Surrounded by the Weminuche Wilderness of the Rio Grande National Forest, the Big Meadows State Wildlife Area is a popular, scenic spot for boating, fishing, and camping. The SWA occupies roughly 117 acres of Mineral County, Colorado, all of which surround the 600-acre reservoir for which it is named.
All visitors aged 16 and up are required to purchase a State Wildlife Area pass or carry a valid Colorado hunting or fishing license to access the water at the Big Meadows Reservoir SWA. Immediately adjacent, the campground and picnic area are both located in the Rio Grande National Forest, where day use and overnight fees apply.
The Big Meadows Reservoir is one of the best ways to enjoy a few pristine summer moments in the San Juan Mountains, with quick access in any passenger vehicle. With this, expect crowds during weekends and holidays throughout peak seasons.
Birding and Wildlife: In the mixed conifer forest around the Big Meadows Reservoir, birders are likely to spot Rocky Mountain favorites such as grosbeaks, warblers, chickadees, magpies, sapsuckers, woodpeckers, and more. Waterbirds such as brown pelicans may also arrive from time to time.
The area’s flowing waters also help attract a lot of wildlife species like elk, deer, hares, marmots, chipmunks, and other Colorado critters.
Boating: The Big Meadows Reservoir SWA boat launch is located on the northeast side of the lake, with both motorized and non-motorized boating permitted on the water. Most often, the reservoir is enjoyed by small boats, stand-up paddleboards, and those fishing from kayaks and canoes.
Camping: The Big Meadows Reservoir Campground contains 3 loops of individual and group campsites, most of which feature shade, seasonal wildflowers, and views of the lake. Drinking water and vault toilets are available in the campground with picnic tables and campfire rings provided at each site.
Thanks to sparkling clean facilities, good fishing conditions, and stunning mountain views, the Big Meadows Campground is a favorite among locals and visitors alike. Although some campsites are first come first served, reservations can be also made in advance for select spots.
Fishing: Licensed fishing is permitted in the Big Meadows Reservoir as well as its surrounding creeks and streams. A handicapped-accessible fishing pier access is available on the north side of the lake. The Big Meadows Reservoir is stocked with a variety of fish species, and anglers usually report good fishing conditions for kokanee salmon as well as brown, rainbow, and brook trout.
In the winter, ice fishing is permitted with road access via snowmobile or nordic skis.
Hiking & Horseback Riding: From the Big Meadows Reservoir Campground, hikers and horseback riders can explore the Archuleta Trail, which ventures six miles into the Weminuche Wilderness, Colorado’s largest designated wilderness area.
Picnicking: The Big Meadows Reservoir day-use picnic area is located adjacent to the campground and lake. A small fee is required for visitors to park and use the national forest facilities.
Swimming: Swimming is permitted in the Big Meadow Reservoir, but be warned, the high elevation water can be quite cold even in peak summer months.
The Big Meadows Reservoir SWA can be easily accessed between South Fork and Pagosa Springs, along State Highway 160 near Wolf Creek Pass. About 13 miles south of Pagosa Springs, look for the turn-off onto Co Rd 410. Follow the South Fork of the Rio Grande River for approximately 1-mile southwest to reach a fork in the road.
From the fork, hang a right to quickly access the boat launch. On the left, there is an additional parking lot with access to the picnic area, campground, and fishing site. The facilities are very well maintained and generally reported to be very clean.
Address: Big Meadows Campground, Creede, CO 81130
Season: Year-round, limited facilities in winter
Fees: Day use, overnight, and extra vehicle fees
Map: cpw.state.co.us… (PDF)