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Traveling through time at Inter-Laken Resort

Article and photos by Nancy Ward

Local history – September 2000 – Colorado Central Magazine

UNLIKE MOST mountain ghost towns, the ghost resort of Inter-Laken is not one of the drive to/drive through scenic breed. It can be reached only by hiking the Colorado Trail or by water conveyance. But the journey through Inter-Laken and its history is worth the effort.

[Inter-Laken Hotel]

Popular for spectacular lofty mountains, diverse trees and shrubs, colorful wildflowers, magnificent wildlife and bountiful fishing, the Twin Lakes locale has attracted visitors for more than a dozen decades — the lakes, the thriving village on the north, and the ritzy 19th century resort across the water.

Two years ago, I journeyed to Inter-Laken in early autumn. The water in the state’s largest glaciated lake was as still and shiny as glass. Tiny patches of snow and early-turning gold and green mountainside aspens reflected in the lake’s mirrored surface, also the foreboding barren peak of Mt. Elbert, Colorado’s highest mountain at 14,433 feet. I was lucky to hitch a canoe ride with then campground host, Dan Westegarde, a semi-retired Leadville businessman who had canoed and hunted in the vast upper-Arkansas area all his life.

On the north beach of the westward upper lake, we slid his canoe into the water, climbed in and glided toward the open passageway to the lower lake, beginning our travels back to the previous century.

The only sound was from the gentle, lazy dips of our oars and an occasional jumping fish breaking water on its way out after a bug and then splashing back in — causing tiny ripples in the lake near the languid wake of our canoe. A half dozen small, fluffy, white clouds loafed overhead.

[James Dexter's Summer House]

Having passed through the channel into the lower lake, I poised my camera, ready for shots of the reputed lake monsters, a legend since 1879 when the resort was built. My host burst the monster bubble, however, saying he’d heard that youngsters who had lived nearby in the last century had tired of their pet baby alligators and turned them loose in the lake. Here was an even more frightening legend — that huge alligators had flourished and multiplied at this frigid altitude.

But even so, it was an enjoyable trip, with several nice photos. On shore were informative signs established by the caretaker Forest Service, information that embossed my previous research.

“Lakeside House” was built in 1879 by John T. Staley and Charles S. Thomas. It served the upper crust of America and Europe. James V. Dexter purchased it in 1883, changing the name to “Inter-Laken,” the Scandinavian word for lake. Dexter’s heirs operated the resort from 1899 into the 20th century. [Dexter Article]

Inter-Laken and surrounding land were acquired in 1972 by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation as part of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, which would construct a new Twin Lakes dam and a power plant.

IN 1983, because the water level of the lakes would rise dramatically when the dam was finished and the lakes were filled to capacity, several Inter-Laken buildings were moved to a safe distance from the shoreline. The hotel was relocated, two granaries, and Dexter’s original summer-house. Still in excellent repair, the house features a wide, roofed porch around the perimeter with beaded tin ceiling, a cupola and dormer windows.

Inter-Laken is a designated National Historic District. Many of the structures were restored or stabilized and boarded up to prevent interior vandalism; exteriors were upgraded and painted.

Prior to moving day, the resort’s two-story dance pavilion, shaped like the prow of a boat, had disintegrated; its site is now underwater. Dance bands from Leadville provided guests with the finest music. A billiard parlor originally located behind the hotel no longer exists.

Also underwater is the area where bluegrass lawns surrounded a fountain that luxuriously shot water high in the air.

Guests arrived at the swanky vacation spot via a variety of transportation. From Twin Lakes Village where they’d journeyed by stagecoach, or later by car, they boarded the sailing ship, The Dauntless, or the sightseeing steamboat, The Idlewild, to cross the lake. Other guests journeyed to the town of Granite by train from Leadville or Denver or beyond, and boarded a stage to the hotel. The stage continued westward across a bridge over the channel between the lakes (that road bridge no longer exists) and on to Twin Lakes Village and Aspen.

The finest hotel accommodations of the time were offered at Inter-Laken — exquisite linens, expensive furniture and decor, and a porch overlooking the lakes, shaded by a second story balcony which no longer exists. A two-story privy on the southwest corner of the hotel afforded indoor privileges for guests who shared the accommodation. Its construction method suggests it was added after the hotel building was completed.

BUSINESS BOOMED and soon required construction of a one-story, six-room annex behind, complete with a hexagonal out-back privy. One side of the privy was assigned to each annex room (the hotel’s new location is west of the annex). A separate laundry building or wash house is located between the annex and the barn.


A self-sufficient resort, Inter-Laken’s domestic-use water source was a creek flowing down the snowy mountains behind it. The water was partially diverted through a complicated system of wooden troughs to barrels and cisterns.

The resort offered a dazzling international cuisine prepared in the kitchen in the back portion of the hotel; an ice house, root cellar and pantry were located off the kitchen. Most of the fare was produced in the resort’s garden and corrals. Hogs and chickens, and beef and dairy cattle were kept in barns and sheds at a distance where odors and sounds would not disturb guests. Most of these outbuildings exist today, in varied conditions.

The massive barn of large hewn logs contains an enclosed tack room, hay loft, horse stalls, and a storage area that was once used for fancy carriages and sleighs. The barn stands in its original location; the two frame granaries were moved close to it.

A blacksmith shop was located behind the barns, where the smithy kept horses properly shod and where he repaired carriages, sleighs, and tack. Remnants of the forge are still visible.

Resort guests enjoyed year-round dancing, billiards and fishing as well as summer boating, canoeing and sailing, swimming, horseshoes, croquet and similar lawn games. Guests strolled the well-groomed trails into the woods, rode fine steeds, went mountain climbing on nearby peaks, and enjoyed lakeside and forest carriage rides. Winter activities included ice skating and sleigh rides through the snowy forest or on hard-frozen lake edges.


The Colorado Trail can be accessed via a dirt road directly below the Twin Lakes dam, south over a bridge to a parking area where the hiking trail takes off to the west.

My Inter-Laken reminiscence was enjoyable, but when I was there it appeared that it had been a while, quite a while, since any of Uncle Sam’s caretakers had been around. Boards covering hotel windows had fallen and a huge tree lay windblown across the barn roof.

But even so, the trip was well worthwhile. Less than an hour to or from Twin Lakes by trail or water, Inter-Laken offers a memorable journey into nostalgia and fantasy.

Nancy Ward gets her mail in Saguache, and writes from all over Central Colorado.