Adjacent to Lizard Creek Trailhead, the Lizard Creek Day Use Area is a small cluster of picnic tables and informational signs along Highway 145 south of Telluride, Colorado. While most who visit here will continue along the Lizard Creek Trail to the Lizard Head Wilderness or pass by on their way over Lizard Head Pass on the highway, the day use facilities have a fantastic view of the peaks surrounding Lizard Head Pass, a range that includes Yellow Mountain North, Ulysses S. Grant Peak, San Miguel Peak, and Grizzly Peak. It’s a great place to pause after a hike for a meal among the mountains.
Like much of the San Juan Mountains, Lizard Head Pass has a railroad and mining history that begins in the late nineteenth century. In 1891, a narrow-gauge railroad, like the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad over the eastern mountains, was built by Otto Mears and began service over Lizard Head Pass. The project cost $9 million to finish, creating the Rio Grande Southern Railroad that connected Durango to Ridgway, well north of Mount Sneffels. In 1893 the mining boom collapsed. The railroad adapted to provide passenger and freight service, including the famous Galloping Goose, a one-man rail car that delivered goods and mail, which is now on display in downtown Telluride. The railway survived for 60 more years, but improvements to the highway system eventually doomed the Rio Grande Southern Railroad to decommission in 1951.
Native Americans have used Lizard Head Pass as a route of egress for thousands of years. The first Europeans to visit the area may have been Spanish explorers in the 16th century, but these expeditions have been lost to the annals of time. The first recorded visit occurred in 1833, when a trapping party from the Saint Louis Fur Company spent a summer at nearby Trout Lake.
Note: Informational signs are ADA accessible, but the picnic tables will be difficult to access due to shrub growth.