  • Rosy Finch:  Rosy finches are only found in the Rocky Mountains. This uniquely-adapted bird nests above timberline on the ground or in rocks.  In winter, the large flocks will sometimes come to area bird feeders in the hundreds or even thousands. One rosy finch photographed in Lake City had been “banded” as an adult the winter before in Crested Butte.  
  • Junco:  Often called “snowbirds” by locals, juncos generally show up when autumn snows begin. They prefer eating on the ground to perching on a feeder. Unfortunately, this makes them very susceptible to domestic cats.
  • Dusky Grouse:  Called blue grouse up until the last few years, this local grouse inhabits the spruce-fir forests in the west. The solitary male struts in the spring to attract females on traditional leks or breeding grounds. They are not the Gunnison Sage grouse – a threatened species that inhabits sagebrush areas closer to Gunnison.   
  • American Kestrel:  Kestrels are the smallest falcon and also the most common.  Often seen perched on an electric wire, they are constantly watching for large insects, such as dragonflies, crickets and grasshoppers.  They will also feed on small birds and some amphibians. 


Wildlife Viewing Tips from the Colorado Division of Wildlife

Wildflower Identification Guide from Colorado State University