Grand County History

Native Tribes

Utes in Grand County

The archaeological record of Grand County shows evidence of human occupation dating to about 11,000 years ago during the Clovis, Folsom, and Plano periods. Paleo-Indians occupied the area until about 7,500 years ago. The projectile points found throughout the region display a variety of technologies throughout this period.

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Early American Settlement

Small town settlement in Grand County

The United States acquired the current area of Grand County via the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, but it was still controlled mostly by the Utes and Arapaho for several decades thereafter. Vast numbers of beaver and other fur-bearing animals brought fur trappers into Middle Park as early as the 1820s. Fur trappers had led hunting parties in the Grand Lake area since the 1820s, but by mid-century, they were building summer lodges by the lake. 

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County Development

Idlewild cabin

With the creation of the Colorado Territory, present Grand County was part of a larger Summit County that stretched from the Continental Divide to the Utah and Wyoming borders. In 1874 the territorial government formally established Grand County, choosing Hot Sulphur Springs as the county seat.

The creation of Routt and Moffat Counties established the current western boundary of Grand County in 1877. The Colorado Supreme Court established the current northern boundary in 1886, settling a dispute between Grand and Larimer Counties over land near the mining camp of Teller, in present-day Jackson County (the decision gave the land to Larimer County).

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Black and White historical picture of Grand Lake

Tourism proved the most consistent industry throughout the history of Grand County. Hot Sulphur Springs brought visitors to the area as early as the 1860s under the direction of William Byers. The hot springs became especially popular for their medicinal qualities. The Town of Grand Lake, meanwhile, attracted hunting parties.

The railroad brought hundreds of tourists from Denver in the early twentieth century. It stopped at a station on top of Rollins Pass that featured a restaurant and dance hall. Rail access and the creation of Rocky Mountain National Park in 1915 paved the way for tourism development in Grand Lake. In 1920 entrepreneur Roe Emery opened the Grand Lake Lodge, and in 1938 the completion of Trail Ridge Road across the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park offered tourists a scenic drive to Grand Lake from Denver.

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