Lake City and the Alpine Loop

At the end of June we took a long weekend and drove to Lake City and the San Juan Mountains.  I have only been to the San Juans once a few years ago when Josh and I went down and climbed three of the area 14ers.  Lisa had never been down to the Lake City area so decided it was time to make a trip there.

It’s about a 4.5 – 5 hour drive from Littleton to Lake City.  We arrived at our beautiful bed and breakfast, The Inn at the Lake, at around 5:30pm on Thursday afternoon.  The Inn is a small bed and breakfast that sits with a beautiful view of Lake San Cristobal and the San Juan Mountains just outside of Lake City.  I would highly recommend staying here if you’re in the Lake City area.  Here is a link to their website.



After checking in, we took note of the cabin rules in our room.  I think these are rules we will have no problem following!


We started off by taking in the great views from our deck.IMG_4578e1

As we were leaving the Inn to head into town for dinner, we caught some great reflection pictures on the lake.



Before breakfast the next morning, I headed down to the lake to get some more reflection pictures.


After a wonderful home cooked breakfast the following morning and great fellowship with the innkeepers and other guests, we headed off to explore the Alpine Loop.

The Alpine Loop is a 63-mile loop crossing the remote, rugged, spectacular heart of the San Juan Mountains. The two 12,000-foot passes (Cinnamon and Engineer) require a high-clearance 4-wheel-drive vehicle.  These rocky roads were first used by 19th-century miners, who carted their ore off to Silverton, Ouray, and Lake City in mule-drawn wagons. We only did a portion of the loop, first heading out from Lake City on CR 20, the northern section of the loop towards Capital City.


Our first stop was the Ute Ulay Mine and Mill.  A number of original buildings remain at this site.  Power for the mine was supplied by a 118 foot high dam on Henson Creek.


We continued on up the road to Nellie Creek.  Nellie Creek is a steep, rugged four wheel drive road that heads up to the trailhead of Uncompahgre Peak.  We pulled over and parked at the turn off for Nellie Creek and hiked up the old road to a 2-tiered waterfall about a mile up the road.  Lisa is always on the lookout for wildflowers to photograph.






We continued up the trail to the waterfall.



A view looking down the valley from the waterfall.


We continued on up past the waterfall a ways.  When hiking, I always want to see what is “around the next corner” or at the “top of the next hill”.  I would hate to miss out on a spectacular view that may only be a short distance away.  We did get around the next corner and did get another nice view.


We turned around here and made our way back down the trail.  A shot of quite a tall aspen tree.


More wildflowers as we headed back down the trail.




We made it back to the car and continued up the Alpine Loop towards the ghost town of Capital City.  Capital City is named because its founder had high hopes of the town becoming the capital of Colorado.  Capitol City was founded in 1877 and once had a population of 400.  The town site sits at the confluence of Henson Creek and the North Henson Creek.


All that remains today is a couple of old cabins.  What a spectacular view!



We continued on past Capital City to Whitmore Falls.  Henson Creek is choked into a tight column of water here to form the falls.


A little further up the road we came across the Rose Lime Kiln.  The kiln is forty-four feet in height and was built in 1881 to produce an ash-free lime.  It produced 600 bushels of lime per day which sold for $1.00 per bushel.


A view up the road towards Engineer Pass.


A shot of the two of us enjoying the day!


We continued on up a bit further to another abandoned cabin.  At this point, we decided to turn around as we were nearing the 4×4 portion of the road requiring a higher clearance vehicle.  Heading back down, we stopped to photograph more wildflowers.











An interesting sign as we passed an old mine.


We headed back down into Lake City, stopped for shakes in the old time ice cream parlor on Main Street, and then headed south out of town to drive the southern portion (CR30) of the Alpine Loop.  The view as we headed up the road.


A view along Cottonwood Creek.


A shot of the late afternoon sun on the snow covered peaks.


Here is a map outlining the Alpine Loop.  The blue section is the approximate portion we drove.

Alpine Loop-Linhart Route

We headed back to the Inn to freshen up before heading into town for dinner.  The early evening calmness on Lake San Cristobal provided for some more excellent reflection pictures.





It was a great day exploring the Alpine Loop and the San Juan Mountains.  Time for some rest so we’re ready to explore the Silver Thread Scenic Byway tomorrow between Lake City and Creede!

5 thoughts on “Lake City and the Alpine Loop

  1. Bob and Lisa. Wishing we could be young again to enjoy the beauty of Colorado in person. Many thanks to you for the pictures of your trips. These pictures are so outstanding and a wonderful trip for you.
    We always love seeing pictures of your hikes. I think we were in Ouray many years ago. Continue enjoying your summer.
    Thanks and love. Mom and Dad/Jackie and Dick
    Sent from my iPad


    • Glad you enjoyed. Southwest Colorado is such a pretty area of the state. We just don’t go down there that often as it is quite a drive from Littleton. Would love to go back in the Fall with the aspens turning color.

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