Lulu City was a thriving mining town near the western entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park before it became a national park. The city was rugged, uncharted territory. In 1859 the Pikes Peak gold rush brought miners and speculators out to Colorado, hoping to strike it rich. Precious metals were discovered by the headwaters of the Colorado River in 1879. When the word got out, it became a booming mining town.
I was a guest of Grand County Colorado and visited Rocky Mountain National Park during my stay. All opinions are my own.
A Brief History Of Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park was created due to the efforts of Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, and Gifford Pinchot, who advocated an appreciation for nature. In 1909, naturalist Enos Mills, lodge owner and nature guide, fell in love with the Rockies. He was called the “Father of Rocky Mountain National Park.” He championed the formation of the nation’s 10th national park. Local Colorado groups in Estes Park and Denver agreed with Mills and supported his efforts to lobby congress. In 1915 President Woodrow Wilson signed the Rocky Mountain National Park Act.
Rocky Mountain National Park is the third-most visited national park in the United States. In 2018, the park set a record with 4.5 million visitors clamoring to admire the vistas. It always lands in the top 10 list of Best National Parks in the United States because of its 147 alpine lakes, 124 named mountain peaks – especially Longs Peak at 14,259 feet — alpine tundra, and deep valleys spread over 415 miles. Home to 60 species of mammals and 280 species of birds, visitors admire elk and moose grazing in the valleys, and, at higher elevations, marmots and bighorn sheep. Mountain lions and bears live in the park too, but they tend to keep to themselves. With 355 miles of hiking trails to choose from, one of the favorites on the western side is the Lulu City Trail.
The History Of Lulu City
Lulu City was founded in 1879 by a Fort Collins merchant named Benjamin Burnett, who hired John Rigdon to prospect an area in the upper Kawuneeche Valley. Rigdon “prospected” the headwaters of the Colorado River for the precious metal. When he found a vein of silver and lead, he reported back to Burnett. As a result, Burnett plotted a 100-block town and named it after his daughter Lulu.
The town took off. By 1880, 500 people were living there. Lulu City was said to be 100 blocks with 16 lots per block. The streets were numbered, but the avenues were called Mountain, Trout, Riverside, and Ward. In its heyday, the town had a few saloons, a post office, a butcher shop, a grocery store, and a few log cabins. There was one hotel with a fancy dining room. The tables were set with tablecloths, crystal, and silverware.
There were 10 other mines set up by 1881, mining low-grade gold and silver ore. But many miners, disappointed with the prospects, packed up and left. By 1885, the town was totally abandoned, and in 1886, the post office closed. The remote location of Lulu City contributed to the mine’s closing. The closest smelters were 100 miles away. There were some remnants of cabins and mines at one point, but today there’s nothing left.
Our Hike To Lulu City
We stayed in Grand Lake, Colorado, and entered Rocky Mountain National Park from the western entrance at around 8 a.m. We got an early start because the park started requiring reservations this summer. We drove to the Colorado River Trail Head and parked our car. The hike is 7.8 miles round trip, the elevation gain is 826 feet, and it is rated as moderate. We figured the hike would take us four hours to complete.
The day started with gorgeous views and easy dirt trails. The tricky part occurred when we reached the downed trees. We downloaded AllTrails, a hiking app that we added to our smartphone. The app provides information about trails and maps. We read comments from hikers who had completed the hike days earlier, and someone counted several downed trees during their hike. That information prepared us, so we knew to expect this.
We passed the dilapidated Shipler cabin at 2.3 miles. Shipler was a prospector who built the cabin in 1876. It was fantastic to find the cabin remnants along the way. We crawled under and over trees and finally made it to the site of Lulu City. There was nothing there but the beautiful landscape and headwaters we’d heard about. It was a lovely spot to rest, take photos, and imagine the boomtown that once was. We met other hikers of all ages, from 20-somethings to baby boomers who loved the hike and agreed it was moderate. It took longer than expected, but according to my recent review of AllTrails, the path is back to normal.
It took us six hours, including our rest, but I’m sure that the trees made it longer than usual. I would recommend the hike if you are fit and have plenty of water and plenty of time as the scenery is stunning. This is not a hike for someone who isn’t active since you travel over streams and rocky, narrow trails. An almost 8-mile trek is a good workout and will be at least a four-hour hike.
Dress in layers. It might be cool early but it gets warmer as the day goes on. Check the weather report for conditions and pack accordingly. Wear a hat and sunglasses. Pack and apply sunscreen and bug spray. I carried a walking pole for extra stability. My backpack was a hydration pack, so I could drink, but my hands were free. I packed high-protein snack bars for energy and wore hiking boots. I trekked with a small group, and we had a lot of water. That’s important at 9,000 feet — the starting elevation according to the map at the trailhead. Bring a bandana to dip into streams to help cool off if overheated.
Editor’s Note: For more on the information presented in the first paragraph of this article, see Legends of America’s Pike’s Peak page.