Backpacker

The Hiker Who Never Left

The Long Trails Issue

THRU-HIKERS, LIKE ARMIES, march on their stomachs. And it’s clear from a conversation I overhear in Lake City, Colorado, that the hikers gathered in the yard of the Raven’s Rest Hostel will have no problem continuing their journey.

“That place is soooo bomb,” says Red, a barrel-chested, ginger-haired hiker with a Viking beard. He and a few other thru-hikers are relaxing on a warm August day, and the talk, predictably, revolves around food. Specifically, the goods produced at the Lake City Bakery.

“I might just pack out with like, five of those sandwich things,” Wrong Way says about the calzones. “They’re like a sandwich baked into a piece of bread so they can smush and still be good.”

“Have you guys tried the deviled egg flight over at the brewery?” says another hiker.

“They have a deviled egg flight?” Red asks.

“No, no, it’s all about the ice cream at that place across the park,” Savage says, referring to the San Juan Soda Company.

“Already went,” Red responds. “It’s the best. I always go when I’m in Lake City. And this my fourth or fifth time in town.”

Red is not alone in his enthusiasm for Lake City as a trail town. Many thru-hikers say that it’s their favorite spot on the 486-mile Colorado Trail, or even the entire 3,100-mile Continental Divide Trail. Situated in the southwestern corner of Colorado, the historic mining town offers important hiker services, including pack-friendly food like those smushable calzones and a grocery store that tags items that contain more than 100 calories per ounce. But that’s not all. Unlike some resupply towns, which can make hikers feel unwelcome, Lake City is special in the way its residents, businesses, and even politicians have gone out of their way to cater to backpackers.

Still, Lake City’s reputation as a hiker haven is relatively new. It’s only within the past decade that it earned its most-favored stopover status. As rural communities up and down America’s long trails look to capitalize on the economic benefit of their location—thru-hiker numbers have more than tripled in the last decade—they would do well to learn from the transformation of Lake City.

And it might

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