A Brief History of Lake City:
Recreation & Tourism, 1915-1954
In the first half of the twentieth century, Lake City's economic base shifted from mining to tourism. People had recognized the area's scenic and recreational resources from the earliest days. Publications like Williams' Tourists' Guide and Map of the San Juan Mines of Colorado (1878) and Crofutt's Grip Sack Guide (1884) praised the natural beauty, abundant wildlife, and fishing opportunities.
However, Lake City's remote location had discouraged visitors. Traveling to the upper Lake Fork was an adventure itself until the branch of the Denver & Rio Grand Railroad line was completed south from Sapinero in 1889. Prior to that, people journeyed by stagecoach 100 miles from Saguache (according to Williams' Guide) or 140 miles from Del Norte.
The railroad increased the number of visitors to Lake City by providing more efficient travel, yet the upper Lake Fork remained off the beaten path. In the 1890s, the Denver & Rio Grand Railroad considered extending track and constructing a $350,000 resort inn at Lake San Cristobal, but abandoned the idea because of the remote location.* Instead, the occasional tourists stayed in the town's various mining-era inns. The rustic Lake Shore Inn opened at Lake San Cristobal in 1917, signaling the era of tourism that has continued into the twenty-first century.
Beginning around 1920, visitors began arriving at Lake City by automobile. This trend grew as highways were developed to Colorado's western slope and roads were improved in Hinsdale County. Early auto tourists stayed in the mining era hotels. Lake City's first auto tourist court, Liska Cabins, opened in 1929. From the 1930s through the 1960s, a half dozen or so tourist accommodations opened each decade in Lake City and along the Lake Fork.
Some visitors returned and bought summer homes. The tradition of summer residents began in 1915 and continued throughout the twentieth century. Some people purchased property from the large stock of houses remaining from the mining period. Others built private cabins at Lake San Cristobal. Construction of summer homes within Lake City was intermittent until the mid 1940s.