Natural Beauty and History of Hinsdale County, Colorado


Despite its small size and population, Hinsdale County boasts over 700,000 acres of national forest, 14,000-foot peaks, an extensive trail system, scenic drives, and historical sites that provide a glimpse into the area’s past.

From hiking and fishing to skiing and wildlife viewing, Hinsdale County provides year-round activities for nature lovers. The changing seasons paint different pictures across the landscape, with golden aspens in fall, snow-capped mountains in winter, wildflowers in spring, and shimmering lakes in summer. Beyond the wealth of outdoor attractions, visitors can also explore ghost towns, mining sites, and museums to learn about the county’s role in Colorado’s history.

Whether seeking adrenaline-pumping excursions or a relaxing mountain retreat, Hinsdale County offers an abundance of sights, flavors, and experiences to discover. This article will highlight the can’t-miss adventures and attractions that make Hinsdale County an essential destination to explore.


  • Hinsdale County provides over 700,000 acres of national forest, 14,000-foot peaks, trails, and scenic drives perfect for outdoor recreation.
  • Seasonal activities range from fall hikes to winter sports, summer festivals, fishing, camping, and wildlife viewing.
  • Historic mining towns, ghost towns, and museums offer a window into Hinsdale County's past.
  • The area provides a spectrum of lodging plus an array of dining options showcasing local flavors.
  • Ideal times to visit are June-September. Plan ahead for the remote location and variable weather.

Outdoor Adventures and Scenic Drives

The extensive wilderness across Hinsdale County offers limitless opportunities for outdoor recreation. Popular activities include hiking, mountain biking, backpacking, camping, fishing, hunting, horseback riding, kayaking, rafting, and off-roading on scenic drives like Alpine Loop.

With over 150 miles of hiking trails, some of the top routes wind past alpine lakes, wildflower meadows, and panoramic mountain vistas. Trails cater to all ability levels, from leisurely nature walks to challenging summit attempts. Notable hiking destinations include Hiking Trails like Chicago Basin, Weminuche Wilderness, the Continental Divide Trail, and segments of the Colorado Trail.

Anglers flock to Hinsdale County for the plentiful lakes and streams brimming with trout. Top Fishing Spots include the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River, Cebolla Creek, the Rio Grande River, and high-country lakes such as Opal Lake. Late summer and fall offer prime fishing, with hungry trout stocking up for the winter.

For off-road adventures, the Alpine Loop National Back Country Byway ranks as one of Hinsdale County’s most iconic drives. This 65-mile route traverses old mining roads and ghost towns surrounded by the San Juan and Uncompahgre National Forests. The road climbs to 12,800 feet, yielding stunning vistas of Lake City and the surrounding peaks along the way. Other popular byways like Scenic Drive Highlights include Engineer Pass, Cinnamon Pass, and Imogene Pass.

With over 80% of Hinsdale County managed by the U.S. Forest Service, off-roading opportunities abound on old mining roads and forest tracks. Top areas for Off-Roading Adventures are around Lake San Cristobal, Slumgullion Pass, and the Alpine Loop. Ghost towns like Sherman, Capitol City, and Rose’s Cabin add an extra dash of adventure along the way.

Seasonal Attractions and Activities

The remote location and extreme elevations of Hinsdale County make it especially prone to variable weather and seasonal changes. Each season offers its own unique adventures and attractions for visitors.

Fall brings intense golden hues to the aspens combined with cool, crisp air perfect for hiking. Top Fall Hikes lead to destinations like American Basin, Upper Cinnamon Gulch, and the continental divide. Fall also ushers in hunting season from September through November for elk, deer, bighorn sheep and other game.

As winter takes hold, outdoor activities transition to snow sports across the powder-laden landscape. Top Winter Sports include downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, ice fishing, and snowshoeing. Ski areas like Silverton Mountain offer extreme terrain reaching 13,487 feet, along with helicopter skiing and snowcat rides.

Spring welcomes wildflowers and wildlife emerging from their winter slumber. Prime wildlife viewing areas include wetland habitats around Lake San Cristobal and the high alpine along Engineer Pass. The Lake City Ice Climbing Park transforms into a rock climbing area in spring.

Summer brings a bounty of hiking trails, scenic drives, fishing, boating, and festivals. Top Summer Festivals include July 4th celebrations, the Wildflower Festival, the Plein Air Art Festival, and historical reenactments in Lake City each August. The temperate summer weather makes it ideal for camping adventures across the Gunnison National Forest.

Historical Significance and Landmarks

Beyond the wealth of outdoor attractions, Hinsdale County’s history as an early mining and railroad hub left an indelible mark on the landscape. Exploring the local museums and preserved mining towns provides insight into what shaped this rugged area.

As mining boomed in the 1870s, Lake City emerged as the Hinsdale County seat and a supply hub for the mining camps in the San Juan Mountains. Visitors can glimpse into this history at the Lake City Historical Society Museum, housed in a former saloon dating to 1875. Other museums, like the Ute Ulay Museum, chronicle regional indigenous history.

Preserved mining towns offer the most vivid connection to the past. The Stony Pass area features the abandoned mining camps of Sherman and Capitol City, reachable via four-wheel drive. Further displays of mining equipment and buildings stand at Rose’s Cabin and Burrows Park. The ghost town of Animas Forks sits at 11,200 feet, containing remnants from the gold and silver mining era.

Natural landmarks also hold historical significance, such as Colorado’s Most Remote Fourteener – Uncompahgre Peak – and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, where geologic forces carved sheer canyon walls from Precambrian rock over 2 billion years ago. These natural monuments create an unforgettable backdrop for exploring Hinsdale County’s historic past.

Accommodations and Lodging

Hinsdale County’s accommodations range from luxurious resorts to quaint inns to rustic cabins and campgrounds. With limited lodging available, advance reservations are highly recommended, especially for summer visits.

At the luxury end, The Lodge at Lake San Cristobal offers lavish rooms with lake views, along with fine dining, spa services, and concierge amenities.

For a cozy, romantic ambiance, choices like the Inn at the Lake City provide in-room fireplaces, private balconies, and complimentary breakfast. Families can opt for roomy cabins outfitted with full kitchens at Alpine Moose Lodge or Wupperman Campground.

On the rustic end, visitors can pitch a tent or park an RV at campgrounds like Lake San Cristobal, Silver Creek, and Upper Quartz Creek. Dispersed camping also allows free backcountry camping across most national forest land. Whether seeking luxury or simplicity, Hinsdale County offers a spectrum of lodging options to meet visitor needs in every season.

Culinary Scene and Local Eateries

The remote location of Hinsdale County means dining options are limited, but the available eateries offer hearty, flavorful fare showcasing regional influences and ingredients. Local specialties reflect the mining and ranching roots, accented with contemporary flavors.

Hearty soups, bison burgers, and Rocky Mountain trout rank among the top Local Cuisine options. Signature dishes at restaurants like The Golden Fleece and Packer Saloon include elk stew, smoked buffalo ribs, and rainbow trout served with spicy apricot chutney. For fine dining, The Lodge at Lake San Cristobal creates dishes like wild mushroom risotto and grilled quail with huckleberry glaze.

The county’s ranching culture also flavors the cuisine through cuts like smoked brisket, slow-roasted prime rib, and Rocky Mountain oysters. Sweet shops like Mocha Moose offer house-made fudge, pralines, and fruit pies to satisfy a sweet tooth.

Top-rated Dining Recommendations include The Lodge at Lake San Cristobal for its extensive wine list and five-course tasting menu. Packer Saloon draws crowds with its Old West ambiance and live music, along with bison meatloaf and elk sausage dishes. For all-day fare, Treasure Cove provides hearty breakfasts plus pub food like bison burgers and sweet potato fries.

Planning Your Visit

The remote location and variable weather of Hinsdale County warrant careful trip planning. While summer offers the most reliable weather, winter sports and fall colors also lure visitors.

The optimal Best Times to Visit run from June through September when high temperatures average 65-85°F. This provides the widest range of accessible roads and trails, though occasional brief snowfalls can still dust the landscape even in August. Late September brings splendid fall foliage, but increased chances of snow at high elevations.

Reaching Hinsdale County requires dedication, with the nearest commercial airports at least four hours away in Denver or Grand Junction. Rental cars can traverse the gravel and dirt roads, but four-wheel drive vehicles allow access to more remote areas. Shuttle services also operate between Lake City and trailheads or ghost towns like Animas Forks and Capitol City.

Due to the limited lodging options and remote location, booking Accommodations at least two months in advance ensures the best selection. Camping provides more flexibility, but high-altitude weather changes quickly, so backup shelter plans are essential.

When building an Itinerary, clustering activities by proximity saves driving time across the expansive county. Mix adventures across different terrain, from mountains to lakes and rivers. When venturing into the backcountry, carry detailed maps, extra food and water, emergency supplies, and plan for variable weather regardless of the season.

By tailoring adventures to abilities and interests while planning carefully, visitors can safely explore Hinsdale County’s rugged wilderness and glimpse the pioneer spirit of the past. From the soaring 14,000-foot peaks to ghost town relics, luxurious resorts to backcountry campsites, Hinsdale County promises endless opportunities to create unforgettable memories.


How much time is needed to properly see Hinsdale County?

Due to the remote location and wealth of outdoor attractions, plan for at least 3-5 days to experience a sample of what Hinsdale County offers. This allows time to acclimate to the elevation while exploring a mix of hiking trails, scenic drives, museums, and dining options.

What is the best way to get around Hinsdale County?

While some key sites sit right within Lake City, accessing ghost towns, trailheads, and remote attractions often requires high-clearance 4WD vehicles. Visitors can also book shuttle services to sites like Animas Forks.

Where can I find information on fishing regulations and licenses?

Stop by the Lake Fork Trading Post in Lake City for licenses plus local intel on current fishing conditions. The Colorado Parks and Wildlife office in Gunnison also provides licenses and regulations.

Are there outfitters to help plan activities?

Yes, operations like Alpine Express in Lake City offer jeep rentals, shuttle services, guided tours, and backcountry excursions. Expert outfitters simplify planning activities tailored to visitor interests and skill levels.

What is there to do on a rainy day in Hinsdale County?

The Ute Indian Museum provides insight on indigenous history. On blustery days, the Lake City Library and Paradice Cafe offer cozy indoor spots. Or sample local brews at Lake City Brewery and the San Juan Brew Depot.


About the author

James Ranson

I’m an editor, traveler, and fan of the great outdoors. I’ve been to all 48 continental US states, and my drives through Colorado’s rugged peaks and snowy forests (not to mention whiskey tastings in Denver!) still stand out in my memories. I’m excited to use my ten years of editing experience to develop engaging and informative guides and articles that enhance the outdoor experiences of both Colorado residents and visitors. Whether a piece is about exploring the best ski resorts, uncovering scenic trails for hiking, or finding the most inspiring drives through the Colorado Rockies, my aim is to provide comprehensive and accessible content that encourages adventure and exploration.