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Grand Lake’s Long History

Formed by glaciers, surrounded by Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, Grand Lake has smitten tourists for generations. No one forgets Grand Lake. The lake itself is the deepest and largest natural lake in Colorado, and the area attracts an impressive diversity of wildlife.

Mountain Men in Grand Lake Colorado
Spider House Grand Lake

In the mid-1800s, European hunting parties discovered Grand Lake. Some hunters constructed summer lodges and hired local mountain men as guides. The area was permanently settled in 1867. Grand Lake Village’s first full-time, year-round residents were an intriguing mix of miners (who participated in a brief mining boom) and hunting guides. In the late 1870s, silver was discovered in the rivers and mountains near Grand Lake. Prospectors bought supplies in local stores and established small mountain mining communities. Almost overnight, the town of Grand Lake transformed into a bustling economy.

Thanks to the groundswell of new residents, Grand Lake became the county seat in 1881, though it was short-lived. Soon afterward, mines ceased operation and arguments over the placement of the county seat even led to an infamous Fourth of July shootout. Despite the bloodshed and suffering economy, some miners  planted roots and settled in the area for good. They fished, boated, hiked and  breathed in the  pristine mountain air. For many, the experience would never be equaled. They returned year after year. To accommodate them, a flurry of small hotels were built.  Hammers and saws were everywhere it seemed, as new summer homes and dude ranches kept the construction industry’s plate full. As the years passed, an increasing number of visitors braved the wagon and stagecoach trip over mountain passes to enjoy glorious Grand Lake summers.

Bridge in Grand Lake Colorado
Homestead Cabin in Grand Lake Colorado

While nature provided the perfect backdrop for tourists, it was the personality of locals who defined the area – hardy, resourceful and eccentric people. Locals gained renown for inventing and replicating city-folk creature comforts. What couldn’t be hand-crafted was brought in by wagon.

Though separated from what many called “civilization” (e.g. Denver), Grand Lake apparently missed the memo, establishing a Yacht Club in 1902 and the historic Kauffman House and museum in 1892., Today, the Village of Grand Lake maintains its historic charm. Keen observers will observe the area’s trademark architectural design, called “mountain rustic”  The style remains popular among local homes, restaurants and stores.

What can you do when you get to Grand Lake? Wooden boardwalks line Grand Lake’s main street, which features quaint retail establishments and a variety of dining choices. Other popular activities include: horseback riding, fishing, boating, swimming, hiking, and snowshoeing. Skiers enjoy the adjacent trails of Rocky Mountain National Park. Snowmobilers are welcome in town and are pleasantly surprised by scenic trails surrounding town.


Come once to Grand Lake and chances are, you’ll come again.

Learn more about Grand Lake’s History from the Grand Lake Area Historical Society