When looking at Rocky Mountain National Park today, it is hard to believe nearly 80 mines used to be within park boundaries.
The destructive methods that often left scars, tailings and abandoned buildings are long gone from Rocky Mountain National Park. Many of the mines never amounted to much more than a handful of low-grade gold or silver.
One of these long abandoned but not forgotten mining towns is Lulu City.
Situated about four miles north of the Colorado River Trailhead parking lot along Trail Ridge Road, Lulu City used to be home to as many as 200 people during its heyday, and an additional 300 people lived in nearby Kawuneeche Valley.
Only active from 1879 to 1884, the small community of 100 blocks included 40 cabins, saloons, a post office, butcher shop, mercantile, two sawmills, hotel, clothing store, grocery store, blacksmith shop, liquor store and a “two-cabin red light district just north of the town to service the region’s miners.”
Today, badly decaying remnants of just one cabin remain along with a few hard-to-find foundations. The site, which is named for town co-founder Benjamin Burnett’s daughter, became part of Rocky Mountain National Park in 1949.
But just because most of the buildings have vanished – either by decay or removal – the hike is still well worth the moderate effort to hike along the headwaters of the Colorado River. Here the river is a shallow, braided stream with crystal clear water. In just slightly more than 100 miles, the Colorado River increases significantly in size and takes on its more recognizable muddy red color as it travels into Glenwood Canyon, past Grand Junction, into Utah, through the Grand Canyon in Arizona and back to a trickle again at its end north of the Gulf of California in Mexico.
The Lulu City Trail starts at the Colorado River Trailhead parking lot, which is located on the west side of Trail Ridge Road just as you enter Kawuneeche Valley.
Within a few hundred feet, the wide trail narrows and climbs a short but steep hill before flattening back out into a forest.
Follow the well-defined trail, which used to be the wagon road that took miners and supplies to Lulu City, through the forest and across a few bridges that carry hikers above dry creek beds.
At the first intersection, follow the trail to the right towards Lulu City. Follow the trail through a meadow, past groves of aspen trees and into another thick forest. Listen for the water of the Colorado River to the left as you follow the trail along the western slope of Shipler Mountain.
At about a mile from the trailhead, the trail crosses some tailings of old mines. Another half mile takes hikers into another meadow. Always be on the lookout for wildlife, which prefer these wet meadows, such as moose, elk and a wide variety of birds.
At mile two, start looking for the remains of Shipler Cabin in Shipler Park, the former home of Joe Shipler who spent about 30 years trying his hardest to find silver to no avail. The abandoned Shipler mine can be seen near the cabin remains. Both sit on the east side of the trail.
The trail continues into the moss-covered woods before reaching another junction at mile 3.3. Take the trail down to the left, which will descend steeply for 0.2 miles to the Lulu City site.
Take time to enjoy the site area, exploring the forest edges for the remains of cabins and other town buildings. Pack a lunch and find a quiet spot along the Colorado River where you can take in the views of Grand Ditch, the surrounding mountains and the nearby meadows.
Although Trail Ridge Road is now closed to through traffic for the season, this trail can be accessed through the west entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park and then follow Trail Ridge Road to the gate at the Colorado River Trailhead parking area.